Christina Lamb isn’t used to talking about herself. As one of the Sunday Times’ most revered war correspondents, she’s far more comfortable telling the stories of conflict-struck regions of the world, giving her voice to those who don’t have one, or can’t get it heard in the crossfire of bigger, louder leaders, armies, terrorists and politicians.
As the subject of ‘Bringing the World to Britain’ – the latest in the series of Unquiet Film commissioned by the Times - she realises, however, that, for every headline she brings, there is as much curiosity in her own lifestyle (“people seem very interested in my war bag that sits ready in the cupboard”), in how she does her frightening job (“I just get on with it”), in what she misses most about home when she’s abroad (“good coffee”).
She’s also keen that, in an era of phone hacking, wide-ranging industry cuts and general media ignominy, readers are reminded that there are some journalists still doing back-breaking work and committed to digging out the truth and putting it on the front pages.
For 27 years, Christina has been travelling to some of the world’s most troubled spots and bringing her stories home, ever since the day she received a life-changing invitation through her letterbox – to Benazir Bhutto’s wedding in Pakistan. As a cub reporter, Christina had interviewed the politician in London months previously, and their ensuing friendship made life for Christina in Pakistan both privileged – with unique access to Bhutto and her ministers, both in exile and when they returned to lead – and complicated, when she reported on the corruption surrounding the family and got booted out of the country.
Since she first set off, flak jacket and helmet in hand, undaunted at 21, Christina has reported from spots as diverse as Afghanistan, South Africa and Brazil, where she met her Portuguese husband.
Family life has changed the nature of her job for Christina. Although she jokes that her husband would never ask her to stay home – “apparently I become unbearable if I stay put for too long” - it’s clear becoming a mother has altered her perception. I ask for the time she’s been most scared in all her travels, and when she gives her horrifying account of being ambushed by the Taliban in 2006 and literally running for her life along with a group of equally terrified British soldiers, she reveals it was thoughts of her son that kept her going.
In addition, the loss of her close friend and colleague Marie Colvin in Syria in 2012 has made the risks all too apparent. She says now, “That was very traumatic for all of us at the paper and brought home something you tried not to think about. I feel now we’re not covering Syria properly, but it’s hard to see how to do it safely. Being a mother I try and be more careful. And being practical, I can’t explain what’s going on if I’m dead.”
For her, the most frustrating time of her career was having to cover Robert Mugabe’s oppression of his people in Zimbabwe, watching the systematic destruction of lives, homes, shops – an estimated 700,000 made homeless – all in the name of tyranny. She rationalises now, “At least a war is fighting for something you believe in, whereas here it was just one man fighting to stay in power.”
For every moment of frustration, Christina can console herself that her work has made a different, too. Her reporting of her experience in Helmand in 2006 resulted in a Parliamentary debate, more helicopters and resources for the troops out there.
“There are good moments and amazing people you meet along the way,” she reflects, “but I don’t think many people would do this job if you didn’t think you could change things. It’s why I find the Israel-Palestine situation so frustrating in its intransigence. I like to see a glimmer of hope wherever I am.”
Along the way, Christina has encountered some of the world’s most inspiring women. As well as Bhutto, with whom her friendship was restored before Bhutto’s assassination in 2007, she has become close to Mozambique's Graça Machel and, more recently, Malala, the girl who stood up to the Taliban.
“They’re incredibly courageous,” says Christina, “but I want people to know they’re human, too.”
Words as fitting for her as for any of her subjects.
Watch Christina Lamb explain her job in 'Bringing the World to Britain' below - part of the Unquiet Film series - more information here....