When Kate Adie joined BBC Radio Bristol as a producer in the early 1970s, she had no idea that her career would take her, as the title of her autobiography puts it, Into Danger. But only a few years later she was lucky enough to be duty reporter at BBC Television Centre when the Iranian Embassy was over-run by terrorists. Crouched behind a car door, she broadcast live from the embassy, with smoke bombs exploding in the background as one of the largest news audiences ever watched in amazement. The coverage was Adie’s big break, and a defining moment for a generation of female journalists who were thereafter considered for positions as war correspondents and foreign editors.
Adie was promoted to Chief News Correspondent for BBC News in 1989 and soon became one of the most recognised faces on television. Her assignments included the Tiananmen Square protests of the same year, the 1994 Rwandan Genocides and the Gulf War. She has had a knife held up to her neck and been shot at four times. During a speech at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last year she recalled, with wry amusement, the first time she thought she had been shot.
“I screamed at my cameraman: ‘I’ve been shot in the face!’”
“Get up, you silly bitch!” he replied. “You were hit in the face with a potato!”
Following the speech, I met up with Adie at the Everyman Theatre. I asked if she felt that instances of war correspondents reporting miles away from the actual danger are becoming more widespread. “It’s not a matter of ‘it’s more widespread’, the system that actually demands more input is more widespread, i.e. you get 24 hour news now here and in India and the Middle East. So what you’ve got is channels that are demanding a lot of material, they’re 24 hours, so you look and see what this creates. It’s not the other way round, it’s not how people are behaving on television – it’s the reverse, it’s what the machine is asking for, the machine of 24 hours.”
We also touched on internet blogging as a form of journalism. “I don’t want to bore people about what I do when I get up in the morning … I do not consider wittering blogging of people’s diaries or daily habits to be of much interest to other people. Well of interest, perhaps, but not of significance.
“When you’re talking about well-known blogging sites,” she continued, “you’re only talking to a very tiny number of people. Blogs aren’t mass – YouTube and MyFace are mass, but only, again, amongst a slice of the population.”
She did, however, admit that the industry is changing. “You hear younger people talking about the internet, but you have to be rich enough to own a computer, and you don’t have many of them in Africa … You just wonder where [journalism] is going, but I don’t have any clear idea, nor have many people.”
Kate proved to be hugely knowledgeable and friendly and following her final appearance at the Festival, I asked the question I had been dying to ask her all along.
“What are you doing this evening?”
She leaned in towards me. “Pardon me?”
“Can I interest you in dinner this evening?”
She retracted quickly, saying she was terribly busy and would have to speak to her publicist before confirming anything. This was both a thrilling and unsettling experience. I was an 18-year-old who had just asked out a 63-year-old in a town that I had only visited once and I had no idea where to eat. Petrified that I might be dining with one Britain’s most respected journalists, I ran wildly around the Everyman Theatre, asking everyone’s opinion on where to eat in Cheltenham. But while I was making arrangements for dinner, Adie briskly disappeared, back to the safety of Cheltenham Town Hall and the Writers’ Room, with its free scones. Heartbroken, but undeterred, I made my way to the Hall, where I prowled the corridors, hoping to bump into her by chance. This didn’t happen. I am a writer, after all, so I felt myself justified in frequenting the Writers’ Room. But Adie was otherwise engaged and the Festival staff closed in on me quickly. With no room to manoeuvre, I came clean. I explained that Ms Adie owed me dinner and I needed to speak with her. They asked me to sit down and stay calm while they spoke to her on my behalf.
“She’s very tired, Ashley, and needs to make a number of phone calls this evening; she says she’s very sorry.” So I thanked them, nicked a few of their scones, and made my way back to my car, alone. Helpfully, The Independent decided to print this story in their ‘Pandora’ gossip section under the heading ‘Kate Adie’s Admirer’s are Getting Younger’, so I did have a moment of fame, albeit a very obscure and embarrassing kind of fame. Perhaps some other time, Kate?