Kate Adie at Scarborough Literary Festival. 26-04-09

When Kate Adie entered the room we didn’t quite cheer her as she walked to the front but it wouldn’t have taken much- just one person getting to their feet would have led to a standing ovation, and this is Yorkshire after all. Thankfully she didn’t disappoint us. She was a formidable and quite glamorous presence, warm, funny, straight talking. A natural communicator- unsurprisingly. She was able to announce, for instance, that news editors are unfeeling bastards (and some of them look like it) in a way which made her point and also made her audience laugh. If I had been a news editor I’d probably have still laughed along with everybody else. She is very good at drawing you into the world of being a news correspondent, debunking myths and convincingly disowning any claim to being brave while describing being blown across a room in Sarajevo when a munitions factory exploded. Her rationale for this is the fact that nobody was ordering her to go into danger, at any point she could back out and hide behind a wall, but the fact is that she didn’t and that’s why we have the astonishing legacy of reporting which she has left behind. Her story of how the Tiananmen square news was got back was particularly telling. She still has trouble with the tendons in one hand because she clung onto that tape so hard that they had to prise her fingers apart to get it from her when she got back. She also told us that she had been shot three times before remembering a fourth.
She was also very generous to her audience. We were assumed to be intelligent thinking people and we were not talked down to, something which would have been all to easy for someone in her position to do. She answered the standard question about the morality of reporting a crisis without helping those in need, for example, in a way which was firm and clear and didn’t make the person who had brought it up feel that they had asked a silly question, even though to someone with her experience they clearly had. She was also generous with her time, going on for longer than she needed to and frankly if she hadn’t wrapped things up beautifully at the end most of her audience would probably have still been sitting there listening to her now.
It is very easy to see why she was down in London working for the BBC within a year of joining them and became their chief news correspondent. I don’t suppose anyone else would have had a chance against her.


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