74, jour­nal­ist

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - FAMILY -

much like the man of 29 who jumped on a plane to what was then Zaire to fol­low a bunch of mer­ce­nar­ies, who were re­ally very hos­tile to me fol­low­ing them.

Land­ing at the air­port, I thought how easy it would be to tell peo­ple back home that I’d been turned away at arrivals for not hav­ing the right visa. But then I saw a palm tree out­side and I could feel the heat and I re­alised how much I’d al­ways longed to come to Africa. So I fished out a five-dol­lar bill and stuck it in my pass­port, handed it over and got the visa stamp. That was me then, and it’s still me now. The dif­fer­ence is that now if some­thing dread­ful hap­pened to me no­body’s go­ing to say, “What a tragedy. Who knows what he could have achieved if he’d lived a bit longer.” In that sense, my life is com­plete.

I would have been a much more con­tent young man if I’d fore­seen all the in­cred­i­ble sto­ries I would end up cov­er­ing. All those won­der­ful and dread­ful rev­o­lu­tions of 1989; Tianan­men Square, the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, the peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion in Cze­choslo­vakia and the re­ally quite scary one in Ro­ma­nia. And then, the re­lease of Nel­son Man­dela.

I still have so many places I want to go, but there aren’t many 100-year-old for­eign cor­re­spon­dents roam­ing war zones around the world.

I was brought up around ac­tive older peo­ple. My grand­fa­ther was a spy be­hind Ger­man lines in the First World War. My grand­mother was in­volved in women’s suf­frage. There was a sense that you didn’t just sit by the fire and moan about your aches and pains.

I wrote a cou­ple of nov­els in the late Seven­ties and then so much hap­pened to me in real life that I con­cen­trated on fac­tual books. But for the past five years, while I’ve been cling­ing on at the BBC by my fin­ger­nails, fic­tion is a won­der­ful way to be the God of your own cre­ation.

I sur­vived a very de­ter­mined drive on the part of the for­mer head of BBC News to get rid of me. He went and I stayed, thank good­ness. It was solely on the grounds of my age, I think.

My 25-year-old self would get a kick out of the fact that I’ve sur­vived all these things. I haven’t changed in my ap­proach to life – I just feel like a young man who’s climbed a steep moun­tain the day be­fore last. But the de­sire to keep on climb­ing is still there.

In­ter­view by Boudicca Fox-Leonard

Moscow, Mid­night by John Simp­son (£20, Hod­der & Stoughton) is now avail­able at books.tele­

JUMP INTO THE FRAY John Simp­son says he was a lonely and po­lite child who had no idea of the ex­cite­ment ahead; with wife, Dee Kruger be­low, mother of son Rafe

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