Britain’s Queen Camilla has unveiled a new portrait of Noor Inayat Khan, Indian-origin spy and descendant of Tipu Sultan, at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Club in London. The portrait unveiling honours her sacrifice as an undercover agent for Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II.
The 76-year-old senior royal has also formally named a room at the RAF Club as “Noor Inayat Khan Room”, where the portrait hangs opposite a stained-glass window celebrating women in the RAF, which was inaugurated by her late mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth II in 2018. The unveiling took place on Tuesday.
Noor was a member of RAF’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) when she was recruited to the SOE in 1942 and went on to become one of only two members of the WAAF to be awarded the George Cross.
The George Cross was the highest award bestowed for acts of the greatest heroism, or for the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
“It was a proud moment to have the Queen unveil the portrait of Noor Inayat Khan at the RAF Club,” said British Indian author Shrabani Basu, who presented a copy of her biography of Noor — Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan — to the Queen at the unveiling ceremony.
“For me, it has been a privilege to tell her story. This wonderful portrait will now be seen by many young men and women for generations. Noor’s story will never be forgotten,” she said.
Born Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan in Moscow in 1914 to an Indian sufi saint father and American mother, Noor moved to London at a young age before settling in Paris for her school years. Following the fall of France during World War II, she escaped to England and joined the WAAF.
In late 1942, she was recruited into the SOE, created to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in occupied territories during the war.
Her portrait at the RAF Club was unveiled in the presence of her relatives, including 95-year-old cousin Shaikh Mahmood and nephew Pir Zia Inayat Khan.
The portrait has been created by celebrated British artist Paul Brason, a former President of the Society of Portrait Painters. He based his creation on the few available images of Noor Inayat Khan to capture her steely resolve as an undercover agent, who refused to crack under brutal Nazi interrogation before being shot by the Gestapo at Dachau concentration camp in Germany in 1944 with the word “liberty” on her lips.