“It’s nothing like the movies; in a war zone you are so scared you actually shit yourself, that’s why a war zone stinks”
I grew up with Kate Adie. Throughout my early adolescence and on through my teens, twenties and thereafter, in fact of all the news reports I recall watching, it is Kate who I remember most of all. I was in awe of this amazing woman who seemed to think nothing of having a face-off with anyone; world leaders, royalty, dictators, the list was endless and if there was a fray, she’d almost certainly be in the middle of it.
So it has always been a goal of mine to listen to her speaking at a literary event and I finally achieved that at the Dorset Women’s Week 2016 that was organised by Women’s Action Network Dorset (WAND).
The Main Hall at Dorchester’s Dorford Centre was comfortably full of women, mostly in the just-over-middle-aged and older bracket and other than two voices that were audible above the cacophony of chatting; there was a general hubbub of excited anticipation. So I guess I wasn’t the only one who was eager to see Kate.
At 12pm she arrives to loud applause and straight away comments that technology is designed with only men in mind as she tries to find somewhere to fix the microphone equipment!
She tells us about her background and how she came to enter the world of journalism having gone to an all-girls school,
“The greatest thrill was to see a man walk over the threshold and there was only one man at our school and we suspected the headmistress had him neutered!
The only reason I went to university is because my name was first on the register and the headmistress was determined to send one girl; I studied Swedish and Ancient Icelandic and my tutor told me I would be a national treasure…should the Vikings ever invade again!”
Kate talked about the unfairness of so called sexual equality and the areas of law still in existence that continue to disadvantage women; also how low paid part-time jobs and zero hour contracts still fall mostly on women.
But it was when she moved onto her personal stories that I really tuned in; her first day in the BBC that she spent looking for the news room because she didn’t want to appear a numpty and end up in the Blue Peter studio by mistake; and when she did find it, there were two male journalists in front of her who were given assignments in Northern Ireland and Angola but she was sent to Crufts!
But she stuck at it, did her absolute best and kept on looking for opportunities and during this time the law was slowly starting to change so women were treated more equally. And it is the law that makes all the difference; something Kate emphasised on several occasions, if you have the law on your side then you can demand your rights.
As her career progressed she started to report from many war torn nations and has been to all the major battles including Tiananmen Square, and whilst she told us that as a general rule she never puts herself or her crew in the line of fire, on this occasion she did so the world could see just what was happening as the Chinese government ordered soldiers to open fire on unarmed innocent civilians.
Then there was the start of the Bosnian War when she and a fellow reporter crawled across the streets of Sarajevo in search of something, as shrapnel and gunfire flew over their heads. What were they looking for? she asked, and was shown a slab of concrete on a pavement with an imprint of shoes; that was the spot where Gavrilo Princip stood when he shot Archduke Ferdinand in 1914.
How does she deal with the fear?
“You admit you are going to be frightened. I have spoken to Special Forces who told me they get frightened. Everyone gets frightened, it’s human nature. You have to maintain your professionalism, you’re there to do a job, you know what you are going into so there’s no excuse.”
What keeps you going?
“It’s fascinating; people have interesting lives, human beings are interesting and as a reporter you can ask questions to find out the story.”
Have you ever thought you’ve had enough?
“No, never. You lead by example; you have to understand why you’re doing the job. There were times when I didn’t go because it was too dangerous. I’m there because it’s important and significant and we ought to be curious about our world.”
And that closing statement hit the nail on the head. I bitterly regret not following a career in journalism but even so, I will always continue to be curious about my world.