John Witherow, Marie Colvin's editor, recently said this of her: "she was much more than a war reporter. She was a woman with a tremendous joie de vivre, full of humour and mischief and surrounded by a large circle of friends, all of whom feared the consequences of her bravery."
I was one of those friends, who never ceased to worry about what might one day happen to her.
Jane Bonham-Carter, one of Marie's closest friends, has just told me that she had spoken to Marie recently. She was in Beirut and was desperately trying to find a way into Homs. No amount of persuasion on the part of Jane, that it was madness and so dangerous, could sway her resolve. She had to do what she had to do, so she went, and last night sent the most moving despatch to Channel 4 News about the plight of the largely civilian population trapped in a small enclave in the city, with shells raining down upon them at the rate of 10 per minute, shells which had just mortally wounded a small baby that Marie saw die before her eyes, and which a few hours later would bring to an end her own brave life.
When my son called to tell me this morning, having heard the news on the internet, I was utterly devastated, miserable that she was taken from us, angry that she had courted death, but also certain that if she had to go, then this was they she would have wanted it, in the course of her powerful duty to pass on to the rest of the world a first-hand account of the atrocities being committed by the Assad regime. Perhaps her face being on the front page of every newspaper in the world will make those in power think again about taking some action against this tyranny.
Marie was incredibly famous, but you would never have known it. She never banged on about her work. You had to prize stories out of her, usually late at hight after many glasses of wine. The Marie I knew was an incredibly warm and affectionate woman, with a throaty voice, an infectious laugh and a great joie de vivre whose company one really looked forward to sharing.
I was lucky enough three years ago to spend a whole ten days with her on a sailing boat, travelling down the coast of Turkey. Marie had always loved sailing since she was a young girl, but had recently taken it up again as a form of therapy after suffering a major nervous breakdown, the eventual result of years spent under fire, during which time she had lost an eye in a mortar attack in Sri Lanka.
She took to Ocean Racing, another way of finding the adrenalin fix she missed from the battlefield. With her then partner, Richard Flaye, she had a share in a yacht, and myself and my wife Isabella, were lucky enough to be invited to join them and the journalists, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, for a holiday. Richard was very much in charge. Marie always referred to him as 'Cap'n Flaye' and did exactly what he told her to do with the traditional "Aye, Aye, Cap'n". Even when he shouted at her, as Captains are wont to do when things go wrong and they need someone to blame, she would meekly do as she was told, never arguing. It was as if sailing gave her an opportunity to revert to being a child again, to relinquish command to someone else rather than having to constantly take decisions herself as she would have to do on the battlefield. The years fell away and she looked just like a teenager.
Of course she was incredibly efficient, and was delighted to find in my wife another woman who was capable of quickly learning how to tie the different knots and learn their names and the names of all the different sails, tasks at which the rest of us were utterly useless and made us objects of contempt to the Captain.
However... I did manage to score some considerable brownie points, and even, to my eternal delight, gain the admiration of Marie. Being a reasonably efficient cook, and wanting to get out of the way of the Captain as much as possible, I took on the role of 'Galley Monkey' and established myself as ship's cook in the tiniest galley you could imagine, in which there was scarcely room to swing a rat, let alone a cat, and from here I produced three meals a day. This astonished Marie and also delighted her, as it freed her from having to do it herself. "I'd rather be under fire, than have to spend all day in there she said," and with that I felt I'd passed whatever test was necessary to go up in her admiration. From then on I was always 'Midshipman Sykes' to her.
I will never forget Marie. In all my 63 years she was one of the funniest, self-deprecating, bravest and most affectionate friends I have ever had, and because of the manner in which she died, selflessly broadcasting news of the plight of the Syrian people to the bitter end, she will be remembered by millions.
Follow Christopher Simon Sykes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/crykes