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Emma Thompson tearfully tells of her delight at her orphan from Rwanda


Ambition has never really fueled Emma Thompson's illustrious career.

Two Oscars, and countless Golden Globes and BAFTAs later, the actress insists she is still happiest at home making jam.

She reserves her highest ambitions, however, for Tindyebwa Agaba, the Rwandan orphan she and husband Greg Wise welcomed into their family four years ago.

Her eyes fill with tears of pride when she speaks of the boy they unofficially adopted at 16, now a politics student at Exeter University.

‘Am I proud of him? He’s just done so well. He’s 20 on December 23rd and he’s superb. It's incredible what he's managed to do,' she said.

'There he was, he'd never taken an exam and he did his GCSEs and then went off and bloody did A-levels. Now his vocabulary is somewhat better than mine. What does he call me? He calls me Mum.

'He wants to be a human rights lawyer and to go home and be active, either in law or politics.

'I, of course, want him to be president, just corrupt enough so that I can have my own palace. I don't need much!'

'Rainbow' families are, of course, all the rage in Hollywood, although Miss Thompson took 'Tindy' as he is called, under her wing long before Angelina Jolie started adopting babies from around the world and Madonna brought home her 18-month old boy party held by the Refugee Council.

'He didn't have much English, but we just got talking,' she said in an interview with Saga magazine.

'His experience had been awful and when he finally got to England after tremendous suffering, the Home Office didn't believe him.

'He spent two nights sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square before they finally did.

'It was the only time he considered suicide. He's such a lovely, enchanting boy so I said, “Come and have Christmas with us“. And he came for half the day.

'Slowly, he became a sort of permanent fixture, came on holiday to Scotland with us, became part of the family. He's Gaia's big brother; a wonderful boy.

'I have never seen why your family is only made up of people related to you by blood. What if you don't have enough?

What if you need a few more?' Miss Thompson, who met her second husband Greg Wise 11 years ago on the set of Sense and Sensibility, has spoken openly of her sadness at not being able to have a second child.

Gaia was conceived through IVF when Miss Thompson was 40, but several subsequent attempts to give her a brother or sister failed.

'It was a pretty brutal process, but you have to be stoic. You try your hardest and, if it doesn't work, it's not your fault,' she said.

'I think about what some people in Africa have to go through but, for me, not being able to get pregnant and have another child really, really hurts.'

Despite their longing for another child and depression over the failure of IVF – which at one point compelled Wise to seek therapy – they were not tempted to adopt an African baby.

But Miss Thompson refused to add her voice to the chorus of disapproval for Madonna's decision to adopt a boy from Malawi.

'While I understand the arguments about taking people away from their culture, there is a culture of deprivation and poverty which is not fun to be part of,' she said.

'She (Madonna) found a child in desperate need. Some people want to bring up a child personally, others want to act in a more general way, but both ways are surely to be welcomed.'

Until Tindy became part of her family, Miss Thompson preferred the more general route.

While cynics may occasionally sneer at her philanthropy, most of her humanitarian work is done away from the spotlight.

As an ambassador for Action Aid, she has visited Uganda, Mozambique and Ethiopia, calling at Aids hospices, hospitals and refugee camps. She also works with Helen Bamber's Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Her 'real life', she insisted, is a million miles away from the red carpet glamour of film premieres and awards ceremonies.

(Her latest film, Stranger Than Fiction opens on December 1.)

'Sometimes I get to put on posh frocks and be Madam Glamour, the vendor of my wares, but my real life is very different,' she said.

'It's very, very home-based – an intense domestic life, that's the core of everything.'

Miss Thompson, 47, and Wise, 40, live close to her mother, actress Phyllidia Law, and sister Sophie in North London.

Her father Eric Thompson, the creator of the Magic Round-about, died when she was 21.

Her first six-year marriage to actor Kenneth Branagh foundered in 1995 amid rumours of his infidelity.

She once declared: 'I've had so much bloody practice at crying in a bedroom and then having to go out and be careful, gathering up the pieces of my heart and putting them in a drawer.'

Her second marriage to Wise, however, seems to be everything she could hope for.

'I'm so lucky,' she said. 'Greg is the man from heaven. He's really kind, extremely decent.

'I don't mean that to sound boring, but he's kind to everyone all the time. He's completely unaware of his own beauty, otherwise, he'd be intolerable, basically.'

While she insisted she loves nothing more than being at home and making jam, her idealism and desire to nurture has led her to take on charitable causes.

'It's not a question of giving back. It's about responsibility,' she said. 'It's not my fault that there is this gap between rich and poor, it is the fault of the governments.

'I want a different world. One where I don't wake up thinking I'm so lucky to be able to feed my daughter.

'I don't want images of starving babies in my mind. I want that to change. And if I want that I had better do something about it.'

By Helen Weathers 

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