From minefields to Margaret Thatcher: special talk from top journalist

A BBC newsreader and correspondent who has interviewed prime ministers and reported from war zones came to QE to share experiences that range from being rebuked by Margaret Thatcher to finding himself marooned in an Afghan minefield.

Jon Sopel spoke to Year 12 pupils and QE staff as part of the Speakers for Schools scheme. The independent charity aims to promote visits to schools by authoritative and knowledgeable speakers who are leaders in their respective fields.

Mr Sopel is the regular presenter of BBC World News and reads the BBC’s national 1 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news programmes. He has also hosted Newsnight and has worked as the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent. He was the BBC’s Paris correspondent for three years, during the French ban on British beef and the Concorde crash, and was the corporation’s reporter in Kuwait City during the 2003 invasion by Iraq. Politicians he has interviewed during his long career include Tony Blair, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State.

""During his talk he recounted experiences good and bad from his career. These included walking through a minefield and being told to ‘walk carefully and come back exactly the same way, footstep for footstep, the way you came’. He recalled being instructed to put on a gas mask during a biological warfare alert, whilst the waiters carried on serving drinks around him. And he spoke of a harrowing flight back from Afghanistan, during which he was surrounded by dead bodies.

In one press conference, Margaret Thatcher told him off when he slightly hesitated over the start of a question, saying he was like “an inattentive schoolboy”.

And he spoke about interviewing a member of the public on air whose every other word was an expletive – an example of the perils of live broadcasting.

""“The talk was well attended by about 40 of our Year 12 students, who are interested in politics, international relations or journalism,” said QE’s Head of Politics, Liam Hargadon, who organised the visit. “The boys and staff were delighted to hear Jon Sopel’s anecdotes about his life as a political reporter and presenter and his advice on how to pursue a career in a similar field.”