Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher's most trusted advisor, arrived at the gates of Balmoral Castle, where the then prime minister was on his annual summer visit to stay with the Queen.
Powell was anxious and exhausted.
He had left Downing Street that afternoon in 1985 without telling the officers of No 10 where he was going, he took a train to Heathrow and took a flight to Aberdeen that he had reserved himself. When he arrived in Scotland, he rented a rental car and went to the palace in the pouring rain.
His trip was so secret, he commented: "Later I had problems to reimburse my expenses".
The Russian spy Oleg Gordievsky, widely recognized as the most valuable secret service mole in the heart of the KGB during the last decades of the Cold War, with his ex-wife, Mrs. Leyla Gordievsky.
What followed was the combination of a scene from a farce from the West End and a spy novel by John Le Carre.
The equerry in the guardhouse of Balmoral was stuck on the phone for 20 minutes, despite Powell's frantic attempts to interrupt the conversation. The call was made to arrange for the Queen to borrow her mother's video recorder to watch an episode of Dad's Army.
Finally, after another delay during which the queen's private secretary, a courtier of "rooted caution and unmovable protocol", had to be convinced of the vital importance of his visit, the determined Powell was able to pass.
After being escorted to Mrs. Thatcher's house on the grounds of Balmoral by a royal footman, he found the prime minister in bed, surrounded by papers.
Gordievsky continues to defy Moscow, but has escaped the fate of later renegade and defector Sergei Skripal, victim of Salisbury Novichok's poison attack (Gordievsky in 1976)
Powell uttered two words during the swashbuckling briefing: Operation Pimlico.
Behind them there is a story that, 30 years later, continues in the headlines.
Operation Pimlico was the MI6 operation to raise a high-ranking KGB officer, who had been spying for Britain but was in danger of being discovered, from Moscow.
Thatcher's approval was urgently needed. She gave it without hesitation.
Even as Powell and the prime minister talked, the double agent was being smuggled out, thousands of miles away, across the Russian border into Finland and safely in the trunk of a Ford car.
His name was Oleg Gordievsky, widely recognized as the most valuable secret service mole in the heart of the KGB during the last decades of the Cold War.
I was 46 years old and 79 now.
Oleg Gordievsky receives the Companion of the Most distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George of Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the security of the United Kingdom (pictured in 2007)
He continues to defy Moscow, but has escaped the fate of the later renegade and defector Sergei Skripal, victim of Salisbury Novichok's poison attack.
So, why are you reading about Gordievsky today?
Because a new book revives the claims that Michael Foot was in the pay of the Soviet Union when he was Labor leader in the late 1980s.
Such is the world of espionage that these claims are impossible to verify, but in his book The Spy And The Traitor, the respected intelligence historian Ben Macintyre reveals that MI6 found them credible and that the heads of the Secret Intelligence Service were prepared to Tell the Queen if she ever became prime minister.
Gordievsky graciously accepted the Queen's prize, wearing a hat and tails. He receives a pension of £ 20,000 per year from MI6
The source of the accusations was Gordievsky.
Pie, he said, had met his KGB manipulators during lunch at Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant in London's Soho, and received the equivalent of £ 37,000 in today's money for being a confidential contact & # 39; ;
The accusations were published for the first time in the Sunday Times two decades ago. Foot fiercely challenged the story and won a famous defamation victory against the newspaper. He continued to deny the accusations until his death at the age of 96 eight years ago.
Regardless of the truth about Agent Boot, KGB's pseudonym for Foot, apparently a play on his name, the controversy has put the spotlight on Gordievsky's enigmatic figure.
Gordievsky first drew attention to the West in the 1960s when he was based in Copenhagen, ran Soviet spies in Denmark and was thought to be vulnerable to blackmail after being seen buying gay pornography in the red-light district of the city.
In 2007, he was named Companion of the Order of San Miguel and San Jorge (CMG) & # 39; for his services to the security of the United Kingdom & # 39 ;. Fittingly, this is the same honor given to James Bond. Gordievsky graciously accepted the Queen's prize, wearing a hat and tails. He receives a pension of £ 20,000 a year from MI6.
Since his desertion, Gordievsky has lived comfortably in the suburbs of Surrey, during most of that time with his longtime British partner Maureen. It is said that Bulgarian salmon canapés and red wine regularly decorate your dining table.
So how did he escape from the shadows of Moscow to become the greatest asset that our secret services have ever converted?
Gordievsky caught the attention of the West for the first time in the 1960s when he was based in Copenhagen, ran Soviet spies in Denmark and was thought to be vulnerable to blackmail after being seen buying gay pornography in the red-light district of the city.
In fact, as Macintyre explains in his book, he had been intrigued by homosexual practices and had taken the magazines home to show his wife Yelena and place them on the mantelpiece as "an open exhibition of freedom unavailable. in Soviet Russia. "
Gordievsky made a pass to Western intelligence, however, after disenchanted with the Soviet system and its brutal repression of the Prague Spring of 1968, when tanks were sent to Czechoslovakia to crush the growing reform movement.
His feelings were picked up by MI6 when a deserter informed him that Gordievsky had shown "clear signs of political disillusionment".
He made a surreptitious approach when he played a morning badminton game with a member of the Danish youth communists.
It was, to quote Macintyre, the beginning of the "career" of Britain's "greatest spy."
In 1982, more than a decade after being drafted into the badminton court, Oleg Gordievsky was sent to the Russian Embassy in London, where he would be named "resident", the head of the KGB in Britain. His rapid advance was helped by the fact that MI6 arranged for his immediate superiors to be expelled from Britain.
