Revealed in the world’s first full interview: The bizarre world of Mrs Bin Laden
Last updated at 21:10pm on 13th July 2007
Heavens, what a mess. The new Mrs Bin Laden is about to board a flight out of the UK, and it’s not going according to plan. First, our telephone interview is abruptly halted when the police “would like a word” with her. “Gotta go, I think I am being questioned,” snaps Jane Felix-Browne, and the line goes dead.
Ten minutes later, she is back – minus her passport and boarding pass, apparently – and reading aloud from a card that has been kindly handed to her, presumably by some men with large guns.
“Under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act, it is your duty to be truthful… you must provide any documents, passports… blah blah blah… you are not under arrest,” she reads.
Woah! Hold on. Is she being detained? On what grounds? Surely even she wouldn’t be daft enough to put her married name on her passport?
Jane Felix-Browne: The new Mrs Bin Laden
She sounds irritated rather than concerned. “It’s a formality. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve had this before. Let’s keep talking until they come back.”
However, we are again interrupted – this time by a choking sound that cuts her off in mid-sentence. Whatever now?
Has she been marched away in handcuffs? Strangled? Wrestled to the ground by a fellow passenger who took issue with the family name?
Alas, nothing so dramatic. “Sorry,” she splutters. “I was trying to take a drink while wearing a burka. I’ve poured it down me. What a mess.”
So begins the farce that is interviewing Jane Felix-Browne, aka Mrs Omar Bin Laden, daughter-in-law of Osama – yes, that Osama.
A few days ago, her neighbours in the tranquil Cheshire village of Moulton knew Jane as just another slightly dotty grandmother who sat on the parish council.
She was a bit odd, granted, with a face unnaturally smoothed, it was rumoured, by Botox and the surgeon’s scalpel.
She was always off on exotic jaunts to the Middle East, and spoke of her devout Islamic faith – but all in clipped English tones.
And, of course, there was the small matter of her five former husbands, as well as her latest, who at 27 is young enough to be her son.
Still, that sort of gossip-fodder was nothing compared to what the good folk of Moulton faced this week when Jane, 51, was unveiled – metaphorically, at least – as Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s daughter-in-law.
Besotted: Jane with Omar Bin Laden
She had met his fourth son, Omar, on a riding holiday in Egypt and fallen madly in love. The fact that his father was the most notorious terrorist the world has ever known was never something that was going to stand in Jane’s way.
It seems it’s not even an issue that was discussed at length before the marriage ceremony.
Today, she is taking family loyalty to a somewhat improbable level, insisting again that the Bin Laden patriarch might just be innocent. With a jaw-dropping combination of stupidity and naivety, she says in her best school ma’am voice, when I raise the question of the Twin Towers: “I mean, do you know – beyond all doubt – that he did it?
“If so, I’d like you to show me the evidence. I don’t think it’s nice to make assumptions about someone when you don’t know the facts.”
The blushing bride agreed yesterday to tell her remarkable story to the Mail – but refused point blank to do a face-to-face interview, presumably because she was too busy making arrangements to flee the country.
It’s strangely apt, however, that we end up trying to piece together this astonishing saga over the phone. It is precisely how she communicates with her new husband. She hasn’t seen him in the flesh since they tied the knot last autumn.
I ask if it isn’t a rather bizarre way to conduct a marriage. She says: “Absolutely not. We can talk for hours and hours on the phone, and we do. We also have the internet, which is fantastic. Then there’s the webcam. We both have great cameras, you see.”
Word is that as soon as she can be reunited with her passport, Jane is off to Saudi Arabia and back into Omar’s arms, although she refuses to confirm this, saying instead that she is “going abroad. That is all you need to know”.
She concedes, though, that one day Saudi will be her ideal place to live.
“I would like to settle in Saudi with him. Of course, I’d keep my home in Cheshire – I am British, after all – but a woman’s place is by her husband’s side.”
But doesn’t he already have a home? And a wife and child?
“Yes, but I’d set up another home nearby, and he would come and go between the two. It is quite normal, really. I don’t mind at all – why should I? I’m not jealous of his wife.
“I have spoken to her. Lots of married men in this country have girlfriends. At least he is being honest.”
