BBC's Faces of the Year - The Women

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DuffySimone WallmeyerFiona ShackletonShannon MatthewsIngrid BetancourtFern BrittonYang PeiyiCarla BruniSarah PalinGeorgina BaillieChristine OhuruoguCheryl Cole

Some of the women who have made the headlines in 2008, clockwise from top left: Duffy, Simone Wallmeyer, Fiona Shackleton, Shannon Matthews, Ingrid Betancourt, Fern Britton, Cheryl Cole, Christine Ohuruogu, Georgina Baillie, Sarah Palin, Carla Bruni and Yang Peiyi.

If the credit crunch, which started in 2007, grew to become the story of the year, one face represents the turmoil of the financial meltdown better than any other - Simone Wallmeyer. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange broker's emotion-wracked face became a fixture on the front pages of many newspapers around the world. Behind her designer spectacles, Ms Wallmeyer's animated features seemed to reflect every bad twist and turn in the world economy. The 47-year-old broker with Germany's ICF securities bank thinks her fame may be partly to do with the fact that she sits in front of the share price index board. But she admits the adrenaline high caused by the markets crashing has caused her to "run the full gamut of emotions".

Presenting a far more beatific face to the world was the British singer Duffy. The 24-year-old diminutive blonde chanteuse from Bangor in north Wales headed a charge of female British soul talent with a retro feel. Duffy's album Rockferry was the biggest selling album of the year, outperforming Coldplay and Take That. It included her hit, Mercy, which was voted Song of the Year at the MOJO awards. Duffy, real name Aimee Duffy but never referred to as such except by friends, has also received three Grammy nominations. She has been compared to Dusty Springfield in both looks and voice and, like Dusty, has found fame in America. She has made 15 trips to New York and has sung at the legendary Harlem Apollo.

Emotions were in plentiful supply in court 34 of the Royal Courts of Justice earlier this year when Heather Mills poured a jug of water over the head of Fiona Shackleton. Ms Shackleton was the lawyer representing her husband Sir Paul McCartney in their divorce proceedings. But the 51-year-old legal eagle had the last laugh, convincing the judge that her client, the former Beatle, was worth only half of the £800m that Ms Mills alleged. Ms Mills asked for £125m, but was granted only £24.3m. It was another triumph for the woman whose charm, resoluteness and blonde looks have earned her the nickname Steel Magnolia. It was because of Ms Shackleton's high-profile success when acting for the Prince of Wales in his divorce case against Diana that McCartney is said to have chosen her.

If Heather Mills has become something of a hate figure in the British media, it is nothing compared with the mother of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews. Karen Matthews reported her daughter missing in February, made an emotional appeal to her "kidnappers" and had many of her neighbours in Dewsbury go looking for the child. In fact, Shannon had been abducted by Mrs Matthew's boyfriend's uncle, Michael Donovan, described in court as "inadequate", in connivance with Miss Matthews. Shannon was drugged, tethered and kept in the drawer of a divan bed. The debt-ridden mother had hoped to profit from a reward. The pair were convicted of abduction charges. The case, however, raised the lid on the extent of poverty, welfare dependency and child neglect in many of Britain's sink council housing estates.

There was nothing fake about the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt. In 2002, nine months after announcing that she would run for President of Colombia, she was captured by the guerrilla group Farc and held for six years in the jungle. She and 14 others were rescued this year in a daring mission launched by her former rival, President Alvaro Uribe. During her captivity, she says she was "abused, insulted and tortured". She spoke to the BBC's Alan Johnston, himself a kidnap victim, about her struggle to maintain her self-respect, and said of her ordeal, "I've decided that there are things that will never be brought to the surface - that have to stay in the jungle."

TV presenter Fern Britton earned a good deal of praise in the tabloid press for losing some five stones in weight on a diet. Initially she said, "It's taken me two years and a lot of hard work." However, praise turned to criticism when it emerged she had had a gastric band fitted around her stomach, reducing the amount of food it could take. Viewers felt they had been misled and, in the resultant furore, Ms Britton missed four editions of her programme This Morning with "nervous exhaustion". She said that she had fudged the issue in case it encouraged people to undergo the procedure inappropriately.

A deception on a much grander scale was performed by the Chinese authorities at the summer Olympics in front of a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions. As part of the opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium, a cute little nine-year-old Chinese girl named Lin Miaoke sang the Ode to the Motherland. Except she didn't. In fact, it was to have been performed by another child, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi. But at the 11th hour, little Yang was replaced because she wasn't photogenic enough. Instead, Lin Miaoke lip-synched Yang Peiyi's voice. An official declared, "The child on the camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression."

There's nothing unphotogenic about Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France's first lady as of February this year when she tied the knot with French president Nicolas Sarkozy. A month later the former supermodel went on to wow the British public accompanying her husband on a state visit to Britain. The media positively frothed at the mouth in describing her elegant beauty. Her charm offensive was not restricted to matters of state. In September, she appeared on the BBC's Later… with Jools Holland programme singing songs from her recent album, Comme Si de Rien N'Etait. Later, she told French TV that her wedding to President Sarkozy was decided just two days in advance, and that she had practised curtsying to The Queen with singer Marianne Faithfull.

Another woman who caused a stir in world politics in 2008 was Sarah Palin. John McCain catapulted her from the obscurity of Alaska on to the world stage when he chose her as his presidential running mate. When she joked, "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick", it seemed a large section of America instantly fell in love with her. A number of gaffes, the comedy impersonation by Tina Fey, and a family scandal involving her brother-in-law eventually saw Mrs Palin become more of a campaign liability than a benefit. Yet, many on the right of the Republican Party are backing her to become their presidential candidate in 2012.

Another figure that rose from obscurity in an unlikely fashion was Georgina Baillie. A member of a "horror burlesque" troupe named the Satanic Sluts, she found herself at the centre of a media scandal that resulted in comedian Russell Brand and Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas resigning from the BBC, while presenter Jonathan Ross was suspended. On radio, Brand and Ross had rung up Baillie's grandfather, Andrew Sachs, the actor best known for his role as Manuel in Fawlty Towers. In a message they left on his answer phone, Brand boasted of having slept with Sachs's granddaughter. Later, Miss Baillie told how her loving middle-class upbringing had given way to drugs and appearances in pornographic movies once her parents had split up. When asked what she had learned from this scandal, her reply was "Don't sleep with celebrities. Ever."

Christine Ohuruogu admitted she was so nervous before the Olympic 400m final that she barely slept. When the starting gun sounded, her main rival, American Sanya Richards, went off at a furious pace. But Ohuruogu timed her tactics to perfection, winning Britain's first 400m Olympic gold since Eric Liddell - of Chariots of Fire fame - won in 1924. It was a remarkable comeback for Ohuruogu who had been suspended for a year after three missed drugs tests. She then successfully challenged a ruling that barred her from competing at the Olympics. After the race she said, "The last 50 metres is when people start dying and everyone knows I don't die in the last 50 metres."

Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole received much public sympathy after tabloid speculation about the fidelity of her husband, footballer Ashley Cole. But her popularity has soared this year since she became a judge and mentor on the popular reality TV show, The X Factor. Her good looks combined with her warmth and sensitivity appeals to both sexes. She cries when empathising with contestants' sob stories, but is forthright and feisty when criticising performances. Cole herself auditioned for a reality TV programme as a nervous 19-year-old. According to PR guru Max Clifford, "She knows her subject because, professionally, she does exactly what she's judging…she's got a natural humility."

Compiled by Bob Chaundy.

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