Since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and as rumours circulate about his declining health, the body double theories continue to stack up.
The head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, whose wife was poisoned in November according to Ukrainian intelligence officials, has put forward theories that the Russian president is using body doubles, alleging that the ‘real’ Putin has not been seen since June last year.
In August 2022, Budanov appeared on TV to claim to viewers that Putin’s height and ears have changed in recent appearances.
In March, Putin was mocked by Ukraine for allegedly sending a lookalike to war-ravaged Mariupol in a high security visit. Kyiv official Anton Gerashchenko posted three images of Putin’s chin and questioned whether they belonged to the same man.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov in April admitted that reports were rife about Putin’s doppelgängers but claimed the warmonger was still ‘mega-active’.
But the concept of world leaders using doubles is not a new one.
Joseph Stalin. Felix Dadaev in 2008, with the apparent approval of the Putin regime, finally came forward to tell a quite remarkable story of standing in for Stalin
Putin in February in Moscow (left), his trip to Sevastopol on March 18 (centre) and his visit to Mariupol on March 19 (right), in images posted by Kyiv official Anton Gerashchenko
For figures in power and the intelligence officials surrounding them, doubles and decoys can serve as a useful method of avoiding assassination or throwing the enemy off course.
Putin is not even the first Russian leader reported to have used a body double. In 2008, with the apparent approval of the Putin regime, Felix Dadaev finally came forward to tell a quite remarkable story of his time standing in for Joseph Stalin.
For a quarter of a century, Stalin dictatorially ruled the Soviet Union and transformed it into a major world power.
The Soviet dictator probably exercised greater political power than any other figure in history.
He industrialised the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, forcibly collectivised its agriculture, consolidated his position by intensive police terror, helped to defeat Germany in 1941 to 45, and extended Soviet controls to include a belt of eastern European states.
Chief architect of Soviet totalitarianism and a skilled but phenomenally ruthless organiser, he destroyed the remnants of individual freedom and failed to promote individual prosperity, yet he created a mighty military-industrial complex and led the Soviet Union into the nuclear age.
The narrow, baggy eyes and droopy moustache were unmistakable – features that terrified half the world, condemned millions to a cruel death and which even today are an instant symbol of monstrous despotism.
But despite the careful curve of the brows and the immaculate hair, pictures emerged of a lookalike who had never been supreme leader of the Soviet Republic.
This, as the Russian public learned, was Dadaev, a dancer and juggler who, amid the desperate defence against Hitler’s invading armies, was ordered to the Kremlin to work as Stalin’s body double.
Felix Dadaev and Joseph Stalin. For more than half a century, Dadaev remained silent, fearing a death sentence should he dare to open his mouth
For more than half a century, Dadaev remained silent, fearing a death sentence should he dare to open his mouth.
But at the age of 88, he finally came forward to tell a quite remarkable story.
It takes him from the ruined streets of Grozny all the way to Yalta on the Black Sea coast for the historic three-powers showdown, where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt fought to determine the shape of post-war Europe.
Dadaev’s autobiography explains that he was one of four men employed to impersonate the supreme leader, taking his place in motorcades, at rallies, on newsreel footage and wherever – as at Yalta – Stalin feared he was in particular danger.
The Russian media was enthralled. For years, speculation about Stalin’s body doubles remained just that, with the truth locked away in the KGB archives and protected by the culture of paranoia.
It is unlikely that his book, Variety Land, released in 2008, would have been published without official approval.
Brief statements from the KGB archives, the state film industry Mosfilm and the state-run Academy of Security, Defence, Law and Order supported Dadaev’s version of events.
Soviet Russian revolutionary politician and leader ruler. Stalin (1879-1953) was born near Tiflis (now Tblisi) in Georgia
‘Even when I was young, my friends joked that I looked like Stalin,’ he recalled.
‘By the time my make-up and training were complete, I was like him in every way, except perhaps my ears. They were too small.’
Trained at the personal request of Stalin, Dadaev attended rallies and meetings across Russia wearing the leader’s trademark Red Army cap and heavy overcoat encrusted with medals.
He rarely had a speaking part but, in an age before television, his carefully copied appearance and mannerisms went down well.
It helped that he had trained as both an actor and illusionist.
Dadaev was born in the highlands of Dagestan and, when his family moved to Grozny, in Chechnya, he began taking ballet lessons – quite normal for a Russian boy in Soviet times.
