Caroline Wyatt, presenter on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, opens up to former WIJ chair Eleanor Mills about her remarkable career in an evening that was both inspiring and enlightening.
Wyatt, bi-lingual in German, was the BBC’s correspondent in Berlin, Moscow and Paris. As a war reporter in the nineties she was in Baghdad during the first Iraq war and covered the Kosovo conflict in the Balkans and later the invasion of Iraq following 9/11.
Being a foreign correspondent was an “all-consuming way of life” packed with extraordinary, often dangerous assignments. In her foreign reporting she tried to give a voice to both sides of the story – as well as pleasing the BBC desk back in London.
She recalled being in Afghanistan and accompanying a man, tortured and released by the Taliban, who had travelled three days on a donkey to get to safety. She walked with him for the last mile. When she told her boss back in London of his remarkable story, the response was: “Go heavy on the torture, light on the donkey”.
Her reporting covered the “crucibles of human experience”. There was one moment Wyatt never forgot and which affected her more than she realised at the time. “We were in a very heavily armoured vehicle, driving down the road in Afghanistan and a little Afghan minibus full of parents and children on their way to a wedding, got impatient. We were moving very slowly, so they drove off the road to overtake us because they were in a hurry to get to the wedding. But they drove over an IED (improvised explosive device) and all four of them were killed, including all the tiny children.”
These experiences required physical energy and mental toughness and so had a “shelf life” she said. Wyatt was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2015, but says she felt the first symptoms in 2001. In 2007, she became the BBC’s defence correspondent. “For me, the time had come to put family and friends higher up the agenda.” She later became the BBC’s religion correspondent.
Persistence, persistence and persistence, particularly for women, is the key to a successful career. Don’t take no for an answer – and if you can’t get the job of your dreams, go for something you can get that is similar.
After the event Caroline kindly agreed to become an Ambassador for the Journalists’ Charity 2021.