The secrets of Anna Chapman
- 28 March 2011
- From the section Europe
Russia's Anna Chapman captured the media world's attention last year when she was deported from the US, accused of being a spy. The BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg investigates "Russia's most glamorous secret agent".
On the 35th floor of a Moscow skyscraper, an office is filling with smoke.
Suddenly I hear the click-click-click of high heels on parquet floor. And through the mist walks redhead Anna Chapman in a stunning blue dress.
She doesn't seem in any hurry to evacuate the building.
That's because the smoke is being pumped into the room by a machine to make her look special.
Russia's most glamorous secret agent is here to record her weekly TV show. Judging from the scripted lines she's speaking to camera, it's clearly not light entertainment.
"Why are some people marked by death, and others escape it?"
"More than a million Russians die every year. Nearly 40,000 in road accidents."
"This woman returned from Egypt a cripple. A shark ripped off her arm."
Anna Chapman's show is called Secrets of the World. Each week on the Russian channel Ren TV, she sets about explaining the mysteries of our planet.
"The programme's for everyone," Anna says in a break. "Everyone is interested in mysteries, because they are secrets, they are unsolved."
She is less keen, however, to talk about her own secrets. I ask Anna Chapman if she really had been a spy.
"I will never deny and I will never confirm the fact," she replies coldly.
The Americans had no such doubts on the matter.
Eight months ago, Anna Chapman was one of 10 alleged Russian sleeper agents deported from the United States.
At Vienna airport the agents were exchanged for four people the Russians claimed had been spying for the West.
It was the biggest spy swap since the Cold War. Back in Russia, Ms Chapman and her fellow deportees received medals from President Dmitry Medvedev and heaps of praise from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Most secret agents, once uncovered, arrested and deported, normally adopt a low profile back home. Not Anna Chapman.
Since returning to Russia, she's hardly been out of the headlines.
Although I haven't confirmed this fact, she is surely the first Russian spy to have done a photo shoot for a men's magazine wearing very little and brandishing a pistol.
As well as being a model, Ms Chapman has also been an investment adviser for a bank, a charity worker and a campaigner for high-speed internet.
She's also been elected one of the leaders of the youth wing of Mr Putin's political party.
There are rumours she may even run for parliament this autumn. I ask Ms Chapman if that's true.
"All I'm going to say is I'm interested in helping other people," she replies. "That's all."
It's another secret she is keeping well away from the cameras.
Anna Chapman rarely gives interviews, although last December a Russian TV show declared her Woman of the Year and devoted an hour of airtime to her.
In a programme resembling This is Your Life, Ms Chapman sat on a settee as a stream of figures from her past appeared on stage.
Among them, Yegor from Volgograd - her old boyfriend from school. The audience applauded as he gave her a peck on the cheek and a bunch of flowers.
One person who wasn't there was the man Anna married when she was living in England: Alex Chapman. They divorced after four years of marriage.
Now Anna hosts her own TV show. And she's got more plans in the world of television.
"I'm planning to launch a 3D production company here in Russia," she says. "We have the Winter Olympics and other interesting events coming up that I could cover. I'm going to launch a 3D pilot project soon."
After an hour's recording on the set of her programme, Anna Chapman is flagging.
"To be honest, I wouldn't mind something to eat now," she says to the director.
It shows that, although Ms Chapman is a woman of mystery, she is only human.
She is also charming, at times giggly and clearly keen to perfect her TV skills.
But there is a steely side, too, to Anna Chapman, a determination not to let down her guard.
She is unlikely to reveal her own secrets any time soon.