I grew up in a small Yorkshire village and went to a run-of-the-mill comprehensive but the world opened up when on board ship with my father who was a Captain in the Merchant Navy. It made me realize that people aren’t so different wherever they come from.
Seeing Yorkshire miners’ wives outside our local supermarket asking for food donations during the miners’ strike was my first political awakening. My mum had a party the night Margaret Thatcher was elected PM. I felt very differently.
I worked for Channel 4 News for 12 years often presenting with the legendary Jon Snow who would walk into the studio with the words, ‘Turton, if the viewer only realized we add up to over twelve feet of presenter!’
The day three of my colleagues were locked up in an Egyptian jail and I was convicted of the same terrorism charges and basically went on the run was the day I moved from being a journalist to becoming an activist. I’ve since moved back but still speak out about free speech and attacks on journalists.
For me, the #FreeAJStaff campaign was a steep learning curve in how to grab people’s attention and join our cause. It went viral thanks to support from all over the world and it was my inspiration to write my book for young people: This book will (help you) change the world.
As I launched the campaign with a demonstration outside the Egyptian Embassy in London Jeremy Corbyn turned up, joined the protest and handed our petition in to the Egyptian Ambassador. Few politicians would stand up for the press – most hate our scrutiny and some would prefer to silence us altogether.
I’ve reported from the heart of the Arab Uprisings on the frontlines in Libya and Syria and from the street protests in Egypt – people desperate for the kinds of free speech and right to demonstrate freedoms we in the UK take for granted.
My closest shave was on an assignment heading into Syria through a town called Binnish on the very same day photographer Jim Foley was heading out through that town. Jim was kidnapped that day and eventually handed to ISIS who beheaded him. He is a huge loss to his profession. I often think of Jim who I crossed paths with but never met.
My scariest mission was at the top of the Sinjar mountains where we had been dropped by helicopter with the Yazidi commander but were then stranded for a week with the Peshmerga running out of ammunition and ISIS pushing ever closer up the mountain sides. It’s the first and hopefully the last time I will ever ask my colleagues: “If ISIS get this far do we let them take us or do we shoot each other?”
I think the world is made up of two types of people – those who like Brussels Sprouts and those who detest them. The latter are smart, the former have very strange taste buds.