At the age of 16, he had been offered a place in the State Singing and Dance Band of Ukraine.
But war broke out and, instead of joining a tour of Britain with the band, Dadaev was posted to a concert brigade, where he performed as a dancer, juggler and illusionist.
He was required to fight, too, and was so badly injured during the Russian liberation of Grozny in 1942 that his family was told he had been killed.
‘I was one of seven “corpses” delivered to a hospital, but another guy and I were still alive,’ he said.
That ‘death’ was the start of a strange double life. One evening in 1943, he was flown to a cottage near Moscow where officers from the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) demanded that he forge a new and distinctive identity.
‘I was flattered, of course – proud to look like the leader, proud to think what my friends who teased me about looking like him when I was young would say now,’ he said.
Just into his 20s, Dadaev was a great deal younger than Stalin, but make-up and the strain of war meant that he could pass as a 60-year-old.
‘We had all experienced so much suffering that I looked much older than I was,’ he said.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin reports to the 8th All-Union Congress of Soviets on the draft Constitution of the USSR
Felix Dadaev (left) in the 1940s and the real Joseph Stalin. Dadaev’s autobiography explains that he was one of four men employed to impersonate the supreme leader
He spent months in training, some of it under the eagle eye of Lavrenty Beria, Stalin’s feared chief of secret police.
He watched movies of Stalin to perfect the mimicry of his movement and intonation.
Dadaev’s book recalls his first terrifying attempt to play Stalin in front of the leader’s comrades at the Kremlin.
‘Remember, this plan was devised by the chiefs of all those frightful committees,’ he said.
‘There was much riding on the plan. Perhaps I did not fully understand all the responsibility.
‘Everybody shivered. Even among those men at the highest level, everyone was scared. The main thing, they said, was to keep silent at the first meeting if Stalin was not in the mood for conversation.
‘But if he was, to be laconic and say something to him in his own voice.
‘After a sleepless night, at 9am they brought me to the Kremlin. First General Vlasik, head of Stalin’s personal security, came by.
‘He was stunned, then, after a pause, nodded his head approvingly. Then he studied my jacket and gown, paid attention to my slightly bent left arm and glanced at my boots.
‘I was waiting with fear in case he noticed my fake grey temples.
‘I had a make-up artist but he couldn’t be with me all the time. So I learned to do it myself.
‘But my ability to copy Stalin’s manners, voice and walk was far more important.’
In 2008, General Vlasik’s daughter Nadezhda Nikolayevna confirmed Dadaev’s role.
‘Yes, they used doubles,’ she said.
‘All the tricks to distract attention from the leader were invented by my father.
‘He was so involved in the work, and loved Stalin so much, that he suggested fantastic ideas.’
Dadaev was talented – and lucky. Had he failed to convince Vlasik or Beria, he would almost certainly have been shot to protect the secret plan.
As it was, he was banned from seeing his relatives and bound by a non-disclosure agreement that remained in force long after Stalin died.
Dictator of Soviet Russia, Joseph Stalin, addresses voters of the Stalin election district in Moscow, on the evening of the election in which Russians voted for the first time under the new constitution
Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Averell Harriman, and an unknown man sit together in the Kremlin in Moscow
Dadaev met his doppelgänger on only one occasion, in the Fifties, and even then the encounter was brief.
‘He smiled and gave me an approving nod and that was it,’ he recalled.
‘Stalin had four doubles in all. He was very afraid of attempts on his life.
‘Spies surrounded him and every trip was thoroughly planned. For example, doubles were often substituted for him on the way to the airport.
‘Several cars were used to distract anyone watching. I often took those trips.’
Initially, Dadaev’s meetings were limited to leaving the Kremlin and driving off in Stalin’s car.
He progressed to meeting party officials, and once, Dadaev stood on the mausoleum in Red Square instead of Stalin.
‘It was a sportsmen’s parade,’ he said.
‘Everyone was sure it was Stalin himself. I walked to the mausoleum with members of the government, then stood on the central dais, smiling and greeting the passing columns.
‘The key thing was to get the step right. When Stalin was among his entourage, his walk was prompt and firm.
‘But at receptions or meetings, he walked slowly and pensively.
‘My confidence was bolstered as soon as I came out and was greeted by government members saluting me.
