Stuart Williams | AFP
Published — Sunday 11 November 2012
Last update 11 November 2012 1:16 pm
MOSCOW: British spy turned Soviet agent George Blake celebrates his 90th birthday on Sunday, living a comfortable retirement in Moscow and feted as a hero in Russia but still seen as a traitor in Britain.
Blake was destined to spend most of his life in jail after being found guilty in the 1960s of spying for the Soviet Union but dramatically escaped his British jail and made it to the safety of Moscow.
He has stayed ever since, marrying a Russian wife, Ida, taking the Russian name of Georgy Ivanovich, becoming a grandfather nine times over and living a quiet life in the Moscow region.
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) took the unusual step of congratulating Blake on his birthday, issuing a public statement titled “the birthday of a legend.”
“George Blake is a spy and an anti-Fascist who has made a huge contribution in ensuring the security of our country,” said the statement signed by the head of its press bureau Sergei Ivanov.
The statement noted that Blake had been decorated multiple times for his “great achievements in ensuring state security,” receiving medals including the Order of Lenin.
“I am a happy man, a very lucky man, exceptionally lucky,” Blake said in a rare interview last week with the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Unlike fellow British double agent Kim Philby — who along with other members of the Cambridge Five spy ring he knew personally — Blake appears to have immediately adapted well to the new circumstances.
He and Ida had one son, named as Misha, finance expert, 40. Blake also had three sons with his first wife in Britain, from whom he separated after his flight.
Remarkably, all Blake’s children will come to Russia to celebrate his 90th birthday with him.
“All this upheaval turned into a miracle. I am in touch with my grandchildren and children in England who often come here. And here I have my wife and son who are very loved,” Blake said.
Blake was born in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1922. His mother and sisters fled the Nazi-occupied Netherlands in World War II to England where Blake followed them after fighting with the Dutch resistance.
Even before the end of the war he was working for the British secret service in London, rapidly becoming a specialist on the USSR and being dispatched to Korea as the Cold War intensified.
A communist, Blake began supplying secrets to the KGB in 1953 and helped reveal to his Soviet masters a tunnel that the British and US secret services were building in Berlin.
Exposed by the Polish double agent Michael Goleniewski in 1961, Blake was put on trial, accused of causing the death of several agents through his treachery and sentenced to 42 years in jail.
But his escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London four years later and flight back to his masters in Moscow has gone down as one of the greatest jail breaks of all time.
In the Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview, Blake recalled how he had managed to spring jail with the help of released former inmates by breaking a window at Wormwood Scrubs, climbing over the perimeter wall and getting into a waiting car.
His one mishap was to break his wrist in the jump down from the wall. “I sometimes feel it (the pain) to this day,” said Blake.
Apparently without any help from the Soviet secret services, Blake was taken by car across Europe to East Berlin where he then presented himself to Soviet agents who took him to Moscow.
“These have been the calmest years of my life,” he said. “When I worked in the West, the danger of exposure always hung over me. Here, I feel myself free.”
Blake recalled his contacts in Moscow with Philby — who fled to the USSR before ever being arrested — which included motoring trips and reminiscing about England.
“Yes, there was something to remember. But analyze — no. We understood. We knew our stories and who had done what,” said Blake.
Blake appears to have enjoyed life in Russia much more than Philby, whose time in Moscow until his death in 1988 many believe was scarred by drinking and depression.
“This is my character. I can adapt to anywhere where I have to live. I even got used to being in the Scrubs,” said Blake.