« Desert Island Discs

Jeremy Bowen, journalist

2023-07-02 | 🔗
Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s award-winning international editor. He has been reporting from the world’s conflict zones, including Iraq, Bosnia, the Middle East and Ukraine, for more than 30 years. Jeremy was born in Cardiff in 1960. His father was a journalist for BBC Wales, who covered the Aberfan disaster in 1966, and his mother was a press photographer. In 1984, after university, Jeremy joined the BBC as a news trainee and in 1989 he starting reporting from Afghanistan and El Salvador. From 1995 to 2000 he was based in Jerusalem as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent. During that time he reported on the assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. His coverage of the event won him the Royal Television Society’s Award for Best Breaking News report. In 2022 Jeremy started reporting on the ground in Ukraine and earlier this year he returned to Iraq to discover how the country was coping, 20 years after the US-led invasion in March 2003. Jeremy lives in London with his partner Julia. DISC ONE: Let’s Stay Together - Al Green DISC TWO: Symphony No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Op. 63: II. Larghetto. Composed by Edward Elgar and performed by Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli DISC THREE: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op 18. Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff and performed by Vladimir Ashkenazi (piano) with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by André Previn DISC FOUR: America - Simon & Garfunkel DISC FIVE: La bohème: O soave fanciulla. Composed by Giacomo Puccini and performed by Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Georg Solti DISC SIX: Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras. Composed by Johannes Brahms and performed by Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan DISC SEVEN: In My Life – The Beatles DISC EIGHT: Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks BOOK CHOICE: The Complete Novels of George Orwell LUXURY ITEM: A manual typewriter CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Symphony No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Op. 63: II. Larghetto. Composed by Edward Elgar and performed by Hallé Orchestra and Wiener Singverein, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music, radio broadcasts, hallo unlearn event, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them. If they were cast away to a desert island and for rights, we since the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening The My castaway this week is the journalist, Jeremy bowen, he's the bbc's international editor and has been reporting stories from the world's conflict zones for over thirty years is covered wars in iraq, bosnia, chechnya and, most recently, ukraine.
but he's most closely associated with the middle east, where he was a correspondent for many years with his trademark. Mustache often teamed with a bullet proof vest he distilled the complexities of the region for audiences back home, making himself a household name in the process. His work has won him a shelf full of prizes, including a royal television society award for india. If the year for his encounter with President Assad of Syria, it's a world away from his early life in cardiff, where he developed his nose for a story. His mother was a press photographer and his father a reporter. He cites his father's coverage of the aberfan disaster in nineteen sixty six as proof that empathy is just as important as brave When breaking a story he says doing a job in a war zone. Handling it well and coming out alive can give a person the confidence to face anything for awhile, do too much of it and it will destroy you if not physically, then mentally jeremy bowen welcome to desert island discs. Thank you very much. It's great to be here. I'm very excited.
