Kate Adie: “You have to be careful that doesn’t mean you don’t go there”

By and
Profile editors 

As a reporter for the BBC, Kate Adie has covered conflicts from the Iranian Embassy siege to the Tiananmen Square protests, has been held at gun and knifepoint, nicked by a bullet, kneed by a policeman in the groin, all to get ‘the story’. It has often been remarked that “getting on a plane at an airport where Kate Adie is getting off” is a good decision. 

Prior to her remarkable career, Kate grew up in nearby Sunderland before going on to study at Newcastle University. She fondly recalls how, back then, the Newcastle Student Union had bought a greyhound, Newcastle Nowt, so as not to be outdone by Durham University, which had bought a racehorse, Palatinate Purple, to raise funds for the Durham Student Union. 

“He did run in several races and he did okay. But that’s when the Vice-Chancellor intervened, not on the grounds that it was wrong to have a greyhound, but he gathered that so many students were spending their very precarious grants on backing it. And he considered that probably wasn’t the best use of student’s money.”

Another aspect of university that left an impression on Kate was the student newspaper. “Our student newspaper spent its entire time getting into trouble. We kept printing things that people objected to, things that we could be liable for.” She jokes how the editor “spent his time going down to the printers saying we can’t do the next print run because we are in trouble again.”

Yet despite going on to become one of the most well-known faces on the BBC, Kate recalls, “I never really had anything to do with journalism. It’s a curious thing. I was never tempted to write for the newspaper. It just so happened that later I went into journalism and years later into the BBC.”

“I almost drifted into interviewing as one of my bosses in local radio [Durham Radio] said ‘there’s a job going in Plymouth’ – this was on Friday – ‘and they need someone on Monday morning can you go fill in.’ And I turned up as a producer and discovered I was in television, that’s how it was.”

Many consider Kate’s ‘big break’ to have been her coverage of the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980. Kate calmly reported from behind a car door as smoke bombs exploded behind her and as the SAS abseiled in to rescue the hostages.  

“I was asked if I’d come in early because the reporter on shift on the scene had gone off to a dinner party so I went in early and it happened, so there you go – there’s an element of luck in every job.” From then on, Kate would be sent to many other conflict zones.

Kate entered the BBC at a time where women in broadcasting were a minority but insists, “everybody’s workplace was male-dominated in those days, misogyny and discrimination were all a part of everyday life.”

“I turned up sometimes to do work to interview and record and such, and people would say we were expecting a ‘real’ BBC person… People would say ‘could we talk to the producer’ assuming I was a sort of typist. That sort of thing went on all of the time.”

“There were also people would feel uncomfortable being interviewed by a woman. They would say that it was not right that you were asking the questions. You just gritted your teeth and got on with trying to do the job. But it was something that all women faced.”

When asked if Kate considered herself a feminist, she quickly replies, “I think any women would describe themselves as a feminist… It means equal opportunity… equal pay, equal in the law and it also means taking equal responsibility in society.”

Kate herself has been a target of ‘fake news’ against women, being widely misquoted as saying that modern female journalists have ’cute faces and cute bottoms and nothing else in between.’

“That is a lie, that was put out by someone who invented it, and was picked up by tabloids. It gets repeated because it’s a stick to beat women with. And the person who did it, determinedly said in a quote in a talk, that there is no recording made, no note made, and that it was concocted.”

“It’s delicious to men who still don’t like women with equal roles in professional roles. So of course, you read it and re-read it, its continuing misogyny there was never any basis to it.”

Kate has covered everything “from natural disasters to floods, earthquakes, famines all of those sorts of things.” Such coverage she admits was “very physically extremely challenging and you’ve got to be able to rough it without complaint pretty well. You’ve got to get on with the fact that there are hardly any facilities. There may be a lack of any sort of food somewhere decent never mind to stay but just sleep. Sleeping in a vehicle, sleeping on the ground, sleeping in a cave, sleeping in a pigsty –  I’ve done all of those sorts of things.”

Being a female foreign correspondent posed further challenges for Kate. “When you go into countries where women have secondary status and are discriminated against, particularly in the law, […] you have to go carefully, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go there.”

“I always took the view that you did not go there to brandish the sword of feminism, but you did go there to do a job. You went there to get a story to interview people to get information. And you tried not to let anything get in the way of that because you have a job to do.”

Whilst gender imbalances plagued the workforce in the past, Kate cites the decline in news journalism as a modern challenge to the industry, “Television news is under enormous pressure because the entertainment world has more money.” 

“News bulletins are now pushed into further regions of time, no longer prime time. That is because entertainment has more power than the news world.”

“You’ve got a progression where the world of entertainment has become very much king and news has to fight its corner. Its lost its day in the forefront.”

Finally, Kate was keen to address all aspiring journalists. “First of all, it’s a hugely worthwhile job. Journalism matters. It is a pillar of democracy, it tells truth to power. It is not just a sort of grand phrase, it’s a necessary function.”

“The other thing to say to aspiring journalists is that it’s a terrific job, you get to learn so much more about the world around you and you find it fascinating, varied, surprising. Yes, there can be revealed a lot more serious and darker side to life, but it’s an absolutely riveting job. Go for it.”

