Aung San Suu Kyi returns to Oxford after 24 years

Aung San Suu Kyi will arrive in Oxford later today. Photo: Press Association

When Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Oxford later today, she will have returned to the source of her moral power. When she left the city of dreaming spires in 1988, she was a housewife travelling home to Burma to care for her sick mother.

Within weeks, she had become a leader in the struggle for civilian government in her homeland. The course of her life turned.

The ruling junta placed her under house arrest the following year. Anxious to be rid of such a potent force for change, the ruling junta always made it clear to her that she was free to return home to her family in Oxford at any time. But The Lady always refused their offer. She knew that if she left, she would never be allowed to return. Her priority was her people.

Much is made of Aung San Suu Kyi's grace and compassion, but there is steel in her soul, forged into armour for her devotion to duty.

While she was bound by four walls in Burma, her sons grew into men. In 1999, her beloved husband, Michael, died of cancer. While Aung San Suu Kyi wouldn't leave her homeland, his illness became a bargaining chip for the junta. His pleas to the generals to be allowed one last visit to see his wife cruelly refused.

What deep private anguish she must have suffered in her determination to place the needs of her people above those of her family. The willingness to deny herself personal happiness for the sake of the public good is what has delivered her icon status, however much she hates that phrase.

The arrangements for her reunion with her boys, and her introduction to her grandchildren, are not widely known. There may be a brief photocall to satisfy the appetite of a global media, but that will be all.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a private woman. Not for her the emotional incontinence of the celebrity age. Not for her the tears of the politician, shed in search of votes.

She has lived a life of quiet dignity, and it will surely continue as such.