So last year. Jeremy, still debt reporting from ukraine and increasingly was afoot in public in real. Minute by minute on social media? These days is no even just about that twenty four hour new cycle. What impact is not have one on the way that you workin and on your approach of figures may journalists themselves more exposed is more dangerous way. The job or danger ethics of his people, one of influence, knocking off a journalist, might be if you're unscrupulous might be one way of doing it. You certain get along, publicity and I think when I started it was much easier to be seen as a non combatants in El Salvador waste away white flag. Some people would stop shooting, let us cross the road you'd. Never ever ever do that and we did not flight jackets things. Of course people did get killed then, but
I think they weren't targets in the same way that they can be now. Does it mean that when you do go there, you get scared in a way that you didn't use to be. This may sound a bit weird, but I don't get scared so much as a bar. I am familiar with a pattern of emotions. The day before you go, I think, oh, my god, what am I doing when you're getting your stuff together, checking my flight jackets, where it should be and Blast boxes, which are kevlar underwear, I've people have taken to wearing these days, and then you got this conflict of wanting to get into the store but also thinking, oh my god. This might be awful, but I know from experience is never quotas. By when you get there can be recognised as something that your twentieth conflict that you ve covered something leather twentieth. Why do you keep going back? I think
but any credibility with the people of watch. What I've done and listened and read, but I've done over the years is the feeling that I have actually seen for myself. I'm not looking at a screen and extracting someone else's thoughts. I might she going there myself some a big believer in the value for everybody of I witnessed journalism breaches by trying to its twenty first ask what have you chosen and why? Let's stay together, our green because reminds me of Sarajevo, the warren in bosnia we had an office in the salary of a tv station and there was a real,
connecting the hotel and the t v station, which was known as sniper alley visible the snipers I had this a bullet proof landrover and I would drive it. There was a back way, but it became too tedious to go that way. So I'd drive down the main road and I had a cassette of AL green and, if I put on this track and drove at the correct pace I could get from the tv station, the holiday inn and, just as I was pulling up and parking man drunken popular and I'm so but bow hello Many
the AL green and let's stay together incredibly smooth track. Jeremy. It's now got in my mind the most stressful backdrop. To that you can imagine they're used to relax me, I think, probably was a good therapy as you drove along thinking. Well, I'm not going to get shot. Let's go back to the beginning jeremy bone new born in cardiff, your mother, Jennifer, was oppressed photographer and before the Gareth was a journalist, the bbc, wales. It sounds It was much more than a nine to five job fame for him. It was something he lived and breathed though time. and he used to do remember for rejoined the bbc was in newspapers. I went my lasting memories when I was a kid is going to sleep with the sound of his typewriters manual typewriter bashing away The dining room table you, father covered the other funds
faster in nineteen sixty six, when a landslide of coal waste crushed into small welsh mining village killed a hundred and sixteen children and twenty eight adults who it in the classrooms. On that day, you only six the same age as some of the children who died. Do you have any memories of that time? but my memories of ABBA Van were my father going off disappearing for a few days and coming back with his or his trousers caked in this black slurry that had come down from the tip onto the village and onto the school, then he slept in the middle of the day for it it just because he was exhausted. I been up for a couple of nights and it was something which for him it was so close to home, because that was you know where he grew up and ah his dad worked at the steelworks, but he his
grandfather had been a coal mine and it was something that I think he felt very deeply and, as we heard you mother jennifer, with a press photographer, which must have been an unusual job for a woman back then. What would she like she
im from a good middle class background and she got into photography. She could apprentice to a local, photographer and hereford and then got this job on the merthyr express the local paper and she was actually working with another woman which was again in the late fifties. Pretty unusual and imagined the south wales valleys quite a traditional patriarchal society. She always was a photography kept going even with five kids, but I don't think she ever particularly thought of herself as being a trailblazer or anything like that. She wanted to be a photographer, and that was the way there's the job that she got time to make some marine to the music. Your second choice today, what is it while it's Elgar's second symphony and I've chosen this, because it does remind me of my father, he was the most musical person of
my parents had in our family. He used to sing in a choir, and I do remember him talking about this particular symphony. He said: look listen to the music, he said, listen to the there's, a melancholy in it as well. It was, I think it was first played in nineteen eleven think about that. I bought in paris think about someone bowling at lord's. In the you know in September the The end of the cricket season think about what was coming down the road of the first world war. He also asked for the second movement to be played at his funeral. so for me yeah? It does remind me my dad. The
The How a symphony number two performed by the hollyhock withdraw conducted by sea. On barbarously Jim People in your primary education was at a roman catholic boys school ass, a ten year old. Did you have any career ambitions? I remember about them.
