Tsunami disaster now into its fourth day. The phone goes at 9.00am:
it’s my editor Jim Gray. The previous day Channel 4 said it would clear
the schedules for a one-hour special on New Year’s Day, and he’d
immediately started chasing an interview with Tony Blair who has
decided to stay on holiday in Egypt despite the enormity of the
tragedy. Downing Street’s initial indication was that an interview was
He asks me to also get on to Number 10.
In the afternoon, I
head for the shops with my daughter Freya. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about to leave for her
gap year in Equador and needs a mosquito net. The phone rings in my
pocket. BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s press chief wants to know more about what we want to
talk about with the PM. Some time that night while IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m putting another
log on the fire and admiring the still well-needled Christmas tree,
BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s press man calls again. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on. A further flurry of calls with
my editor and foreign editor on practicalities.
That evening I am consumed with the appalling images.
The flight is at 17.25. I pack a briefcase and small rucksack.
Will I need a tie in the desert? What shall I wear? I bet heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in a
suit and tie, despite the holiday Ã¢â‚¬” it will be an important signal of
the working vacationer. I settle for a lightweight jacket and trousers.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m in the office, builders everywhere: this was supposed to have been
preparation for our big revamp of the Ã¢â‚¬ËœlookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of Channel 4 News for the
Instead, I’m talking to my editors about the Blair interview.
Express. I meet up with my cameramen, Graham and Ken, and my producer
Ollie. We are pleased to be going, despite it screwing up four New
YearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Eves. Egypt Air leaves on time. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dry, but I never drink
alcohol when I fly anyway. We land at 23.53. We are still on board on
the Cairo airport tarmac as 2005 arrives. It feels a million miles from
the Tsunami and home.
The wonderful Ahmed (as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll call him here) a contact from the
British Embassy, meets us air-side at Cairo. We have visas but no
letter from the Minister allowing us to film in Egypt …
and why two cameras? Too many customs officials cluster around us
poking at our equipment. DoesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t look good, we shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be here.
Quizzical passengers pass by, wondering what offence we have committed.
Ahmed has managed to find a lone and more important looking man in
civvies: we are through with our gear.
Two hours in the Sheraton Airport hotel. Slept like a log but with a conscience about spending Ã‚£70 on a two-hour bed.
The great thing about getting undressed and going to bed is that it divides yesterday from tomorrow, last year from this.
at 3.45, back to the airport for a plane to Sharm el Sheikh. Arrive in
the dawn light, Lawrence of Arabia topography, brown against blue sea.
BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s little RAF jet is on the apron. Is he going home after all?
is a sort of tourist blob bolted onto the bottom of the Sinai
peninsular: it could be the Algarve. We drive to the interview. I
wonder about penetrating BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s holiday air space Ã¢â‚¬” he must need one Ã¢â‚¬”
but the Tsunami, so big.
Anyway he said yes, so heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expecting
us. We set up. 9.30, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in that suit and tie, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s me that looks
like heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on holiday.
I have to make him up. Me with a powder
puff on the famous face, whatever next. Interview goes well, though Jim
Gray thinks I could have been a bit more probing.
desk back at the newsroom has done its stuff and Mohammed is here from
Cairo TV waiting outside with an unpromising looking van. But we crank
up a dish and somehow we are reaching London. Out in the midday sun it
takes two hours to feed the stuff, lots of satellite break-up and
problems, but eventually it goes and we all have red noses from the
sun. The boys go off to snooze. I spend $20 on a snorkel, mask and
shoes. The fish are incredible. I wonder whether any ripple of the
Tsunami made it this far up the Red Sea. The interview runs at length
in the Channel 4 News special later today.
All flights are packed. We have to take our luck via Milan.
We fly all day, including a three-hour stopover at the CityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s
Malpensa airport. Too short to dash into the city to see the Cathedral;
too long to enjoy duty free.
Bank Holiday, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m working. Have to rehearse on our newlook set
for our reveal the next night, as well as do MondayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s evening
programme. The set is very reflective, very blue, very white. I like
it, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s strangely unfamiliar after all these years of dark pinks,
reds and purples. And the space feels different.
Thank God we havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t gone virtual, and I still inhabit a real space.
News goes well, superb reports from Alex Thomson, Jonathan Miller and
Ian Williams in the field … massive, overwhelming scale. CanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to
grips emotionally. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never donated to a disaster appeal before Ã¢â‚¬”
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve always preferred to give via standing order. But this is something
First full night of new set: having been here doing this for 15
years, any change is discombobulating! Technically nothing has really
changed, save that everything has changed Ã¢â‚¬” colours, big screen,
introduction of beautiful plasma screens, upgrading of the second
presenterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s position. But above all the sound texture has changed, and
that does affect you, somehow it is brighter and more revealing of your
mistakes, which in my case are legion.
So to air at 7.00pm. For the first time in 15 years there are
pictures but no sound. I mean no sound at all. Total panic in the
gallery and in meÃ¢â‚¬” what do I do? Keep lips flapping and talking to
camera Ã¢â‚¬” in other words carry on looking as if nothing has happened.
After 40 seconds that feel like a year, there is an almighty crack and
the sound comes back … and I apologise and start again. But I am
thrown and make ten serious verbal mistakes in the following 53 minutes.
Feels like Friday but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only Wednesday. My daughter flies off
tomorrow and home is tense. Work is tense too. A rush to get Ã¢â‚¬ËœSnowmailÃ¢â‚¬â„¢
out on the e-mail service. A rush to write a trail into Richard and
Judy. The programme team is beginning to acclimatise to the revamp, but
there are still snagging problems. Tsunami still the dominant news
story, Jonathan Miller brilliant yet again and we mustnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let the aid
effort out of our sight for too long, but other stories need to start
getting a look in …
Biking home vastly improved by Condor having fixed my brakes today
and given me new toe clips. I am taking Freya to the airport for 4.30am
tomorrow for tearful goodbyes Ã¢â‚¬” hope it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show at 7.00pm …