She says she talked to her husband yesterday, and he is as bemused as she is at the headlines their marriage has generated. “He thinks it’s been blown out of proportion, as I do,” she says. “It’s not that complicated, really. I fell in love with the man and I married him. What else is there to say? Who his father is doesn’t come into the equation.”
On one level, it’s staggering that a Cheshire divorcÈe can get herself into this extraordinary position. Yet somehow, those who know Jane Felix-Browne aren’t surprised.
Hers has been, by any standards, an eyebrow-raising life. She says herself that she doesn’t do convention.
Her last husband may have been an RAC patrolman, but you get the impression that such mundanity was never part of Jane’s grand plan.
“Well, what can I say? Lots of people live in a three-bed semi, go to work, have two kids and are happy with that. I never aspired to that sort of life.”
Actually, she seems worryingly in her element in the limelight. I ask how she has been coping with the pressure – meaning the intense strain of knowing your every move will now be documented, whether by the press or the security services.
She misses the point. “I’m doing fine. Nothing really fazes me. I’m pretty good on live TV, as you’ve probably seen.”
Halfway through our interview, I make a comment about her father-in-law inspiring the biggest manhunt in history. She laughs. For a day at least, she has elbowed Daddy-in-law out of the picture.
“Actually, I think the biggest manhunt in history is for me today. Everyone is after me. They’re not bothered about him.”
IF MI6 agents routinely listen in on Jane Felix-Browne’s conversations – as she rather grandly assumes they do – they must want to tear their hair out.
She can talk for England on Millsand-Boon topics like love at first sight and true romance, but is woefully evasive on such matters as her own name. The new Mrs Bin Laden found names irritating long before she acquired her most notorious one.
She snorts as she admits that she came into the world as Paula Joy Hanson. She hated the Paula bit.
“I meet people with the name Paula now, and I have to say ‘That’s a nice name’ because I don’t want to be rude. But I hated it. I didn’t have a happy childhood and I wanted to be rid of that name as soon as possible because it had such bad connotations.”
She won’t say what was so terrible about her childhood, but whatever it was, she concedes, affected everything. “I think what happened to me affected every relationship I’ve been in. I found it difficult to trust men, always have.”
With hindsight, maybe just calling herself Joy, her middle name, would have solved the problem. But no. She declared that she would henceforth be known as Jane Felix-Browne. Why? “I liked it. Why not?” she replies.
She gets tetchy when she talks about taking her husbands’ names.
“For a while I called myself Wakefield (during her marriage to John Wakefield). Then when I married Andrew Yeomans, he wanted me to take his name, too. I said: ‘Enough with these bloody names.'”
Somewhere along the way, she also acquired the name Zaina Mohamad al Sabah – presumably when she converted to Islam as a teenager?
“I never said I converted,” she exclaims angrily. She won’t elaborate, but has previously claimed Arabic parentage. Her parents are reported as being a George and Beryl Hanson. She refuses to clear up the matter.
“My religion is a very private matter. It doesn’t matter how I became a Muslim. Only that my Islamic faith is very important to me.”
For all the holes in Jane’s story – all of which give the impression that even she doesn’t know who she is – we do know that she was a Muslim by the time she got married for the first time, at the age of 16.
This union – like her current one – was an Islamic religious marriage not recognised in law. She won’t name the man, but tells me that the pressures of trying to have it formally recognised in this country helped destroy it.
That, however, was not an excuse she could use for the collapse of four subsequent legal marriages – all to non-Muslims.
The first was to fur-cutter Anthony Lomas in 1979, followed by Hell’s Angel John Metcalfe, electronics company boss John Wakefield, then RAC man Andrew Yeomans. She talks a little about why each marriage collapsed, concluding that the only common denominator was a clash of cultures – between her faith and their way of life.
“All my husbands after that had a problem with my faith,’ she says. ‘None of them understood how important it was to my life.”
Rather routine family demands also seemed to get in the way. “I had two children in my second marriage, Vincent, now 28, and Dean, 27, but I was ill and in hospital a lot. My husband couldn’t cope with the situation.
“With the third, well, I think I went into that one because I wanted to be with someone. You change, you know. You grow up and finally realise what you want.”