Age. The teacher go around the class and several would you will want to do and everybody said footballer soldier. So few people said astronaut was the time the APOLLO space missions, I said foreign correspondent. I was always a bit weird, I never quite fitted in, and I didn't even quite know what it was. But what what image did you have in your mind? What were you imagining I had an image of a fan. Turning in the ceiling, as I sat on some kind of wicked chair with my taught writer, I think that was probably it maybe in my memory now those poland class whisky, but probably not when I was ten after
university. He joined the bbc as a news trainee and in nineteen eighty five you're sent to belfast for your first assignment. This was during the final years of the troubles. What types of stories stitch cover? Of course it didn't. Let me near an issue for very few security stories. I did things like new polar bear at belfast, zoo and, and one of my colleagues, David Shipman had been there a year before me said: don't sit down cause, it gives the wrong impression. You've got to look like you're ready for action, so the first two weeks they wouldn't. Let me do
I think and they'd say when you sit down as a concert done and go around the office like a caged tiger. There was one particular story where you learned to narrow the distance between yourself and what was happening. The programme editor, who was up at that time he was a martinet. He wasn't. A nice was nice to me anyway, and he said he won't. They wanted me to get hold of. I think he was the head of the student union. The queen. university and I was phoning, of course, no mobile phone, so I was leaving messages all over the place and the council have you found that guy? Yet I said no, he said I don't want to get my lunch fish and chips. He said. Have you found that guy? Yet I said not yet, but I've left the message he said I don't bloody. Well kay do you know where the student union is, I said, no said about five minutes from here, so I walked in there. I found the individual booked him walk back and my fish and chips were still warm
so that to me was a really important lesson, which is now the distance between self in the story, and I still believe in that can't you next piece of music gary boeing must again be right. Man and those second piano concerto Collado. My choices remind me of things, which I found positive in bad moments, and I first heard this piece of music or a fragment of it after the terrible tragedy of the lockerbie attacks were jumbo jet came down on the scottish time in nineteen. Eighty eight, I went up there too.
for it we set up our office in the upstairs room of one of the pubs and the time, and there was no piano in the corner, and one of my colleagues played very famous piano refrain from rachmaninoff. Second, the african charter- and I said I ass nice- was that he said, and you heard it is really famous, and so when I got home I bought a cd and I and to actually not prefer the third panic chatter, but this was my way into rat manner of an old as other works. The The the
The the the grandma enough space, OH concerto number two in sea, minor, performed by vladimir ash, cannot with the london symphony orchestra conducted by Andre, prevent. jeremy bowen in nineteen. Eighty nine. He traveled to central america to cover the civil war in El Salvador know you refer to that as your first war, but he he had been to afghanistan by then and in eighty nine. Why was it the first one was the first one when they were shooting
It was the first one when I heard shots fired and anger the first one where I found myself grovelling in the gutter is was so vivid and it was like I was like being in my own war movie, but was your rights due to risk? At that point, I had no idea what it was in a way. The first time I heard shots, I was then they were near me. I was excited, think I was very excited to deliver this an interesting word teases that adrenaline everything everything highland slope. The volume has been turned up on life and at that age. You know I was twenty nine is all twenty? It is also my mother- and I felt indestructible me that later unchanged, but at the time that was very much, I fell immaterial. you capture in those dangerous places can be very graphic. Is it difficult to decide how much we home should see I've had a long conversation,
over the years with the editors back in london about how much to show and the way the cultural norms were in in this country and practice in the then use business. We dont show that much. We don't show the impasse, Two high explosives embodies much vienna. We blow up faces now, because people think that that somehow more dignified for the person concerned, I don't agree with that myself, I think, take something away from them. it's a long conversation I've had I've had sometimes com. Sometimes you got to be bloody. Joking, you know all day. Getting this material and you're not gonna, show that, having seen what it looks like when a shell lands in a crowd of people, a muslim should show all of that, but sometimes I do feel that we pull up punches a bit, but it's a debate. We have, and it goes on
Germany were going to make some time for the music next July. Fourth choice today: what is it and why you taken it to the island america, savona garfunkel are firmly trips used to place on the gulf uncle court. Lots will do in the car I went to a university as a postgraduate graduate school in the. U s- and I remember one trip particularly I'd, been to see a friend in Chicago and it was the winter. I was on the on a greyhound bus, going back overnight to washington d c, where I was a student and I bought myself. A walkman will occur. Imitation walkman I to have Simon a golfer said. I remember looking up over the frozen wastes of the mid west and this was playing
That's a state certainly see there. Is the the Simon and garfunkel and america but when you went to Iraq to report on the first gulf war in ninety ninety one, not long after you're right, you cover the aftermath of the bombing the. U S, military of an air raid shelter in
maria a district in baghdad's. He wanted the first reports on the scene. What had happened woven made a terrible mistake. I didn't think they were. They set out to kill so many civilians, but they put a bomb in through the roof. It was thick concrete and steel and that made a hole and then they put another bomb in through the hull which basically killed everybody almost everybody inside so for hours. I watched them pulling out burnt body. These bits of bodies and it was women and kids old men and surrounding it were lots of men. Fathers mostly who had got into the habit of taking effect, this I think they'd be safe every evening, then going back to look after the houses and then what was. I was really got some.
