« Desert Island Discs

Christina Lamb

2018-01-22 | 🔗
Christina Lamb is chief foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times and travels the world reporting from war zones and hot spots, speaking not just to key protagonists but also seeking out and detailing the daily impact of conflict on civilians. An only child, and brought up in Carshalton Beeches, she was a voracious reader and dreamed of being an explorer. Although she was rebellious at school, and at one point was asked to leave, she won a place at Oxford and went on to edit the university newspaper. While working as an intern for the Financial Times, she interviewed Benazir Bhutto and was invited to her wedding in Pakistan. That experience led to her determination to be a reporter from the front line. Her work has taken her to South Africa, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and among her best-selling books are two which tell the stories of remarkable young women - Nujeen Mustafa who escaped from Aleppo in her wheelchair, and the Nobel prize-winner Malala Yousafzai. Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc hello. I'm kirsty young welcome to desert on an discs where, every week I asked my guests to choose the eight tracks, the book and the luxury item that they want to take with them. If they were cast away on a desert island for rights reasons, the music on these podcast versions is shorter than in the original broadcast. You can find over two thousand more additions to listen to and download on the desert. Island discs website my
To me this week is the journalist and also christine alarm over the past three decades. She has travelled the world's reporting from the amazon to zimbabwe, but it's her first hand accounts of the turmoil in the Middle EAST that have secured her reputation as a first class war. Reporter weather dodging bullets in hell manned or having clandestine meetings with Taliban chiefs in the back streets of quota. Her no for a story has repeatedly led her into penniless territory. She seems to like it the cobalt blue mosques and sweet grapes of tender heart or something of a contrast to the suburban england, a comfortable nineteen seventies childhood, where she rebelled against the start. She uniformity of her grammar school and dreamt of a life of adventure beyond croy, she has, she says navigated through roadblocks, manned by red, eyed, drug crazed boys with kalashnikovs in west africa, Been abducted in the middle of the night by pakistani intelligence and come under sniper fire in IRAN?
all around me. She says people have died. My life, I believe, is charmed, and that strikes me existing alarm as quite a dangerous thing. To think that your life has been charmed. Explain it to me I suppose semi listening does sunlight contagious thing to say I guess doing this kind of job. You have lots of narrow escapes, and did you feel that luck plays a part of your survival and I've had far more than my nine lives. By now you ve been a foreign correspondent for newly what certain this and its clear you ve, been in some of the world's most dangerous places mentioned about going see taliban warlords. Essentially, what do you do to protect your own safety when you're in the set of circumstances like well? I'm? U facing the job is changed enormously. When I started out
anything happened to you is more bad luck. You done something silly all car crashes. Now it's totally different. We are targets, and that makes it much harder A great believer in need and having personal contacts have gone back to the same places again in it he's afghanistan in particular say there are people that I trust there, but even that is come difficult? I've had colleagues whose long time trusted contacts in fixes have betrayed. Them You are steeped not just in the culture, but in the history of the places that you cover who do you make these complex stories? Approachable for us? How do you get your ass Those engaged in what is often a very difficult thing to understand Ways wanted to be a storyteller once if you right now, with. I ended up working as journalist and telling other people stories, and if you can tell one
since story powerfully. It seems to me that that is the best way. Engage people tell me, then christine land, but we're gonna. Your first today see the face pieces, Music from their risen cavalier takes me back to a time when I spent a year covets, I was on a fellowship way. You could take any course that you, like. I found a cool good introduction to opera. One of the It's that we studied with there cavalier also in who was one of the other fellows. Who is portuguese and we ended up getting married, says his special peace to me
listen, I made a vow from Rosen cavalier, composed by richard strives sung, thereby agnes bouts anna to move us yet enough and janet parity with the vienna philharmonic conducted by herbert,
carry on christina lamb wars in conflict zones that have been the main focus of your work throughout the decades, and you have talked about and written about, the idea that women are the real heroes of war. What have you seen on the ground that has led you to that conclusion? It's me get hope and inspiration from war. I see women doing in these difficult situations, for example in Aleppo I was there when Echo is undeceived and women were doing remarkable things to try and feed and protect their children. They had with flour, and they were growing little helps in more areas. They could find to do that and city with frying these flowers, sandwiches and ripping down window frames and doors to be able to have firewood to keep their children womb. Who's there are places, I go to the re misogynistic and can't believe
you really a journalist for a serious newspaper, but I think as a woman maybe it's toots anybody, whereas my male colleagues can go and speak to the women behind the parrot curtains, and so that's a very important part. This story there they're not getting your chief foreign correspondent for sunday times now in your many decades, during the jobs, indifferent rules have you worked under any female foreign editors. Jokingly, I mean I would never have imagined I'd be saying this when I started how twenty one the insanity is, I have never had a female foreign aid. It says that the sunday times magazine is edited by woman and that's gray and she's. Passionate supporter of women lets us more music. Christina them tell me what this is until me, why you ve chosen it So this is what a wonderful world by louis Armstrong, it brings back tickler occasion way.