‘We went directly to the mausoleum. I could see there were no suspicions. Yet again the KGB had pulled it off.’
Dadaev’s biggest mission came as Stalin flew to Yalta for the famous conference in February 1945.
Stalin’s flight was kept top secret while a later one with Dadaev on board was publicised.
‘Two flights were arranged, with one of them aimed to distract everyone’s attention,’ he said.
Marshal Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill together at the Livedia Palace in Yalta, where they were both present for the conference, on February 8, 1945
‘Nobody ever wrote about it, no one knows about it. I was a decoy to draw the attention of foreign intelligence. Stalin was already in Yalta.
‘But it didn’t work. Two attempts were made in Yalta to kill the real Stalin. Our intelligence failed. I was back in Moscow by then.
‘Seven high-ranking intelligence officers lost their posts. They were lucky to lose just that.’
Another ruthless dictator said to have made use of body doubles is former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
There was a point where everyone seemed to be an expert on Hussein body doubles, having read past reports that he had up to 10 at his disposal.
There were questions over whether one of them had appeared Iraqi television, proving that the leader had survived a missile attack.
In some instances, recalling reports circulating about Putin since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, theories concentrated on his chin, ears and jowels, with members of the public worldwide transfixed by the concept of a Hussein clone.
It played into pop culture’s obsession with doubles and decoys. Hussein’s use of lookalikes often portrayed him in a buffoonish manner, with the dictator parodied in the 1993 film Hot Shots! Part Deux and in the wildly popular South Park franchise.
It was widely reported that the Iraqi president had several look-alikes who stood in for him from occasionally at public events.
Intelligence officials had long suspected that Hussein made use of body doubles.
In September 2002, pathologist Dr. Dieter Buhmann from Homberg University in Saarland, southwest Germany, determined that there were at least three lookalikes being used in rotation, featuring in public appearances and seen shooting rifles, smoking cigars, waving and strutting.
It was suggested that the doubles rarely spoke because of Hussein’s idiosyncratic lisp.
Buhmann had been asked by a German television news program to scour hundreds of archived video stills and photographs of Hussein.
Iraqi dissidents had spoken of Hussein’s stand-ins previously, with tales of recruitment schemes and plastic surgery, and of training in movements and mannerisms.
Dr. Buhmann suggested that the face of a reported doppelgänger was just a little too wide. For others, the area under the mouth was fractionally too small and low.
Buhmann said that he had made use of new technology to examine some 450 images of people purporting to be Hussein from public appearances and videos and was able to determine ‘without a doubt’ that he used doubles.
‘The anatomical specificity of the faces is different,’ Buhmann said. ‘One, for example, has a very large middle face. The distance from one ear to the other is very much different to Saddam Hussein. And in another case the region under the mouth is too small and not high enough.’
Arab press had widely reported the dictator’s elaborate security precautions and said that he regularly used doubles and also would never stay in the same building for two nights in a row. Hussein was known to live in constant fear of being assassinated by his own officers.
CIA officials had said that Hussein immediately executed anyone whom he suspected of betraying him, with such measures making it very hard to source reliable intelligence on his location.
Circulating Saddam Hussein theories played into pop culture’s obsession with doubles and decoys. Hussein’s use of lookalikes often portrayed him in a buffoonish manner
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat meeting with Saddam Hussein the former president of Iraq, in Gaza City. Medics announced on October 31, 2004 that Arafat’s health was in a serious condition, after the illness that has persisted for two weeks, took a sudden turn for the worse
One official said: ‘We might know that he was in one of several buildings in Baghdad – but then to be certain of killing him, we would have to blow them all up, which would also kill a lot of innocent people. We’re reluctant to do that.’
Buhmann said he presented his facial features comparison technique using overlays at an FBI forum in 2000, but was uncertain if the method had been adapted by US authorities.
Earlier in September of that year, a former mistress of Hussein, Parisoula Lampsos, who claimed she had been romantically involved with him for three decades, said he had a double whose face had been rendered identical through use of plastic surgery.
She said the dictator joked about UN weapons inspectors, claiming they would never discover anything because he had moved and hidden chemical and other secret weapons prior to their visits.
Hussein denied using body doubles when he was interrogated by FBI special agents who carried out 20 formal interviews and at least five ‘casual conversations’ with former Iraqi dictator after his capture by US troops in December 2003, according to secret FBI reports released as the result of Freedom of Information Act requests by the National Security Archive and posted in July 2009 on the National Security Archive website.
