It’s hard to believe but I started writing professionally 28 years ago. Considering I am now 42, it doesn’t take a math genius to work out when I started. Yes I was a spritely young thing when I decided to start banging the keys on the typewriter.
Note to millennials - a “typewriter” is what was used before computers became mainstream. Look, here’s one –
One of the first places I started writing for, when I was still at school, was the now-defunct “Early Times”. It was a newspaper designed with young people in mind, with the news written and presented in such a way that young people would understand it.
I got a position as a reporter on the newspaper, and I started going out trying to grab the best interviews I could. I almost managed to get an interview with Australian actor Mark Little, who at that time was in a prominent part in the TV soap series “Neighbours“.
I almost got an interview with the then-British Prime Minister John Major, until he cancelled at the last minute. I wrote to Buckingham Palace every month asking for an interview with the Queen, despite being told everytime by the Royal Press Office that “the Monarch does not do interviews”. But all that did was make me determined to be the first one to interview her. Eventually they stopped calling and writing back.
But it wasn’t all misses and cancellations. I got some good ones too. Radio 1 DJ and British TV & radio presenter Nicky Campbell, which led to me appearing on the BBC Radio 1 Roadshow. Also, the Scottish band “Runrig” which led to me appearing on a BBC TV show about my “journalistic process” (thankfully that embarrassing appearance has all but sunk without trace forever).
The one I am most proud of though was the interview with the former Beirut hostage Thomas Sutherland (naturalized American, born in Scotland). It took me ages to break through the protective family wall and finally persuade Mr Sutherland to come to the phone to talk to me. A wonderful and courteous man, he invited me to the cottage outside Edinburgh (where he was hiding from the press, ironically!) for a talk. It was meant to last 30 minutes. I was there for well over 2 hours.
The interview went so well, Early Times set aside a whole page for me and printed the interview in its entirety. I also won a prize. And it was that article that was instrumental in me getting into journalism school. My grades were lower than expected but that interview swung it and got me in anyway.
So it was with utter devastation that I saw this in the Scottish print media in July last year :
Although I barely knew him, indeed it was only those 2 hours way back in 1992, it was devastating to find out he was gone. Goddamn 2016, it had already claimed lots of wonderful people and now the Grim Reaper had taken Mr Sutherland too.
What comforts me though is a photo which was widely republished when the news broke that he was dead.
I am going to get it framed and kept on my shelf. The look of pure joy on that man’s face is absolutely tremendous and shows that despite 2,353 days chained to a radiator in a dark cellar, he was still able to find the fun in life.
That should be a lesson to us all the next time we are complaining about something. He more than anyone would have been entitled to sulk and complain about his lot in life. But he didn’t. He told me he forgave his captors and his sense of humour was infectious.
Rest in peace Mr Sutherland. I hope you’re entertaining the angels right now.