Eve-Ann Page coughed her way up the stairs and into journalism at the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian in 1968 at the age of 17.
A girl in the shortest of miniskirts, she soon impressed her new colleagues with her passion for the plight of farm labourers in tied cottages, her dedication to smoking – and her ability to drink a pint of Elgood’s bitter in four and a half seconds. After a settling-in period, during which her editor had to explain that the people in her country-town digs were not too outlandish in expecting her to be back before 2am, it seemed likely that she had the makings of a journalist.
She gained the basics of her trade doing country calls, courts and councils in the Lincolnshire fens, and in an area not bursting with news, learned from her iconic chief reporter Malcolm Scott the art of sniffing out a story among the eccentrics of the area – of which there were a few.
Also, very early in her career, she had her first skirmish with the cancer that would accompany her throughout her life. But she never flinched from her bouts with it.
After marrying and changing her surname to Prentice, she followed her husband to Bristol where she spent a short and depressing few months labouring in a tea-bag factory before working with the renowned Arblaster’s agency. She then joined the Western Daily Press as
She moved to the Peterborough Evening Telegraph as a reporter, and then joined The Guardian as a foreign desk sub-editor. But always there were stories too tempting to resist, and she never relinquished her reporter’s habit. It was rare if, after a holiday with her partner, they were unable to pay for another one on the proceeds of the freelance money they had made from a story they had picked up abroad.
Therefore, she seized her chance when she had the opportunity of a trip behind the-then Iron Curtain to Romania on a trade delegation with her father and other dignitaries including Lord Wilson of Rievaulx.
Another trip followed during which, when being welcomed in the Moldovan part of the country, she alighted from the train to see her welcoming brass band, mayor and civic notables disappear as she stepped into an 8ft-deep snowdrift.
During one such trip, she found herself covering the Chernobyl disaster. She also began
visiting Yugoslavia where she met the incorrigible correspondent Dessa Trevisan, who was to start a fire of interest in Balkans politics that had an indelible influence on the rest of Prentice’s life.
After more bouts with her old enemy, cancer, she again joined her husband’s travels, this time to China. As an adviser to the very new China Daily, she was to experience the remnants of a debilitating political correctness – instilled by the not-forgotten Cultural Revolution – the like of which is now prevalent in Britain.
On one occasion, her little Chinese songbird Shao Song mysteriously drowned in its drinking bowl, and with gales blowing and minus 24 degree temperatures outside she was asked if she wanted to give in and kowtow to the type of propaganda the newspaper wanted her to peddle – as other Westerners had.
‘Not on your life, Sunshine,’she replied, and went to hack out a grave with a pocket knife in the icy darkness of the People’s Daily compound.
Soon afterwards, after a few awkward questions and an incident in which a drunken Islamic Sudanese diplomat killed a Chinese pedestrian in her view, the couple were prematurely on a plane back to Britain.
She was soon, again, working for The Guardian and then The Sunday Telegraph, but when Peter Cole started the Sunday Correspondent it fell to her, on the toss of a coin with her partner, to ask for a job on what promised to be an exciting new venture. She began as production editor and in the paper’s brief life progressed to assistant editor, only to see her toil wasted when the paper foundered, through no fault of most of its journalists.
Prentice then joined The Times – by now aware that, due to the cancer, she would never have children after the numerous operations she had undergone. She moved from subbing to the foreign desk, where she eventually became diplomatic correspondent and Balkans correspondent.
Having covered the Romania revolution for the Correspondent, she was ideally placed to report on Yugoslavia, at a time when many of the gentlemen Cold War reporters were being prised out of their cosy clubs into the full light of days that were to prove perhaps just a little too bright for their liking.
For a few brief months, it was time for reporters on the ground and Prentice had a head start, both in her knowing the territory and in her style, being a seat-of-the-pants operator.
She soon discovered that many of her colleagues were only too willing to follow the safe line of the government of the day. Her faith in some of her British journalistic colleagues was badly shaken, but she refused – not for the first time in her career – to kowtow to the demands of the duplicitous.
During the Kosovo campaign, on a perilous trip from Belgrade to the southern part of the province, her car was bombed by a Nato plane and Nebosja, her driver, was killed. She, with other members of her party, was injured and Goran, a field surgeon with Serb special forces, risked his life to save her. In the chaos that is the Balkans, a few months later she tracked down him and his family – along with some moderate Albanians who had also been ‘purged’– living in a garage in Belgrade.
Some time afterwards, during a night out in Belgrade, Prentice found herself being dragged from a boat that was capsizing in a Danube tributory. A few weeks later the clothes and shoes she had been wearing when she was immersed fell apart – eaten by the cocktail of chemicals that had been released into the river by the bombing.
A book followed – One Woman’s War – which gained applause not only in Britain, but also in the Balkans, where the facts of the conflict were appreciated as being far less simple than many western accounts had portrayed them.
By now, Prentice was again under assault from cancer. Doctors mused on its reawakening and her proximity to the depleted uranium that had rained down during the bombing of the Balkans, but it was a moot point.
Having qualified as a private pilot – to confront her fear of flying – she pondered taking a light aircraft to the base of the German pilot who had attacked her in Kosovo, but decided she could not forgive the perpetrator, who may have had on his hands the blood of the many innocent civilians she had seen killed.
One of her last acts was to appear, in great pain, at The Hague war crimes tribunal to give evidence at the Slobodan Milosevic hearing. Although no lover of the man, so disgusted was she at the calibre of what she regarded as a show trial that she spoke, among other things, of the al-Qaeda fighters who had been active in Bosnia and Kosovo, whom she believed had been armed by the Americans and British.
She returned, convinced that the trial would never be allowed to finish naturally because some of the charges were so badly framed they would be scorned by the audience of the proceedings that were being shown live daily on B92 Balkans television.
Two weeks later, Milosevic was dead, but her journalistic coup at being the last reporter to interview him was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that her medication did not allow her the normal clarity of mind to report the event.
She remarried and became Mrs Aidan Morrin, and fearlessly and recklessly defied the inevitability of her illness to drink the final drops of her life in Drogheda, her beloved Eire.
Nevertheless, she never lost her taste for cigarettes, Jameson Irish Whiskey, cups of tea, or the truth – however it was served.