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The Fellowship: Kate Adie OBE

21 May 2018
Event: Virgin TV British Academy Television AwardsDate: Sunday 13 May 2018Venue: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, LondonHost: Sue Perkins-Area: BackstageBAFTA/Jamie Simonds

Find out more about groundbreaking news correspondent Kate Adie OBE, the recipient of the Fellowship at the 2018 Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards. Words by Matthew Bell

It is unlikely that any other recipient of a BAFTA Fellowship bears as many scars of war as Kate Adie OBE – and carries them so lightly.

She has been shot four times but, as she says, “Little bits are missing, nothing vital.” Reporting for the BBC, she was grazed by a bullet in Beirut and hit by shrapnel in Bosnia, which is still inside her. She had flesh torn from her elbow in Tiananmen Square by a bullet that killed the man next to her and was shot at close range in Libya. Adie survived and receives this year’s Fellowship in recognition of her trailblazing career. “It’s a great honour. You don’t come into journalism expecting these things,” she says.

The world’s danger zones are a long way from Sunderland, where Adie grew up. On leaving university in the mid-60s, Adie sat the Civil Service exam and “to my horror, I passed”. A life in the Ministry of Ag and Fish beckoned, until Adie spotted an ad in her local paper for the BBC’s new local radio network. She applied for the most junior role of station assistant at Radio Durham. Adie, who is the most self-effacing of people, thought the interview “disastrous” but, naturally, landed the job.

A year later, she left for Radio Bristol where she remained until the early 70s, before a move to regional television news in Plymouth put Adie in front of the camera for the first time. After “a catastrophic nine months” at BBC South, Adie finally landed a job on the BBC’s national news team. As a junior reporter, she covered industrial strife, race riots, politics and, giving her a taste of what was to follow, Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’.

Everything changed for Adie on 30 April 1980, when six armed men stormed the Iranian Embassy in London. When the gunmen killed a hostage and threw the body out of the embassy, the SAS stormed the building. Reporting for the BBC, crouched behind a car door, was Kate Adie. Her live broadcast drew a huge audience and put her name on the public consciousness map. Surely, Adie must have been terrified? “No – I’d done three years off and on in Northern Ireland. We knew what a bomb sounded like,” she says.

Over the next two decades, Adie reported from many of the world’s worst trouble spots, earning her a BAFTA nomination and the Richard Dimbleby Award, a BAFTA special award that recognised the best presenter of factual, features and news (both in 1990). Adie describes her job as that of an “an eyewitness reporter”. She is adamant that a journalist should never become the story: “It is utterly irrelevant what the reporter thinks. You’re putting out information for people to make up their own mind.”

She served as the BBC’s Chief News Correspondent from 1989 until 2003, during which time she appeared on Radio 4’s long-running From Our Own Correspondent. This year, she celebrates 20 years presenting the programme. “It offers good eyewitness, more reflective stories from reporters who have been through it and can write wonderfully,” she says.

She doesn’t miss frontline reporting: “The business has changed so much. I was lucky to be working in an era when there was a huge amount of opportunity and television news had fantastic viewership... I’ve been immensely lucky and privileged to be able to go to so many wonderful places. I never intended to be a television reporter, but I found that it brought the world and extraordinary events into people’s living rooms.”

Read the full interview in the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards 2018 brochure