It meant that Gordievsky provided a valuable insight into Soviet thought at a crucial stage of the Cold War.
However, three years after settling in London, Gordievsky was summoned back to Moscow, where he was subjected to a lengthy interrogation involving the administration of a real drug; someone, in the CIA, was suspected, he had betrayed him.
Gordievsky may not have cracked, but he knew the game was over. It was time to activate Operation Pimlico, the daring escape plan already formulated by MI6 in case of such eventuality.
But how to get him out of Russia when he was under such scrutiny? The chain of events that was launched demonstrates the old adage, that the truth is sometimes stranger, and in this case, at least, infinitely more fascinating than fiction.
In his 103-floor Leninsky Prospect in Moscow, Gordievsky retrieved a hardcover copy of Shakespeare's sonnets, and soaked the guard so he could take it off. Inside, he found a sheet that contained his escape instructions, which he entrusted to memory.
So he found himself standing at a corner of Moscow Street, according to the instructions, at 7 p.m. M. July 16, 1985, grabbing a Safeway bag. The Safeway bags carried a large letter & # 39; S & # 39 ;, an immediately recognizable logo that would stand out in the monotonous surroundings of the Soviet capital.
This was the signal – to the British agents who worked in an office across the street – that his cover had been blown up, and that he needed to be taken out of the Homeland immediately.
Exactly 24 minutes later, a man passed him carrying a bag of Harrods eating a chocolate bar; Gordievsky had been told in advance that it could be a Kit Kat or a Mars bar. In fact, it was a Mars bar. The man was an MI6 officer.
"When he happened to four or five yards, he looked directly at me," Gordievsky recalled in his memoirs. "I looked into his eyes and shouted silently:" Yes, it's me! I need help, urgently ".
Gordievsky had already said goodbye to his wife and two daughters, whom he would not see until the end of the Soviet regime.
He took a train north of Leningrad, the second city of Russia, from where he went to the town of Zelenogorsk, on the coast from the Baltic Sea.
Then, he took a bus to the Russian-Finnish border (the east-west border closest to Moscow) where the border guards were accustomed to seeing diplomatic vehicles pass through the checkpoints.
Gordievsky hid in the bushes until the car, with two MI6 agents inside, arrived to pick it up.
One of the officers opened the hood of the Ford, which was Gordievsky's signal to get out of the brush. After getting into the boot, he wrapped himself in a space blanket to deflect the infrared cameras and heat detectors that are believed to have been deployed on the Soviet borders, and they were given a tranquilizer pill.
If the plan failed, Gordievsky knew he would be taken back to Moscow and shot.
But it was a success.
Some time after Gordievsky was driven across the Finnish border, the head of MI6 made an urgent appointment to see Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher's private secretary, at n. 10 and explained that the Pimlico Operation was underway and that the personal authorization of the Prime Minister herself was urgently required.
"We have to keep our promises with our agent," he would say to Powell, not realizing that Gordievsky was already returning to Britain in the trunk of a car.
For his part, Gordievsky said since then that he does not regret having betrayed the KGB and that he lacks nothing about Russia. "Everything here is divine" compared to Russia, he said in a later interview.
Gordievsky has little contact with his daughters, Mariya, 38, and Anna, 37, or his ex-wife Yelena. They joined him in Britain in 1991 after extensive lobbying of former leader Mikhail Gorbachev by Margaret Thatcher, but after being separated for six years, the marriage ended.
How valuable was a Gordievsky asset? There was no new ring of Cambridge spies, no network of KGB agents that had infiltrated the establishment to destroy it from within. The most explosive "revelation" was that Moscow was "prepared to use dirty tricks and hidden interference" to change an election in favor of Michael Foot, an "intriguing omen of modern times," according to Macintyre.
More importantly, perhaps, it opened up the internal functioning of the KGB at a key moment in history. When he arrived in Britain, Gordievsky was informing both parties in secret, under the guidance of MI6. He told the Russians what to tell the British and warned the British what the Soviet delegation would tell them, which brought about the end of the Cold War.
Since establishing himself here, he has worked as a security consultant and has often appeared on television as an expert in Russian espionage.
He has been an advisory editor for the National Security magazine and co-host of the Channel 4 series Wanted in the Nineties, in which contestants had to complete a list of challenges undetected by a group of spies.
Gordievsky remains a passionate Anglophile, subscribing to The Spectator and writing articles for the Literary Review. The paintings that hang on the walls of his house in Surrey reflect his love for avant-garde art. One of his great pleasures, he says, is feeding the foxes that visit his garden.
There has only been one sinister episode during this golden life in the stockbroker belt.
In 2008, he spent 34 hours unconscious in the hospital after becoming ill at home. At first he was paralyzed and still has no sensation in his fingers. He said he was the victim of a murder plot inspired by the Kremlin.
"I have known for some time that I am on the list of murders drawn up by elements in Moscow," he said at the time. "It was obvious to me that he had been poisoned."
He said he was poisoned with thallium, a highly toxic metal used in insecticides, which was favored by the KGB in assassinations during the Cold War.
Of course, this claim of poisoning sounds disturbingly like what happened earlier this year in Salisbury.
In fact, it seems that stories about Kremlin assassins, Soviet defectors and left-wing British politicians who consider themselves useful idiots of Moscow will continue to work. But surely none can surpass that of the superstar who came from the cold.