who is when I was in afghanistan in nineteen eighty eight. I go there with a group of fighters and with ahmed cause. I who later became very well that we went on an attack on Kandahar apple, which was a very bad idea because cannot airport was controlled by the russians. The fighters launch this attack immediately. Tanks came down the hill and started firing killed some of the fight his eyes with the rest of his way in this trench in ways tat Larry the night and we had nothing to eat. They were just muddy puddles with crabs, in which they when she had the innate, I did not eventually the next afternoon the tanks when and we could leave
and there was a little boy eating a watermelon, and I have never wanted anything more in my life of that watermelon I was so hungry and thirsty since. In my shame I said to the leader of our group- I really want that. the two men and he took it from before now- events gonna, hate me and Then we went to the house who is staying in an I carried very few things in those days, but I used to carry a short behave. Radio and I put it on and this music was playing ass. right, this dogs? They too must so
I wonder if the colors of the rainbow scott face louis Armstrong with wonderful wild acoustic. Then you are the only daughter of anne and can tell me what you're tilted. I grew up- Morton these southern may still posts. The northern line Then we moved when I was ike S. Nine or ten took place, could caution beaches and I always wanted to be somewhere else really. Where had grown up. When I say with an area where people are always in and out of each other's how's it. So I didn't really feel like it
only child and then when we moved gosh you on beaches, it was a place where people should have made appointments to have tea with each other, and I found that very odds. Its commuted and everybody goes off every morning to work in the city, and why have you moved, I think, fit schooling coups. It was one of the few places it still had state grammar school. You ve written a lot of book of course, a new right beautifully, am when we're books. When did they begin to be important? I got it all my life leeway is he casey library, on Saxo days and then when we lived in costume beaches and mobile libraries to come. I think twice a week, so I read voraciously my mum yuzgat crossroads I'd be reading at night in which we the torch. I read everything at me, my daddy's to read: dennis sweetly books. Hence I read those. I read historical fiction. I was fascinated:
I stories about explore, is really and did you go on holiday and when I was a teenager, we when on packaging, pays to ITALY. and Spain, my dad always these two right after the local tourist office. This is the days before and now say these big brown envelopes would arrive with all these leaflets and new. These places with palm tree he's in sunshine and I love tee, I loved italy. Everything was different to my life in south london lets us. Music, christian and wigan unless to to your third choice, tell me about this occasion, This is something I don't think he could only when I sleep from the cause no offence the cause one. As places I've gone to a lot of zimbabwe, reported endlessly on all the terrible things that Mcgann
he has done to his people and going there was quite a difficult because british journalists were banned so we would have to go. I undercover we when initiative guises and when we were trying to expose the rate camps. We had to go through a lot of checkpoints and you fear that you gains. Cool each one- and we only had one tape with this and it was the cause, talk on corners. So the first time we came to check point in their release thugs that stopping us we had this music planks they came started chatting to isn't asking about the music to every time. We came to check in time. We'd, put only when I sleep on and it worked. We never got stopped. We hope to have the checkpoint.
