Charmed by Kate at Raworth Harrogate Literary Festival

Kate Adie.
Kate Adie.

Interview by Graham Chalmers

Chatting to Kate Adie in the lounge of the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate I realise I’m not scared at all.

The fact I had been worried about interviewing this titan of British news broadcasting during her visit to Raworth Harrogate Literary Festival undoubtedly says more about me than her.

True, she retains the cutting edge which made her look like someone you wouldn’t want to annoy when reporting from one of the world’s trouble spots or another.

But, in town to talk about her latest book as an author - Fighting on the Home Front - the 68-year-old ex-BBC chief news correspondent, is all playful charm and naughty smiles from the start.

Her fifth non-fiction book to date, Fighting on the Home Front looks at the outbreak of the First World War and how the conflict changed the role of women.

“Whenever I reported from a conflict zone I felt you should cover more than just the guns and the military stuff because modern war is about everybody.

“1914-18 was the first time we had that sort of war in Britain. It was the first time we saw enemy action on British soil in places like Scarborough.

“Before the war intelligent women were patronised and worse. But millions of women did different things during the war like engineering and it changed people’s views on what women could and couldn’t do from then on.”

“You can see how far women have come since then the law and the medical professions. And there are a lot more women in journalism than when I started.

“But if the women who won the vote in 1918 could see the role of women in Parliament today, I think they would be aghast.”

From the siege of the Libyan Embassy to the massacre at Tiananen Square, Kate is famed for being in the right place at the most dangerous of times.

“People say, gosh you do a dangerous job, I used to think that’s not actually true.

“As a journalist you can choose not to go into the danger zone. Whereas a bomb disposal officer has no choice. He can’t just say I don’t fancy dealing with that one.”

Kate is keen to emphasise she’d only ever been grazed, never actually shot properly.

Still, I wonder if the risks had ever caused her to question her choice of career

“It never did when I did the job. I did my own risk assessment. I took the view that if I thought it was too risky I wouldn’t do it. Today, for example, the place not to go if you’re a journalist is northern Iraq.”

One thing, it turns out, Kate is scared of are insects, especially spiders, though she does like beetles, she adds.

Having been ‘grazed’ on the elbow at Tianenmen Square, Kate was then ‘grazed’ on the collar bone in Libya, then ‘grazed’ on the leg in Bosnia.

You’re either really unlucky or really lucky, I suggest.

“This is a debate which journalists have themselves. I do have colleagues who don’t believe in luck who say it’s all the result of judgement.

“I do actually believe in luck. There’s a sort of serendipity at work.”

Kate isn’t going straight home after her appearance at Raworth Harrogate Literary Festival, she’s got a family wedding to attend near Leeds the following day.

It turns out she’s been to Harrogate many times before as a child on day trips.

Born in Northumberland, raised by a Sunderland couple, educated at Newcastle University, I interrupt another infectious giggle from this whip-smart journalisatic icon to ask whether her roots had had any bearing on her career.

“It hasn’t affected my books but it certainly affects my attitudes. I am a northerner from a municipal town with a sense of community. It was fading when I was growing up but it was still there.”