‘We can’t start the war yet: Kate Adie hasn’t turned up!’ – the legendary BBC reporter tells us about travel to the frontlines
Do you like to travel?
I suppose I take it as part of life. I come from a generation in which there were a great number of opportunities available for young people with InterRailing and student cards – the idea was you grabbed a couple of friends, a guitar and off you go. Where did you end up?
I took a year out of university and travelled 1,100km north of Stockholm to work in the sub-Arctic Circle. The temperature often fell to -48°C and I was skiing to school. It was utterly beautiful but it was also extremely tough – you had to be careful of the weather because it could kill you. With your job, you’ve often ended up in destinations that could kill you...
I had no choice whatsoever. The whole business of being a reporter was being one of the team; the next one along the line went to a certain story. Frequently they said: “You go there and if you don’t know anything about the place, learn on the way”. Was there a place that you thought was particularly dangerous?
I spent lots of time in Bosnia, which was an immensely dangerous place because of the illogical and random nature of violence. Neighbours killed each other; a small village could erupt for no apparent reason. People lashed out in all directions – and that would include at journalists. You’ve been back to Bosnia. It must be strange revisiting areas where you saw some truly terrible things?
Only up to a point, because most of the places you were reporting from involved an immense amount of driving around beautiful landscapes and you’d think, this is enchanting. Going to Sri Lanka, there were extremely difficult conflicts going on and the most extraordinary, ferocious violence, and you thought, how can this happen in such a beautiful place? Did you enjoy your travels?
Of course! If I hadn’t, I probably would have had to kill myself! When I started there was a genuine sense of adventure – you went to the sort of airport where your aircraft had to fly over the control tower to wake them up! If you read old travel books, by the Victorians and the Edwardians, they would tell you it was far more exciting and romantic back then. But even so, there were times where we went to places where I thought, what on earth are we doing here?
Are there bits of the planet you’d still like to see?
Yes, lots. But I’m not the sort of person to have a bucket list. There are lots of places, though I prefer to have a bed rather than sleeping on the ground, and I prefer for people not to try and get a sniper bullet past you when you come out of a door. There are lots of places – and they are not always the famous places. You suddenly find yourself very unexpectedly thinking, this is lovely.
I was the generation after the reporting of Vietnam; they all used to say that between the awfulness they could not avoid the fact that it was one of the most wrenchingly beautiful places. So I have been to Vietnam and they were absolutely right – it was a very beautiful place. How do you feel now that travel is so widespread and affordable?
It is lucky that people can travel. One can bang on about, gosh, how it has changed, but life changes. People should grab the opportunity to travel. It is still possible to discover places where life is very different. You work with the charity Farm Africa in Kenya and Ethiopia – why?
I support Farm Africa because it is an immensely practical organisation. If you’re a journalist you’ve seen an enormous amount of towns where completely pointless aid seems to be wasted or goes into the pockets of corrupt politicians. With many charities – Farm Africa being one of them – the aid goes directly to the farmers and the people in the villages. There is no middle man, which I think is hugely important. Your latest book, Fighting on the Home Front, is about women’s lives in the UK during the First World War. Are there bits of the UK that you especially like?
I’ve been lucky in my job because it literally took me from Land’s End, where there was an enormous disaster, up to the Shetlands, where I was doing a story on an oil rig. I literally criss-crossed the country; it was an absolutely magical way of getting to know it. Is there a place you’d recommend?
I grew up in an industrial town in the north-east. When I was a child we went into the Dales, Northumberland, the Lake District and Scotland. We had a little Austin car and off we trotted at weekends. I am always staggered when I hear of someone who hasn’t been to Scotland.
Adie's new book Fighting on the Home Front (Hodder Paperbacks, £9) is out now Main image: Kate Adie (Shutterstock)
This article is taken from the August 2015 issue of Wanderlust magazine – out now! Click here to get your copy