Ad­dicted to­war

Friday - - FRONT PAGE -

A t just eight years old Jeremy Bowen had al­ready de­cided where his fu­ture lay. “It was 1968 on the cusp of the first moon land­ing,” he says, his eyes twin­kling with a glim­mer of mis­chief that the years of hor­ror have failed to wipe away. “The teacher asked the class what we wanted to be. Nat­u­rally be­cause of the tim­ing lots of chil­dren said they wanted to be as­tro­nauts, and oth­ers wanted to be foot­ballers or in the army. I stuck my hand up and said for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, but, to be hon­est, I didn’t re­ally know what that meant at the time.”

Twenty-six years later as a BBC war cor­re­spon­dent reporting on the First Chechen War from Grozny, (which the United Na­tions once called ‘the most de­stroyed city on earth’ and the Cardiff-born broad­caster refers to as “the most ter­ri­fy­ing place on the planet,”) ly­ing face down in the snow in an open bang, bang, bang, bang for what seemed like for­ever.

“I lay there in my flak jacket and hel­met and I just thought, ‘This is it – any mo­ment now I’m go­ing to die or be re­ally badly hurt’. I was ex­pect­ing huge amounts of pain. Amaz­ingly, when the jets went away I was un­scathed, I just had a cut on my knee.”

It’s the kind of luck that has shad­owed the in­trepid Welsh­man over the past three decades, fol­low­ing him as he has dodged bombs and bul­lets across some 70 coun­tries and 17 dif­fer­ent war zones in­clud­ing the Gulf, Le­banon, Afghanistan, Bos­nia and So­ma­lia.

How­ever, de­spite be­ing the ti­tle bearer of a CV cat­a­logu­ing most of the world’s worst war zones, Jeremy Bowen still re­gards him­self as a man of cau­tion.

“The longer time you spend in dan­ger­ous places the more it can be­come a num­bers game,” he says, “be­cause the more you ex­pose yourself to dan­ger, the greater the chance it has of af­fect­ing you in some way. I have been to places that most people would run a mile from but be­lieve it or not, I count my­self as a cau­tious per­son. I’m aware of dan­ger and I try to avoid it as much as I can.” That is why for the best part of his ca­reer he has man­aged to avoid in­jury – get­ting hurt for the first time in 30 years last July.

Jeremy was shot with pel­lets in his right calf and right ear at a vi­o­lent protest in Egypt.

“It was on a Fri­day af­ter a very pas­sion­ate prayer time,” he ex­plains. “People were cry­ing and weep­ing and feel­ings were very in­flamed. Sud­denly the army opened fire and killed three people; one per­son quite near me had

‘Be­ing in­jured is the price of hav­ing a front seat as his­tory is be­ing made and ex­plain­ing it to the world’

square of burn­ing build­ings as clus­ter bombs and ar­tillery fire ex­ploded around him, the cur­rent BBC Edi­tor for the Mid­dle East no longer had any doubts as to the true mean­ing of the term ‘for­eign cor­re­spon­dent’.

“It was hor­ren­dous,” the ac­claimed 54-year-old says. “I heard the jets, then saw them come in low over the roofs and I threw my­self down next to a low wall for cover. They at­tacked the square with clus­ter bombs and in­tense heavy fire; the ground was shak­ing and I heard them go­ing the back of his head shot off. About 30 min­utes later as I was hur­riedly cross­ing a road be­cause there was tear gas around, I got knocked to the ground. It was like be­ing punched very hard in the ear and at first I thought I had been knocked by a tear gas can­is­ter but it wasn’t that – it was a [shot­gun] pel­let. I was con­cerned be­cause I had been in­jured but I knew it wasn’t life threat­en­ing.”

Soon af­ter the in­ci­dent Jeremy wrote a piece for Bri­tish news­pa­per,

The Daily Mail in which he said, “No one forces jour­nal­ists to go to dan­ger­ous places. Un­for­tu­nately my job means ac­cept­ing some risk. The re­gion is in the throes of an his­toric trans­for­ma­tion. Pow­er­ful forces are at work, and some­times that means threat­en­ing mo­ments. It can be ex­haust­ing, and this weekend it’s painful. But it is the price of hav­ing a front seat as his­tory is be­ing made, and the chance to ex­plain what’s hap­pen­ing to the world.”

W hile the fa­ther of two may have yet again avoided se­ri­ous in­jury, he’s quick to point out that his ex­pe­ri­ences while be­com­ing a re­li­able voice on mod­ern-day con­flicts have left their mark.

“This job takes a heavy per­sonal toll,” he says. “I’ve been ill in all sorts of ways; I have suf­fered men­tal ill­ness and had a brush with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. You can’t work in sit­u­a­tions of ten­sion and dif­fi­culty over many years with­out some­thing giv­ing. Be­ing a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent and get­ting the job done right re­quires a huge com­mit­ment.”

Be­ing ef­fi­cient, ef­fec­tive and ex­act, how­ever, are the in­trin­sic el­e­ments

Jeremy pro­fes­sion­ally de­liv­ers a piece to cam­era through tear gas in Egypt

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