I see it sounds nice man that was the cores Only when I sleep christine alarm, everything I'll read leads me to believe you were quite a naughty school girl. I think all journalists perhaps said naturally rebellious yeah. I was always in trouble high school. I did silly things really. I do things like pudding, plastic docks on the school ponds
My colleagues friend Julie, pretended to be my german exchange student and kind of created, have a conflict losses. I set up his school german group. and to be used to produce these monty python plays every morning fiscal assembly which were very irreverent. So my group was banned, but you got into oxford. You must have very good results. I got into oxford, which was lucky because actually I've been suspended from school by that time, and I didn't want to go back. my mother couldn't really understand what happened, because when I told him what had happened, she couldn't believe that these small thing This would lead to such punishments, so she insisted on seeing the head mistress, but by that time I then had this offer oxford. For an unconditional offer. I just had to get to ease to school.
I rarely get people into oxbridge today at that point really wants to keep me sid. I then wanted me to come back and I ended up going back, but I was very happy that it, let's have some music Christie alarm, we're going to hear your force set. My foot sung, is owed from spend out by lay. I love this song, and this just so takes me back to the eighties. Music was kind of my life really when I was a teenager, I used case, constitutes the time. Punk maude new romantic says to wear the suit freely long, sleeved, sheds and lazy colours, and I had that big hair member playing at my teeth birthday party- and I have my place oxford then- and I just it takes me back to time, whereas suited fell. Life was about to change.
I was spent valley gold. You and me loving, every bit of that christina lamp. While you are what you edited university newspaper once you left you work as an internal financial time. Yet right and you, while you were the f to you, attended this lunch instead of somebody else from the paper you were so to put in as a placement, and you sat next to the secretary general of the Pakistan people's party as it happened, and that was how you came to be given the opportunity to interview Benazir bhutto. What your first impressions of her the first time that you measure, because this was a relationship that will last for many years with a fast and I met her, is the day that she announced her engagement as valleys. It our aid to fly in london, absolutely full of if thou as I've never seen. So many flowers owes its peaceful by case.
Very eloquent and very charming. She was the bravest person I had ever met. She was doing amazing things on one hand, but innovation became prime minister. Actually she didn't do I love the thing said she had promised. You must have impressed Benazir bhutto because she invited you to her wedding. In karachi, it lasted a week to ten days with a very opulent event and at the end of the day, people would be discussing how politics should be part of the common man's experience and so on, and for you it was a pivotal moment. You decided that you wanted to stay there. You stuck a deal with the f tee. The deal was that they'd rent, you a word processor and they pay you for anything that they published. You were anymore you're, only twenty one, this a bit of a question, but even ass did you persuade them that you had the now
alleged to be a foreign correspondent you were able took to write with any authority are not show really, I mean looking back keener, they foreign editor, yorick, Martin trusted me and I was going in and out of Afghanistan and at that time really writing quite different things to what was said of excepted wisdom. I think you know always freight naive I'd never been a corresponding knew. What correspondents did? so I just wrote why sore and so I was kind of shock Tralee by that- and I've tried never to lose that I did you- should ever go into a place, and I think this is what the story is before that you should always see no go there and see what is actually happening on the ground. Let's have, music christine alarm, we're going to go, see your face. Why did business this? your minds. We re happy time in my life cities tomes you being
Singing sake. Vote irma. I know that I will love you after I came back from pakistan and afghanistan. The furniture city fc call me in and said how bout going south america significance at the fragrant might life lie, ended up going to Brazil and our office was in rio. I just saw mrs maes peaceful place. I've ever seen in my life and one of the first night there I went to a famous bark who had gathered to their banana. Go from it, the demo where this always written- and I was lucky enough to get and see tangible being alive, and he used to play with a glass of whisky and his cigarette hang out of his mouth and this wonderful voice. So it takes me back to that time being caitive twenty five in brazil, I had a great apartment, overlooking this
he danced in kind of all, and I just left everything about it either. spirit that their safety will tell you That was thomas, your being singing, I know, roughly translated means. I know that I will love you like the statement, which is what I see the Feds fat we had. I think you were talking of before the last piece of music about being in afghanistan by nineteen eighty nine everybody was leaving the americans
