John Simpson

A couple of weekends ago, I was shopping in Stanfords and bought a ticket for a talk at the Royal Geographical Society by John Simpson that was being advertised to raise funds for Prisoners of Conscience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, after all, you’d hope a reporter as experienced as he is would be an entertaining public speaker, but there’s always the danger that someone with so many stories to tell becomes, well, just a little bit boorish. Fortunately it was nothing of the sort. He spoke of “heros” for the first half of the talk, and for the other half answered questions from the audience. The heros in question were a school teacher in the Peruvian part of the Amazonas that had stood up to local drug lords (together of course, with some anecdotes about reporting the story — including a surruptitious attempt to leave a video camera recording during an interview when the Commandante had requested it be turned off; unfortunately the camera then decided to noisily chew the tape halfway during the interview), an American diplomat stationed in Argentina during the time of the military junta’s oppression, and a very brief anecdote about Nelson Mandela. In answering questions he also covered the current situation in the former Yugoslavia, following Milosevic’s death in the Hague and the impending deadline for the handover of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (one of whom he described with something along the lines of of being a poisonous, evil dwarf built like a brick s**t-house), some of the stories that aren’t being reported at the moment (the political and humanitarian situation in Uzbekistan), and the fallout of the Hutton report on the BBC (some of his choicest words were reserved for Hutton).

By his own admission, he is too old to care about offending people any more, and I imagine the fact that he’s still alive and kicking after reporting unfavourably on many less than savoury characters goes some way to fortify that position.

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