It is hard to believe it is ten years since Marie Colvin, war reporter extraordinaire and an incredible humanitarian, was killed by President Assad’s forces in Homs, Syria.
I can remember as if yesterday sitting in my office in the old Sunday Times building in Wapping and watching her on BBC News reporting from the devastation of Homs where the city was being shelled literally as she was speaking. It might have been safer to leave – the bunker in an old block of flats which had become a makeshift media centre where she was staying had already been targeted by the regime. But Marie was never a quitter. And that day she was fired up by the injustice of Assad’s forces killing civilians, particularly babies and children. In that tragic last report she talked about a subterranean clinic full of sick babies being tended to by doctors in the darkness. Her outrage at this disgraceful disregard for human life, for children for god’s sake, suffering in a war zone was palpable. It was clear that whatever the risk was to her own life she was so determined to speak truth to power, to show the world what Assad’s regime was doing, that she wasn’t going anywhere. She went on broadcasting about the dying babies for several hours. It was subsequently established that Assad’s regime deliberately targeted the building where she was to shut her down. Only hours after broadcasting those affecting films the building was destroyed and Marie was dead.
It was a terrible day. Anyone who knew Marie found it impossible to accept.
How could someone so incredibly full of life, of zest, of passion suddenly no longer be alive in the world?
Only a little time before we’d been out to a series of epic parties culminating in climbing over the railings of a park, collapsing into a taxi and heading on to a dive in Kings Cross for “more cocktails”; Marie in an elegant cocktail dress the life and soul of the evening.
I remember her telling me that the first thing she did when she got back from a warzone was to bathe, have her nails and hair done and wear something beautiful (she always had La Perla underwear under her flack jacket). She said transforming her external appearance helped shift the weirdly discombobulating sense of being somewhere desperate and then striding down Portobello Road to meet a friend for a drink as if nothing was amiss. Of course the huge contradictions of such a life ultimately took their toll – she had downs as well as ups. But she was an inspirational woman – brave, funny, brimming with life and a desire to bear witness, to make her life and the lives of the people she tried to help, matter.
Her courage was legendary – whether walking over the mountains into Chechnya , or staying with refugees in East Timor after the UN soldiers left. Her bravery left soldiers gasping, diplomats in awe. Most of all though she was terrific fun, with her American drawl, wildly curly hair, total elegance and fag after fag “It won’t be the cigarettes that kill me, Eleanor!”
She was also super knowledgeable, chucking in a quick fact about hanging out with PLO president Yasser Arafat, or a quick anecdote about her time with colonel Gadaffi in Libya. Working with her was never dull and always illuminating.
So RIP Marie – the world is a bleaker place with out you. A decade on we salute your courage, compassion and zest for life.
STORIES BY MARIE COLVIN
Shadow of Evil, January 22, 1995
Courage Knows No Gender, October 10, 1999
Escape from Chechnya to a trial by ice, January 2, 2000
The Shot Hit Me, April 22, 2001
Fighting Back, July 15, 2001
Into the Underworld, July 17, 2005
Mad Dog and Me, April 28, 2011
We Live in Fear of a Massacre, February 19, 2012