During the interviews Hussein refuted some examples of what he viewed as myths, including his purported use of body doubles.
Instead he said that to evade his enemies he never used the telephone and travelled constantly from one dwelling to another. He described the farm where he was captured in a ‘spider hole’ as the same place where he took refuge after a failed 1959 coup attempt.
Hussein was notorious for being a figure who would stop at nothing to consolidate power, but in body double terms he was outdone by a member of his own family.
Latif Yahia was the body double of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday for four and a half years in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, overcoming several assassination attempts before he escaped at the end of the Persian Gulf War.
Yahia, aged 38 at the time and living in Dublin, released a book about his experiences, entitled I Was Saddam’s Son.
Yahia and Uday attended secondary school together in Baghdad, where schoolmates often mistakenly thought they were related because of their similar appearance.
Yahia claimed he was jailed and threatened with the rape of his sister before he agreed to take on a role as Uday’s double.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his elder son Uday in Baghdad on November 20, 1988
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (sitting) surrounded by his family in Bagdad 20 November 1988 : his first wife, Sajiba (sitting) and his daughters Hala (sitting), Rana (3rdL) and Raghad (center); Hussein ‘s sons-in-law, General Hussein Kamel Hassan (far left), Rana’s husband, and Saddam Kamel Hassan (2ndR), Raghad’s husband; his sons, Uday, the elder (far right) and Qussay (2ndL)
He said that in order to carry this out he had to have teeth implants and plastic surgery on his chin.
Yahia said he was forced to watch videotapes of Uday, to study how his movements and conversations, and to watch videotapes of rape and torture ‘to be strong like Uday, to not care anymore, to be an animal like him’.
He was kitted out with Uday’s signature black uniform and used the same barber. His family considered him dead and a funeral was held for him.
In time, this came to be true, in a way. Whereas Yahia said that as a child, ‘I was so quiet, I was so soft,’ the years as a double made him tough but combustible. He later underwent counselling to overcome the emotional pain resulting from those experiences.
In the 2011 film The Devil’s Double, British actor Dominic Cooper played both Yahia and Uday.
In 1983 Yahia, a lieutenant in the Iraqi army, was forced to become the double of Uday.
Yahia, who eventually managed to flee Iraq aided by the CIA, claims he stood in for Uday when addressing armed forces during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
‘It’s a captivating idea,’ Cooper said. ‘The thought that a basically good man has to live every day with someone so hideous, and that he has no choice in the matter.’
Much of The Devil’s Double is based on Yahia’s autobiography, which gained little attention prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has since sold more than 6.7 million worldwide.
Twenty years after he escaped Iraq, Yahia said he was still affected by his experiences.
‘I still have nightmares, still find it hard to get to sleep until the early hours of the morning,’ Yahia said.
‘Every time I go into the shower, I see the physical scars on my body and think: “Why did this happen to me?”’
Uday Hussein’s was seen as an international playboy, but he was also infamous for his abduction, rape and murdering of young women, and for his torturing and killing of opponents.
He even had a falling out with Saddam Hussein after he killed the Iraqi leader’s personal valet at a party, as depicted in The Devil’s Double. But several of the real-life events detailed in the book were left out of the film.
Latif Yahia, who claims to have been forced to play the double of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, on April 1995
Latif Yahia was the body double of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday for four and a half years in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, overcoming several assassination attempts before he escaped at the end of the Persian Gulf War
Yahia said that had they been included, ‘it would be a horror movie’.
‘If we put in all the details, I don’t think anyone would watch it,’ he added.
‘There are some extraordinary scenes of violence which actually took place and some of them are harrowing,’ Cooper said.
Yet the Mamma Mia! star insisted they are justified in the context of the film’s ‘glimpse of a gangster regime’.
In 1992 Yahia was flown to Vienna after he was taken out of Iraq. He survived four assassination attempts connected to his book and moved to Ireland in 1997.
Yahia eventually chose to settle in Daingean, County Offaly, where he married an Irish woman.
Still visibly carrying the physical scars of his ordeal that ended in 1991, he told Reuters in 2011 that he had lost his identity completely, even to the point that a death certificate was issued in his birth name.
It had taken a long time for him to get some form of that identity back.
