Press Conference With...STELLA RIMINGTON

I've always fancied interrogating a spy, and who better to start with than Dame Stella Rimington, probably our most famous ex-spook.

Rimington became the first female director general of MI5 in 1992 and the first DG to be named publicly.

It caused a publicity maelstrom that changed her life forever and, indeed, her branch of the Secret Service as she embarked on a strategy of openness with the media.

She quit MI5 in 1996 after 27 years service and since then has served on the boards of various major companies, including M&S, and she sparked widespread controversy with her autobiography in 2001. More recently she has become a thriller writer. Her first novel was At Risk and the next instalment in the series, which follows — you guessed it — a British female spy, is out soon. Rimington also works the speech circuit and is a burgeoning high-end mentor to rising corporate executives.

She has two daughters in their 30s and two grand children, aged seven and nine months. Although not divorced, she separated from her husband of 20 years in the 1980s.

We talk in her editor's office at Random House, a short surveillance operation away from her old Thames House HQ in central London. On sight, Rimington is a typically demure granny, in a neat cream jacket with a sparkly broach, black trousers and a pretty, pale green top with a faded print of an ancient Roman building. But she is as cool and switched on as any 71-year-old you are ever likely to meet.

Rimington talks crisply, with precision, while maintaining an assured stillness in her body language.

She exhibits no tells and, as you would expect, deftly neuters awkward questions, but she can chuckle warmly at her blatant canniness.

Well, at least the best antiinterrogation training money can buy was not wasted.

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