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The Mail on Sunday - You - - First Person -

1936, my fa­ther Louis Di­dier was 34 and fi­nan­cially well off when he met a miner who was strug­gling to feed his chil­dren. Louis sug­gested the miner ‘en­trust’ to him his youngest child Jean­nine, a flaxen-haired six-year- old. He would ed­u­cate her at board­ing school with the con­di­tion that her fam­ily no longer saw her. His ul­ti­mate mis­sion was for Jean­nine, once grown-up, to give him a child as blonde as her, who would be raised away from the pol­lut­ing in­flu­ences of the out­side world. On 23 Novem­ber 1957, 22 years after Louis took on Jean­nine, she gave birth to a blonde baby girl. Three years later, Louis bought a house be­tween Lille and Dunkirk in the north of France and with­drew there so that the cou­ple could de­vote them­selves to car­ry­ing out his project of turn­ing their child into a su­per­hu­man be­ing. That child was me.

* * * * My fa­ther doesn’t like me do­ing noth­ing. When I was very lit­tle I was al­lowed to play in the garden once I’d fin­ished study­ing with my mother. But now that I’m al­most five, I have less free time. ‘Fo­cus on your du­ties,’ he says.

I must prove my­self wor­thy of the tasks he will set for me but I’m afraid I won’t match up to his vi­sion. I feel too fee­ble, too clumsy, too stupid. And I’m so fright­ened of him. The sheer heft of him, his big head and steely eyes – I’m so ter­ri­fied my legs give way when I come close to him. And I don’t ex­pect any pro­tec­tion from my mother. ‘Mon­sieur Di­dier’ is a demigod to her, one she both adores and loathes, but would never op­pose.

My fa­ther is con­vinced that the mind can achieve any­thing. It can over­come ev­ery dan­ger and con­quer ev­ery ob­sta­cle. But to do this re­quires long, rig­or­ous train­ing away from the ‘im­pu­ri­ties’ of this dirty world. He tells me that I should never leave the house, even after he’s dead. At other times he in­forms me that later I’ll be able to do what­ever I want, that I could be pres­i­dent of France and that when I leave the house it won’t be to live a point­less life as ‘Mrs No­body’. It will be to con­quer the world and ‘achieve great­ness’.

My fa­ther, who joined the Re­sis­tance dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and dug tun­nels to help Jews flee to Bel­gium, be­lieves mu­sic is the most im­por­tant sub­ject. One day he rings the bell to sum­mon me to the ve­ran­dah. ‘You’ll be seven soon, so you can un­der­stand what I am about to ex­plain. When you ar­rive at a con­cen­tra­tion camp ev­ery­thing is taken from you. Whether you’re rich and beau­ti­ful or poor and ugly, they put you in the same py­ja­mas and shave your head. The only peo­ple who make it out alive are mu­si­cians, so you need to know ev­ery type of mu­sic, but you will have a bet­ter chance of es­cap­ing with a musette waltz than a con­certo. As

Maude in front of the house in north­ern France where she grew up, and, op­po­site, as a tod­dler with her fa­ther

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