To actually because then, when I was on talking about it, we're just started to do life rolling use. At that point at the bbc I was asked by peter decisions as described What has happened, and he said what a london, the emo dan in the states, the pentagon that it was a military command centre, something click dinner, I had, I said look. I can only go by what I have Seen with my own eyes, and I have seen the bodies I've seen no soldiers, I've seen no evidence about a girl rambo place and you a jackets. Criticism from the pentagon, the m o d for going against what they were saying. They believed about what had happened. I think more british newspaper even compared you too, then nazi propagandist load who What did the pc lord hole reborn in baghdad. Big picture may small picture of him compared me to someone who was executed for treason when it was an open and shut the liable. So I got some money out of it. I was more concerned about the
fact. It was an grievous libel against the reputational. Damage was a settled in the end, a motivates defect, You haven't you integrity questions in that way. I didn't think. Oh, my god, what have I done, Iran is, I knew I was right because I've been there when I'd seen it so I had, to my mind that my journalism was good. Not many years later I met a general british general who'd been at the idea at the time. I asked him about that. He said yes, he said you are right. We were wrong. Jeremy bone we ve got to make way for the music. Is your fifth choice today, but we can here next and why I spent a year as a post graduate a university in italy in bologna. I shall have a flat with three guys who are still great friends of my belgian touched
and a sweet sounds like a joke and a welshman, and one of the things that students did in bologna at that time was that his great opera house, the tattoo community and you could get subsidized season tickets and they would have a lot of intervals and we would have a bottle of the the local sparkling wine, which is called pin your letter in irvine So a coin we enjoyed it no and we had a great time and so from la Boh in Puccini's la boh em sua they found chula, which is one of the great songs of opera, the
the the Oh suave, if on tuna from porcine labelling performed by positive domingo and months iraq, a value with the london philharmonic orchestra conducted by sir George shorty jeremy, born in
a thousand your friend and colleague, abbot accoucheur, was killed in lebanon. While you were working on an assignment together. Tell me what happened: nothing, there's rabies moving south lebanon after a very long occupation and Abed who was driver fixer and myself and the camera man Malik cannon were covering the story. And villages which had been under israeli control by then for more than twenty is suddenly opened up again and there was rejoice saying people through an rise was like a wedding. They were so happy that this right is gone, so really loved us into a bit of a false sense of security, because we keep him well back the retreating israeli army of thought, we were, but the road wines along the border wire between lebanon and israel.