Profile speaks to former BBC news correspondent about feminism, Newcastle-Durham university rivalry and reporting from war zones.

By and

Profile editors 

As a reporter for the BBC, Kate Adie has covered conflicts from the Iranian Embassy siege to the Tiananmen Square protests, has been held at gun and knifepoint, nicked by a bullet, kneed by a policeman in the groin, all to get ‘the story’. It has often been remarked that “getting on a plane at an airport where Kate Adie is getting off” is a good decision. 

Prior to her remarkable career, Kate grew up in nearby Sunderland before going on to study at Newcastle University. She fondly recalls how, back then, the Newcastle Student Union had bought a greyhound, Newcastle Nowt, so as not to be outdone by Durham University, which had bought a racehorse, Palatinate Purple, to raise funds for the Durham Student Union. 

“He did run in several races and he did okay. But that’s when the Vice-Chancellor intervened, not on the grounds that it was wrong to have a greyhound, but he gathered that so many students were spending their very precarious grants on backing it. And he considered that probably wasn’t the best use of student’s money.”

Another aspect of university that left an impression on Kate was the student newspaper. “Our student newspaper spent its entire time getting into trouble. We kept printing things that people objected to, things that we could be liable for.” She jokes how the editor “spent his time going down to the printers saying we can’t do the next print run because we are in trouble again.”

Yet despite going on to become one of the most well-known faces on the BBC, Kate recalls, “I never really had anything to do with journalism. It’s a curious thing. I was never tempted to write for the newspaper. It just so happened that later I went into journalism and years later into the BBC.”

“I almost drifted into interviewing as one of my bosses in local radio [Durham Radio] said ‘there’s a job going in Plymouth’ – this was on Friday – ‘and they need someone on Monday morning can you go fill in.’ And I turned up as a producer and discovered I was in television, that’s how it was.”

Many consider Kate’s ‘big break’ to have been her coverage of the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980. Kate calmly reported from behind a car door as smoke bombs exploded behind her and as the SAS abseiled in to rescue the hostages.  

“I was asked if I’d come in early because the reporter on shift on the scene had gone off to a dinner party so I went in early and it happened, so there you go – there’s an element of luck in every job.” From then on, Kate would be sent to many other conflict zones.

Kate entered the BBC at a time where women in broadcasting were a minority but insists, “everybody’s workplace was male-dominated in those days, misogyny and discrimination were all a part of everyday life.”

“I turned up sometimes to do work to interview and record and such, and people would say we were expecting a ‘real’ BBC person… People would say ‘could we talk to the producer’ assuming I was a sort of typist. That sort of thing went on all of the time.”

“There were also people would feel uncomfortable being interviewed by a woman. They would say that it was not right that you were asking the questions. You just gritted your teeth and got on with trying to do the job. But it was something that all women faced.”

When asked if Kate considered herself a feminist, she quickly replies, “I think any women would describe themselves as a feminist… It means equal opportunity… equal pay, equal in the law and it also means taking equal responsibility in society.”

Kate herself has been a target of ‘fake news’ against women, being widely misquoted as saying that modern female journalists have ’cute faces and cute bottoms and nothing else in between.’

“That is a lie, that was put out by someone who invented it, and was picked up by tabloids. It gets repeated because it’s a stick to beat women with. And the person who did it, determinedly said in a quote in a talk, that there is no recording made, no note made, and that it was concocted.”

“It’s delicious to men who still don’t like women with equal roles in professional roles. So of course, you read it and re-read it, its continuing misogyny there was never any basis to it.”

Kate has covered everything “from natural disasters to floods, earthquakes, famines all of those sorts of things.” Such coverage she admits was “very physically extremely challenging and you’ve got to be able to rough it without complaint pretty well. You’ve got to get on with the fact that there are hardly any facilities. There may be a lack of any sort of food somewhere decent never mind to stay but just sleep. Sleeping in a vehicle, sleeping on the ground, sleeping in a cave, sleeping in a pigsty –  I’ve done all of those sorts of things.”

Being a female foreign correspondent posed further challenges for Kate. “When you go into countries where women have secondary status and are discriminated against, particularly in the law, […] you have to go carefully, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go there.”

“I always took the view that you did not go there to brandish the sword of feminism, but you did go there to do a job. You went there to get a story to interview people to get information. And you tried not to let anything get in the way of that because you have a job to do.”

Whilst gender imbalances plagued the workforce in the past, Kate cites the decline in news journalism as a modern challenge to the industry, “Television news is under enormous pressure because the entertainment world has more money.” 

“News bulletins are now pushed into further regions of time, no longer prime time. That is because entertainment has more power than the news world.”

“You’ve got a progression where the world of entertainment has become very much king and news has to fight its corner. Its lost its day in the forefront.”

Finally, Kate was keen to address all aspiring journalists. “First of all, it’s a hugely worthwhile job. Journalism matters. It is a pillar of democracy, it tells truth to power. It is not just a sort of grand phrase, it’s a necessary function.”

“The other thing to say to aspiring journalists is that it’s a terrific job, you get to learn so much more about the world around you and you find it fascinating, varied, surprising. Yes, there can be revealed a lot more serious and darker side to life, but it’s an absolutely riveting job. Go for it.”

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