we're leaving all the journalists were leaving? You were not shortly after everybody had left. There was the battle of china about which you have written about extremely powerfully, and it was a fierce and appalling fight. Just briefly how many people died during the ten thousand people in one week with massive number, you were right in the middle of the horror and there's a moment's that you have written about where you were mistaken for a medic via woman? Can you describe that moment? Why so many people old was because imagining what firing rockets into the city and people are fleeing the city, but the afghan air force, which may still have been soviet bags, were bombing the people as they fled, whose dislike a massacre never seen so much killing. So I was there in the midst of all this and neither shocked in china. Take it all in, and
people saw me unworthy. Rushing to me asking for help and wanting thinking that I was a nurse said, come to help them and I felt very inadequate because I couldn't really do anything. I didn't know any first aid leah at one point ended up stitching somebody, despite not blue had to it. I didn't it's not like now, where we travel with medical kits and names I mean I didn't carry anything which may even have a plaster the idea that journalists and photographers and How many people are, they are simply to tell the story and not get involved must be almost impossible when you Actually, they are seen as and people are asking you for help. What did you make your own response at the time to take your not looking your panting get on the truck and leave yeah I've found
wrong, then inadequacy I wanted to help, but I also think if you are in a position to save someone's life, you should do with whatever using you they're. Your job is for unfortunate. I didn't know how to do it. We're gonna hear your six piece of music What have you to say, chasen elvis costello, she I am also a mom and dismiss ache, reminds me of when I was giving birth. I actually have a son, so it seems odd Some could she had heavy cross cities? Incidence of my son was actually born very early. He was born at twenty eight and a half weeks. So very far, meaning having assyrian. There were two doctors and they were playing magic affirm and talking about they can you into work, and it seems saying congress to me because this was my child
in board, then, as my son was delivered. This is the sum that was being paid, and it was a great relief because warned me all sorts of things. They said it be a very good sign. If he cried- and there was little cry is he was born- Maybe the maker shadows, elvis costello she, and that was being played
as your son lorenzo was born, I was nineteen. Nineteen nine, as you would have been about sex very useful by the time that you were back in pakistan in two thousand and seven you been travelling on the actual bus that Benazir Bhutto was travelling on as she was campaigning, the bustle was, was blown up. A hundred and forty supporters outside the bus were killed. Three people inside the bus were killed, you survived, as did Benazir bhutto. You had cold your son and your husband before to say their covering the some tv. You should watch hey mummies on the bus and yeah all of a sudden. There was this boom and we the threat to the ground, and then it was a much bigger blast. Everything seemed be on fire all around us and music stopped in. You could hear screams and then sire and send an
I mean I'm. I realized quickly. There you, I was fine, but there were three people who clearly dead on the top of the bus. And then I was really worried that the bus who had catch fire, the pit who time so screaming people get off the boss, I mean so we go off and then ran, and you could you see everywhere. There was people ims, blown off and shoes and I ran down its side street. No woman stopped me and said it. You were, I e a nicety of fine. and then I realized is covered in blood and it was other people's blood from the people have been killed. Oh, how long does it before you were able- call home and say the issues faced heroines do is call because I was really worried that my family would be watching because it was about. So,
no cloaking uk. So I know I know that they watched the channel funds, so I was desperate, sue colbert phone had died two hours before but fortunately a man then came off his house in took me in and then I was able to cool and tell them now, always okay, what decent alone, in effect upon you, ass of being not just in that extraordinary. An appalling set of circumstances, but the other situations that we ve briefly touched on today. The hardest thing often he's coming back. It can be quite hard to deal with. No, life, and I mean in some ways being a mum was actually very grounding because in some correspondence, come back and hang out embody telling wars, did they do I'm wondering that you might make a tenable friend?
because they were looking for senior dinner on tuesday night and you just you have to go. He s yeah, I buy theatre tickets, almost never can go. I may sweating birthdays anniversaries. That's all floyd's to have some music. then we're going to listen to your seventh. This is mates has clarinet could shed So in a major- and this was the soundtrack of out of africa- and I chose this because I was working on a book called the africa house- it was about. Englishman. Could sister go brown? Who do this english country mentioned by a lake crocodiles in remote parts of what was, the northern rhodesia- zambia and he had a grammar sane and had this piece of music, the house had been abandoned quite some time before so every Mine opens up one of the trunks of papers. These huge spiders would come out
this is why my secrets is why her his funding, I'm supposed to be brave and feel, is very scared of spiders.