When she did get the chance to travel – when her children had grown up and she found herself single again – she fell in love with the Middle East, mainly because the culture was so entwined with her adopted Islamic faith.
“I’ve been described as this person with a very jet-set life. That wasn’t true. Until ten years ago, my focus was at home, with my children.”
Fifteen years ago, however, she says she was diagnosed with MS, and in the past decade has travelled regularly to Egypt for experimental treatment which involves being in an oxygen chamber. The bohemian lifestyle she enjoyed there was hugely appealing.
It was while on a horse-riding holiday to the Pyramids that she met the darkly handsome Omar. She was embarrassingly smitten and, strangely, the mention of his surname didn’t have her running away screaming.
“Of course I knew who he was. Someone told me before he did – but I said ‘So what?’ When Omar and I talked at length, he asked me if I knew the name. I said: ‘Of course.’
“He asked if it was OK, and I said yes, fine. I’m not the sort of person who is fazed by anything, and I truly believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, so I wasn’t about to start judging his father.
“What is that famous saying? ‘One should never revisit the sins of the father on the son.'”
Still, on a purely practical level, it can’t really be the stuff of dreams to marry someone who, she admits, is penniless and unable to get a decent job because of his name.
She scoffs at her critics who say she is just another naive, middle-aged British woman who has let herself be flattered by a young man with an eye on a cosy life in the UK.
“Look, he doesn’t need me to get a visa to come to England. All he needs to do is go to the British Embassy in Saudi. It’s ridiculous to say he is using me for that. London is full of Bin Ladens. Many of his uncles and aunts are here.”
She also rejects claims that there is something suspect about a handsome young man like Omar being interested in her.
“Why is it ok for a 50-year-old man to marry a 20-year-old woman, but when a woman wants to be with a younger man it’s seen as scandalous?”
Maybe she can weather the criticisms of strangers, but what of her own children and grandchildren? How on earth has she explained this one to them?
“My children adore Omar,” she says expansively. “He is wonderful with them. He is the same age as my sons Vincent and Dean and he is like their best friend.
“In fact, it was my youngest son who signed the marriage papers. To make it official, he had to go with Omar and say he was giving me away. He was happy to do so. Why would he not be?”
I ask if her husband is proud of his name. “Yes, he is proud of his family.”
Even his father? “I don’t know. I have never asked him. But I know he was particularly proud of his grandfather Mohamed.”
There is much confusion about the last time Omar actually saw his father. Some reports say they fell out after the attack on the World Trade Centre in a row about political ‘tactics’.
Jane insists the pair have not spoken “since 2000 or early 2001”. Whatever, she says the loss grieves her husband. “Of course, he loves his father. He misses him dreadfully, like any son would. Until someone proves him guilty, how can he stop that?”
Omar’s military training in the Middle East – as part of his father’s grand plan – seems to be of little consequence to Jane.
I ask if she accepts that he must once have shared his father’s political beliefs.
“How do we know what his father’s political views were?’ she asks. ‘How can we say? All I know is that my husband is not an extremist.
“He is not a fanatic. He is very peaceful and loving. He is not anti-Western in any way – how could he be when he married me?”
Jane has some strong political views of her own, albeit ones based on a hazy understanding of history. She says she is proud to be British. I ask her if she is proud of the so-called War on Terror being waged in her name.
“No, I am not proud of that, in the same way that I am not proud of the situation with the Irish, or when we went into the Falklands. Why should we have the right to take over countries and not give them back? We are a very arrogant nation.”
And at that, she is off. Her passport has been returned – with security guards clearly concluding that she is a danger only to herself – and her flight is being called. The world beyond a Cheshire village beckons, and she is loving every deluded minute of it.
I just had to put the full story here. Quite surreal.
Lesson for the day – choose your lifetime co-sojourner wisely?
Then again, maybe for her it’s not a lifetime co-sojourner since she’s been in similiar situations 5 times.
I wanted to read the story without judging her.
And I will still try to withold my judgements.
But some of the facts presented which she acknowledged, seems to point to a shaky foundation for her marriage.
After 2 years she’ll prolly write a book and make millions and become richer than prolly any of us.
Anyways, you can find this story here @ the DailyMail