‘It take five years between psychology doctors and counselling, and yeah, the scar, you carry it with you your whole life. It’s not something to forget it overnight,’ said Yahia.
It was a challenge to hold onto a slither of his original identity during his time has Uday’s fiday, an experience that was a terrifying one.
Yahia also had a chilling message for the Hussein family’s late son.
He said: ‘Just the worst thing happened to me when I get to Kuwait and I have the assassination attempt, and nearly, this is, I lost my life. I’ve been injured in my arm, my chest, my head – I nearly [was] killed there. But Uday, this guy I say, and I say it before again; if I see him in Hell, I’ll kill him again. I can’t forgive anyone, except this guy.’
Cuban Revolutionary Fidel Castro was also said to have used a body double.
Lieutenant Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sanchez wrote an explosive, revelatory account of state secrets and what he personally witnessed in The Double Life of Fidel Castro, My 17 Years As Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo, published in 2015.
Castro always travelled with fourteen guards spread over four vehicles and multiple weapons distributed in different cars, Sanchez said.
A doctor, a photographer and his double, Silvino Alvarez, who sat at the back of a car wearing a false beard, were in the entourage, he said.
Uday Hussein, the eldest son of President Saddam Hussein, watches training exercises of his father’s vanguards In Baghdad
Dominic Cooper in The Devil’s Double. In the film the actor played both Yahia and Uday
Uday Hussein. Yahia and Uday attended secondary school together in Baghdad, where schoolmates often mistakenly thought they were related because of their similar appearance
Alvarez was used when Castro fell ill in 1983 and 1992. He was driven around Havana to lead the people to believe their leader was well.
Castro himself always had a 7.62mm Soviet Kalashnikov assault rifle along with five clips loaded with thirty bullets each between his feet.
Behind him, level with his right shoulder was a 9mm Browning pistol – and more weaponry was kept with the escort and the guards, as well as in the trunk.
The author and one-time personal bodyguard had to write down details of Castro’s day in notebooks, including the most trivial details, such as the vintage of the wine when a bottle was uncorked. It was an hour-by-hour detailed account of Castro’s life.
When the pages were filled, the little book was tied with string, sealed with wax and sent to the presidential palace and stored for posterity.
And there, along with the notebooks, are recordings of all his important conversations. He secretly recorded everything – including bugging the rooms of foreign diplomats who visited and stayed in Havana hotels. He recorded them on video and bugged the telephone.
Sanchez was one of Castro’s security guards from 1977 to 1994, accompanying him on overseas trips to meet everybody from popes to US presidents, and witnessing first hand his boss’s ability to exploit Cuba as a personal fiefdom.
Recalling a typical day spent spear fishing off Cayo Piedra, he said: ‘I can’t describe it any other way than comparing it with the royal hunts of Louis XV in the forests around Versailles.’
When, in 2005 and 2006, Forbes named Castro as one of the world’s richest heads of state – on a par with the Queen of England and Prince Albert of Monaco – he accused the magazine of ‘infamy’ in a public tirade that raged against the alleged greed of countries such as Britain and the US.
Lt. Col Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, who was a personal bodyguard of Cuban leader Fidel Castro
As Cuba’s Chief of State, Head of Government, Prime Minister, First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he wanted to be known as the ‘Maximum Leader’, not a lazy, avaricious despot.
Sanchez spent 17 years working for Castro before getting bored with the job and asking to be allowed to resign.
Castro responded by accusing him of disloyalty and jailing him for two years between 1994 and 1996.
Sanchez recalled in 2014 how he once viewed the indisputably charismatic Castro as ‘a god’, admitting: ‘I would have died for him.’
But he later said the man he’d been brought up to admire became Cuba’s ‘master in the manner of a 19th-century landowner’.
‘For him, wealth was above all an instrument of power, of political survival, of personal protection,’ he said.
‘Fidel Castro also let it be known that the revolution gave him no rest, no time for pleasure and that he ignored, indeed despised, the bourgeois concept of holidays. He lies.’
Following a decade of keeping his head down, Sanchez fled to the US as an exile in 2008.
Castro, meanwhile, handed over power to his brother, Raul, the same year, guaranteeing that in the absence of any legal opposition party in Cuba, the Castro dynasty will continue to flourish.
Sanchez portrays a man obsessed with power and money, who styled himself as a hero of the working classes while living the opulent existence of a medieval potentate.