and so we stopped- and I thought this to peace, to camera. Looking Israel and to be honest, it was slow. I didn't have much to say, but it was a kind of whimsical thought, because at the time I was living in Jerusalem and I just thought it was sort of interesting thing to do, and I got out with Malik and we walked about fifty yards. no no that would have got out of the car to, but he was on the phone turned to his son ants. Behind me, there was is enough: explosion spun round and molly was filming. So this video that I've seen It- and I saw a festival-
grass was on fire them, eyes went up and I saw the car was pouring smoke and flame that fight attention into the back of it and very short range, because we are very near the boardwalk subsequently refunded by the kilometre and abed was in the driving seat on the left and he he somehow forced his way out. He was on fire closer on fire out of the car and slumped down onto the road, and we couldn't see him from where we were so. I said to malice, get up there and Malik said: don't go there. Jeremy Abbott is dead now or he's going to dining at any second, and if we go up there, they'll kill us. I know,
to be true, because the team from the times were on the other side and listening into the radio traffic, and they heard one of these really say we ve got. We got. One of them will get the other two with miss ingram, so afterwards, america constanta sites that my nose out we're here in behind the building and they immediately opened up with a heavy machine gun. We were stuck there for a couple of hours. My partner Julia was running the bbc operation in lebanon at the time. She's also a journalist working for the BBC and they had news of bodies on the road and Malik had monica to get a call out they hadn't mentioned before the battery went that I was safe as well, so for awhile they thought I was dead to. Ah- and you know, Julie was pregnant with our first kid, so I may looking back and it was a terrible.
Terrible day and then the next day I went to Beirut. I went to the funeral, the traditional sunni family. I was sitting outside with the men in the courtyard and then the message came down. They'd like to talk to the women upstairs I went up explained what had happened and how it was. I was an. It was an awful awful day and I I do. I feel I bear some responsibility as I decided to however, have we kept going them killed us all. In the car vienna. The thing was his family there, the women warheads.
as they were believing muslims. They said yeah, it was god's will. But I can't help thinking that, maybe I made a bad mistake that day and so, but that's something you got to deal with. Let's take a peek for some music Jeremy. Tell me by next track his memories of baghdad during the war of nineteen. Ninety one there were three of us in our office, my esteemed BBC colleague, and a little good friend, rory Peck was the camera man rory had a knackered old cassette player with about three home recorded tapes with all the music we had, and in the evening, when we'd more or less finished him, we were trying to cook something on a horrible primus, stove
bombing was going on outside you? The windows were shaking. You could see the tracer and we'd play this music and the one I liked best of rory's crap collection of tapes was the Brahms german requiem and potato the section with it's all flesh is grass, it's a it's. A quote from the bible and rory was killed in an attempted coup in moscow a couple of years, after that, so when I hear this I might actually play quite a bit. It does remind me of that time the
the The german requiem, the berlin philharmonic orchestra conducted by herbert phone carryin jeremy,
when you have been shot in the course of your work. Many of your colleagues have been killed, reporting from war zones, as we've heard, others have gone on to suffer from poor mental health, been unable to sustained relationships, developed substance, peace problems to help them cope with what we have witnessed. How have you coped with income reasonably well adjusted? I think I'm able to see things in context. There have been some very difficult moment sooner and does up with a few years ago, with some very severe depression. I took time off work I took meds, I think you've gotta count. Your blessings in life are not good. tied up in things, and I had cancer a few years ago and touch what I've been in for four and a half years- and it was quite a to me. So I think that is also help me get a sense of perspective or life, because I was being a fairly glass. Half
full random, half empty person and maybe change for a while? I am, I think, actually, having had cancer brought back the more optimistic jeremy Jemmy tilt that shift in perspective I know that fatherhood was a a major one for you. That was a turning point. How did it change your outlook becoming apparent your your kids grown up now by the time I became a dad. I was on a couple of days short of my forty first birthday, so the changes were very much appreciated. I wanted to have a different cognitive life. I had spent years staying up late. Boozing and doing those sorts of things, and I was very happy to stay at home and cook things for kids and mighty regret is that
pretty wasn't there, as often as I would like to have been or should have been because of the way my job took me away, and sometimes I would break my neck to get back by say friday night. I could be there over the weekend. Even if I go away on the monday or tuesday, I'd sit down with the kids when they're small to watch something on tv and fall asleep. They'd hate that so I then learned and an said to me and there's just no point and you coming back and falling asleep on the sofa arrest camp, could be back, probably be in the moment, it's time: sumo, music, Jeremy. What's next choice, when I was a smoke, if we lived in public article which, to my dad had this drama, and they had a whole lot of records. Ladin was seventy eight from the fifties, but they did buy a copy of hard day's night which we played no.
