BBC Paris correspondent Jon Sopel leaves the post this week after three and a half years to become a weekday presenter on News 24.
He is replacing Gavin Estler who moved to Newsnight earlier this year. Sopel will be on air Monday to Thursday, from 7pm to 10pm. Africa and world affairs correspondent Allan Little will take over Sopel’s role in Paris.
“My time in Paris – longer than most foreign correspondent postings – has been fantastic. I’ve had a wonderful time, but for all sorts of reasons it’s time to come home. Plus, if you stay in the same place for too long, you get stale and the same stories keep coming round again,” he told Press Gazette.
Family was one consideration, but the opportunity to present the bulletin during News 24’s heaviest viewing period of the day also held its own allure. “I’ve done a lot of fill-in presenting, and would now like to have my own thing long term,” he said.
Via Paris, Sopel has just returned from a stint in Kuwait City that began before the war broke out. He began presenting for News 24 from there after the war started and may return to anchor the bulletin in the coming months. “When we first arrived, we thought the gas masks were a big joke until it all broke out.
“It was a surreal experience being in Kuwait, staying in a five-star hotel, being driven to the border to report on a bit of war, then back down a six-lane motorway to arrive before dinner, fluffy towels waiting,” he added.
Sopel, who also reported from Afghanistan during the US-led conflict last year, surprisingly felt safer there than in Iraq.
“I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but in many ways Afghanistan felt safer. After the British soldiers came through, the anarchy, the threat of friendly fire and the looting made it a lot more frightening place. Also, I’d met with Terry Lloyd two nights before he died, which really registered on our minds, and we’d hear stories of journalists being strip-searched and their equipment taken off them.”
For Sopel, the highs of the experience out in the Gulf were being able to “watch the battles unfold before your eyes.
“There was some utterly gripping footage which, seen live, really gave you a sense of the danger and chaos. That was a positive advantage in covering the war. But what we sometimes didn’t get was the bigger picture.”
By Wale Azeez