Unlike a gilded royal, however, the Cuban leader managed to keep his life of luxury a closely guarded secret.
For that, like any good dictator, he can thank the agents of a security state every bit as oppressive as that forged by dictatorial chums in Zimbabwe, China and the old Soviet Union.
Castro indulged in a double life of grandeur while portraying himself as a humble revolutionary and vocalising his despise for the bourgeois concept of life and vacation.
He had numerous affairs and kept his mistresses a secret, along with his lavish lifestyle.
His many luxurious homes, his offices, the ghost town where guerrillas were trained, everything was a secret including all the money he siphoned off from the national economy.
Castro amassed an immense personal fortune that enabled him to live like a prince, nightly drinking his whisky on the rocks or scotch over ice while being waited on.
He lived like a prince but his language was littered with profanities.
Caya Piedra, an island of unparalleled beauty in the Caribbean Sea off the southern coast of Cuba, was the secret getaway destination of Castro travelling in the only luxury yacht in the republic of Cuba.
Castro indulged in a double life of grandeur while portraying himself as a humble revolutionary and vocalising his despise for the bourgeois concept of life and vacation (File Photo)
Cuban president Fidel Castro speaks to reporters after attending the UN General Assembly meeting on September 26, 1960
Ten members of his elite personal corps escorted their leader in 55-foot-long speedboats ‘all equipped with heavy machine guns and stocks of grenades, Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, and ammunition to prepare us for any eventuality’, wrote the author.
Castro travelled in his private, elegant boat, Aquarama II, entirely ‘decorated in exotic wood imported from Angola,’ a replica of a vessel confiscated when he overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Few Cubans knew about the yacht, or the private creek where it was moored ninety miles southeast of Havana.
Ironically he discovered the island following the failed Bay of Pigs Landing in April 1961 mounted by President Kennedy.
A landing stage was built for Castro’s three vessels and a helicopter, a floating pontoon was annexed to the jetty and a straw hut with a bar and barbeque grill to prepare all freshly caught meals.
Most Cubans believed Castro only owned ‘a modest fisherman’s hut somewhere on the coast’ rather than this luxury vacation home he visited every weekend when it wasn’t raining.
Several Cuban ministers have stepped on shore, claims the author, along with CNN founder Ted Turner, Barbara Walters, French businessman Gerard Bourgoin the Chicken King and Erich Honecker, one time leader of the communist German Democratic Republic but few others.
Cuba’s President Fidel Castro and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gesture during an event in Havana in on April 3, 1989
Commanders Raul Castro (L to R), Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana in 1959 during the first year of the Cuban Revolution
The author swam at his side or above him carrying a pneumatic rifle that shot round-tipped arrows that bounced off of a target to warn off any sharks or barracudas that might come too close.
Castro owned a block of houses to guarantee the security of a building called Once in that block. The building contained a fitness room, a private basketball court (he never lost a game), a bowling alley, and an apartment that housed his mistress Celia Sanchez who had been at the heart of the Cuban revolution with Fidel, his confidante and indispensable aid after meeting in 1957.
He visited her daily until her death in 1980 and did not marry Dalia until Celia had passed.
Hidden behind high walls on a different site of five acres was Unit 160, the logistical headquarters that housed everything from fuel, telecommunications, food supplies, and car mechanics.
There were laying hens and a flock of geese, several bulls and Holstein cows that were the subjects of Castro’s genetic experiments to improve milk yields and farming.
Behind 160 was a detached house, the House of Carbonell, where Castro had many secret affairs – including with Juana Vera, aka Juanita, his English speaking interpreter, Gladys, a Cuban airline flight attendant, and Pilar, a French speaking interpreter – among many others.
‘Thinness, much more than blondeness, was an essential criterion in Fidel’s romantic choices,’ Sanchez said.
He was more interested in his mistresses than his siblings and his numerous offspring – numbering no less than nine.
Castro during Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s visit in 1989
Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro arm raised in triumph, as he enters Havana with his bodyguards in January 1959
Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro responds to a question from American NBC reporter Barbara Walters at a news conference granted to members of the US press covering Sen. George McGovern’s trip to Cuba, in Havana, Cuba, on May 7, 1975
In Punto Cero, Dalia was boss over the meals, the domestics’ schedules, the relationship Castro had with her five children.
