JACK Straw stunned Blackburn and the world he he invited Condoleezza Rice, one of the world's most powerful women, to Blackburn 13 years ago.

They were even more surprised when the US Secretary of State accepted.

In Spring 2006 the then Labour Foreign Secretary cemented a friendship with the global adviser to Republican President George W Bush that crossed normal political divisions by coming to his constituency.

It proved both congratulatory and controversial with demonstrations against the Iraq War, the cancellation of a visit to a mosque and a meeting with local Muslims where discussions of women's issues soon took precedence over international affairs.

Mr Straw made sure she visited his beloved Ewood Park although plans to take her to watch Blackburn Rovers play Wigan were scrapped when the match was moved from the Saturday of her visit to the following Monday evening.

She still met players including the club's US international goalkeeper Brad Friedel and took home a first team shirt with her name on the back, promising to wear it when working out.

Miss Rice also visited Blackburn Cathedral, where she lit a candle for war and disaster victims; the Town Hall where she faced the world's press; Pleckgate High School and Mr Straw's constituency office.

In an exclusive Lancashire Telegraph interview she said: "I have been very impressed by everything I have seen. It is not how I expected it to be.I have seen clean factories, tidy houses and a lot of nice countryside.

"I will certainly tell people about Blackburn. I will also be looking out for how Blackburn Rovers do."

She dismissed the protests saying: "People have a right to make their opinions known, it is part of the fabric of democracy.

"People did protest, I am used to that, it happens wherever I go, but I will also remember the people who came out of their houses and their stores and waved flags at me and waved. It has been a very warm welcome."

In addition Miss Rice fitted in a trip to the neighbouring Ribble Valley to visit British Aerospace's Samlesbury plant for our of the US/UK Joint Strike Fighter Project.

Former council leader Sir Bill Taylor commented: "This is the first time since the 1930s when Gandhi came to Darwen that we have had an international statesperson visit."

After her visit the two politicians flew to Iraq with Mr Straw 'mortified' to learn Miss Rice had given up her bed so he could sleep on the flight.

Mr Straw said yesterday: "It was a fantastic visit which everyone remembers as does Condi. She had taken me and my wife to Birmingham Alabama, the segregated city where she was raised. This was my 'Thank-you'. The visit certainly put Blackburn on he global map."