there was putting both clarinet congestion, a major from the contract, the film out of africa, the sailor. still. It was jack primer and he was accompanied by the academy of Saint Martin and the fields conducted by natural manner, given the digital technology that we now have all have access to. Christine on them. Do you think I mean we're all citizen journalists now and we, if we choose to beat it, do you think the days of the fleck jacketed foreign correspondent, who tells us the truths of foreign lands, is pretty much on its way out. No, I didn't. I thing. Of course I would say that, because I am, I think, it's great there. You can get information from anybody anywhere and then it looks at people telling therein stories bah. I do still thing it's important
Have someone that you did being covering this story for a long while and can put things in context and saw through all this massive in nation in this time of suited fate, news in fact, two facts: you can't have alternative fangs. That's why it's important to be there and actually in a report on what's happening. The problem is, of course, newspapers, financial crime and we ve all cut back along a news. It is so many wars going on and we don't seem to know how to bring them to an end and that suicide frustrating because you go unreported though these things and we still seem to make the same mistakes do feel a bit late. Does anybody red eddie thinks that we were right, but it's him and I mean, for example, in two thousand and six reports of yours from home and lead to a parliamentary debates and that increased as a result, the amount of help-
doctors of resources for troops in afghanistan that must surely have felt like a small but pretty important victory. Yeah. I mean his own question about whether we should ever have been inhuman, but if we were going to send troops there, we now them to be properly equipped looking boat to when you first started, Juno sitting there and push our was your little tandy, a computer and freelancing euro self starter? Do you think it would be put support for young men or women these days to begin at the way you did well in some ways. I think it's easier because my biggest problem was getting the stories bag. I remember the night general he was killed in the air crash and was is owed by polite phones. Were you dialing again and again. Privily took me an hour to get through to operate, so in some ways now people can email. I consider the story from anywhere in the top of the mountain and the hindu kush from the middle of the desert, so that PA is a lot easier through very few people,
that are cast away, who, I think, would survive more than a couple of weeks. I'm reckoning you'd be one of the people who would survive incredibly resourceful, very resilient, not scared of much right in some ways I dream of going some way really quiet and just being able to write my novel, who I think I would miss people. Let's hear your final piece of music than christiana puts it gonna, be it's always look on the bright side, monty python life, if Brian once Thyssen was this is what kept me going as a teenager. I just loved ones vice and sketches. If even when I got to oxford, there was excited to be there. I ray and secure. No one in my family had been to university everybody. They seem to know everything about what to do. I didn't know you know what play you is based your bread on what nice, who folks to use it didn't it was in
imitating. My mom had bought me one of the monti bison collections of scripts. When she left me ox fits. I remember, reading this sketch to myself saw things a lot of bad tiger, really bad things. Just my you swear on earth when your children or last whistle global, give a whistle vessel s face turned out for the bass ways. Look like
Why is no com, then? I d always look on the bright side of life or sung, thereby Eric idleness featured in the film monti pipelines life of Brian. It's time now christina for me to give you some books, you get the bible, you get the complete works of shakespeare and you can take what, along with them, I'm a big hemingway fan, and so I would say coming ways for whom the bell tolls: it's yours and you're allowed a little luxury or indeed a big one like not read, No, but I'm a right, and if I had lots of time I would love to write a novel, so paper and pencils sent you may have those and if you had to say just one of these eight discs that you ve chosen for us today, which one would the
always look, I'm afraid it's sort of my motto, the right thing in all these horrible places have committed serious, christina lamb. Thank you very much for lessons here. Desert island discs, I hope you enjoy. This addition of desert island discs. You find over two thousand interviews with artists. Vision, scientists, sports stars, comedians anwar at bbc dot code on uk, slash, desert island discs, and I have a favour to ask. You could rate and review the desert island discs podcast. Whenever you download your podcast, it really help other people find us thanks again for listening.
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.