and am. I always meant the smell of that he lifted the lid of the grounds for the others, smell of dust and green. Bays. That was on the inside point that would or something and you turn it on and that be this thrum as the Van of inside warmed up and I have met. She chose as others from hot days a chosen in my life by the beatles because reminder that time I was a kid. I am listening to it and
it sounds like it's be written by someone of my age, but the fact they wrote it when they were about twenty five. There are places the beatles and in my life, Jeremy bowen, seen so much of the worst that the world has to offer, I went away, you find joy, fun really will lies at the things. I am very interested in food and wine cooking. I have
a large wine cellar. I prefer I've got more wine than I'll, probably ever be able to drink, and so no, I, like a lot of my leisure thoughts, revolve around. What are we going to eat next? And I, like him back to italy and back to bologna, which is one of the great centres of cuisine main aware of tea. Next, though Jeremy Bonita off to the island- joining that you will take its challenges in your stride was, but how will you prepare for the journey because I know that you, you d, like to be as prepared as you can for a new challenge? Yes, well, I've been through remote places play with I haven't been on my own in them. I think I could probably use branches and make a shelter be string. A few together make a raft go to a neighbouring islander out into the trackless wastes of the sea and
I hope I'd, be resourceful and try and keep myself going we'll. Let you have one more track before we send you, then we find out. What's it going to be your last choice today, when I first came to live in london, I lived in north london. When I was a student, then I was brought for few years. I came back and temporarily moved to south london, about forty years ago, and I'm still there I think ray Davis was from muswell hill, north london, london, loud yeah, the king says the north london band, but I'm choosing my final battle of waterloo sunset by the kinks, because there isn't called camberwell sunset where I live. But what is the right place?
I saw the kings and worsening sunset, so Jeremy bowen, I'm going to send you away to the island. Now I'm giving you the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and you can take one of the book. What would you like? Well I'd, like a bumper edition that I know they exist, you wouldn't have to bind especially of george orwell, not by relaxing but immensely stimulating. The connected works of george orwell is ambiguous. You can have a luxury item,
Would you like a thunderbolt about my wine cellar, but I thought is not possible, then I wouldn't get anything done so I recently bought myself a manual typewriter at a charity shop of portable one, so I'd like to take that with paper ribbons to fix and I'll. Try maybe write that novel that I've been meaning to write and haven't quite got round to yet and finally reach one track of the eight that you've shared with us today. Would you save from the waves I'd go the elegant second symphony, so I'll be transported back to edwardian london. When I listen to Jeremy bowen. Thank you very much for letting see a year. This island discs be a great pleasure. The
I hope into my conversation with Jeremy popped, the sound of his typewriter will bring back some happy childhood memories. Recast. Many of the correspondence, including Jeremy colleagues least set, and John simpson Alex of it and Christine alarm in our back catalogue too, you can find their episodes in our desert. Island discs programme archive I'm through BBC sounds the studio manager for today's programme was a hot. These distant producer was christine Pavlovsk II and the producer was pull him again next time my guest will be the poet claudia run. Can I do hope. You'll join us, hello, I'm jeremy boeing, the BBC's international editor,
Maybe forty years I've been reporting from some of the most complex and dangerous places in the world. In my new ten part series, frontlines of journalism, I'm taking you to some of the most difficult stories at the cover six mortar rounds landed in or around the graveyard get a bit emotional than actually to look at the obstacles that get in the way of the truth and how journalists like me: navigate around them. It is never definitively these are journalising tend to argue. Every word comes out of your mouth is a form of opinion. If the world saw the world would react, subscribed to lines of journalism from BBC radio for now on BBC sounds
Transcript generated on 2023-07-03.