A new concept in public speaking emerged in the UAE this week — a former war reporter talking on stage, introduced by a comedian.

By Tim Newbold (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Fri 3 Mar 2006, 1:07 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

Former BBC foreign correspondent Kate Adie, once probably Britain's best known news journalist, spoke in Dubai on Tuesday evening and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday about what it is like to have done her job. Jim Davidson, with his trademark razor-sharp wit and off-the-cuff humour, presided over the show.

Expectations were high, even if the combination of comedian and tough news hack sat a little uneasily. The evening began promisingly with Davidson cracking gags to get the paying expats going.

Then Adie, the main attraction, came on after some video clips of her reporting on the front line were shown. She started with what seemed to be a precis of her early career as written in her autobiography, The Kindness of Strangers. People waited for insights into the theme of the occasion - 'So you want to be a... news correspondent?'

For those familiar with her book, the impression formed that she was merely lifting extracts from it, rather than really engaging with those listening.

Adie explained how she first broke into reporting at the highest level of her trade by accident. There was no grand plan or desire for the job.

Various experiences were covered. The siege of the Iranian Embassy in London. The American bombing of Libyan capital Tripoli. China's brutal crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square in 1989. And the Gulf and Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The stories were interesting. She described what the life is like. "It is not the glamour that people think it is. It is a very, very straightforward survival life. It is a job for a paid nosy parker."

The second half saw Davidson asking Adie questions, with both sitting in arm chairs. This was a clear improvement, as Adie could bounce off the host. There were some insights - "It is not a job to help, it is a job to report." "We are but observers. That is what we are and that is what we should stay."

Yet there was no really deep analysis of the complexities of a life that is far from the run-of-the-mill of a nine-to-five job. In response to a question of how the role can be balanced with a home life, she said: "It is the same as if you are a chartered accountant in Basingstoke. You juggle your time. You need to keep a grip on normal life very determinedly." The explanation appeared incomplete.

There was a nod in the direction of discussing the mental scars that can be left. "I look back on it with amazement. The cost is small... Some of the difficult bits are a small price to pay for being able to look into other people's lives and to enjoy myself. I do sleep soundly."

Adie, admirably, may have been able to keep a lid on her emotions and keep a sense of perspective - but many of colleagues could not. The job has turned sane people into alcoholics and ruined their personal lives. Surely that was a worth a mention?

One question was left hanging in the air at the end. Should a reporter — used to talking to a camera — stand on stage and talk, even try to entertain, a crowd? If the formula is to be a success, it needs a radical re-think.

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