If one of their five offspring wanted to speak with Castro, they had to go through Dalia.
But perhaps the most important example of the use of a decoy among historical figures comes from Britain’s very own Bernard Montgomery.
On May 25, 1944, Field Marshal Montgomery was in the south of England planning to invade German-occupied northern France with a 1.3 million-strong army.
On the same day, the Montgomery decoy made an appearance in the British colony of Gibraltar, leading Nazi spies to inform Berlin that the invasion would take place in the south of France.
The outlandish scheme saw two Bernard Montgomerys living separate lives over the course of few weeks.
One was Britain’s most celebrated soldier soldier, a constant threat to the German army Italy and North Africa.
The other was a nine-fingered actor from Perth, who looked the spitting image of the national hero.
As the Germans frantically attempted to work out where the Allied forces invasion would strike, a doppelgänger named M.E. Clifton James was doing his utmost to confuse them.
Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976), Chief of Imperial General Staff during World War II
M.E. Clifton James. His uncanny resemblance to Montgomery became known through word of mouth, leading to an invitation from the film unit
By the summer of 1944, the German military was thin on the ground due to a brutal war against the pressing Russians in Eastern Europe.
They were aware that a combined British and US force was preparing to establish a ‘Western Front’, but they did not know the location.
The Allies assessed that their daring planned invasion of Normandy in the north of France had the highest probability of being successful if the Germans had allocated their defences elsewhere.
Making use of double-agents, the Allies had tricked the Germans into believing that Norway, the south of France, the Balkans and Romania were under threat of imminent invasion.
Their fictional army in the south of England included inflatable tanks to dupe German planes.
But Montgomery’s decoy proved to be their most rewarding trick.
M.E. Clifton James had been a working actor for 25 years.
James, who had grown up in Western Australia before moving to London, had joined the British Army with the aim of becoming an entertainer, but was instead drafted to the Pay Corps.
His uncanny resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery became known through word of mouth, leading to an invitation from the film unit.
James was trained to impersonate Montgomery after being auditioned by successful Hollywood actor Lieutenant Colonel David Niven.
The crash course included mimicking Montgomery’s speech patterns and his quick and unpredictable mannerisms.
M.E. Clifton James. James was trained to impersonate Montgomery after being auditioned by successful Hollywood actor Lieutenant Colonel David Niven
James used a prosthetic finger after losing his during WW1 so that it would not give him away.
Some of the pair’s lifestyle choices were also world’s apart.
Montgomery famously shunned alcohol and cigarettes, while James was known to enjoy both.
Two weeks before D-Day, James was flown on Winston Churchill’s plane to Gibraltar in southern Spain.
There were no German spies active in Britain at the time, but Gibraltar was known to harbour several German agents.
It would serve as an ideal location for the decoy Montgomery and Operation Copperhead.
There he opened up at a reception at the governor-general’s home for ‘Plan 303’, an invasion of southern France, across the country from the real landing site.
Berlin found out and the German commanders were left confused.
James then travelled to Algiers in Algeria, making a several public appearances with the Allied commander in the Mediterranean.
The Germans could not understand why Britain’s best general was in Africa at the perfect time for a European invasion. The foundations were now truly cemented.
The trick operation had a bigger impact than the Allies had anticipated.
Adolf Hitler fully believed that a series of diversionary attacks were set to take place across Europe.
Hitler told the Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Oshima on June 1: ‘I think that diversionary actions will take place in a number of places – against Norway, Denmark, the southern part of western France, and the French Mediterranean coast.’
M.E. Clifton James dressed as British soldier Field Marshal Montgomery
When units from Great Britain, US, Canada and Free France landed in Normandy on June 6, the Nazi leader was convinced it formed part of the bluff.
He refused to move German troop out of the Pas-de-Calais region for seven weeks, as he believed that the Normandy invasion was just a diversionary attack.
By the time he changed his mind, the Allies had made a significant advance and the Germans would be forced out of the French capital a month later.
James found himself without work at the end of the Second World War and started to take unemployment benefits.
But he achieved fame through his 1954 memoir I Was Monty’s Double, in which he detailed his role in Operation Copperhead.
Four years later, James played both himself and Montgomery in the film version, which altered aspects of the story.
Towards the end of the film, German commandos arrive by submarine to kidnap the phony Montgomery, with a lively fight scene breaking out. The real-life version was not so dramatic.