At the age of 24, in search of an employer who would pay him to live both dangerously and abundantly, Tom joined the BBC. He was selected as a BBC trainee and plunged into the archipelago of local radio. After inadvertently sleeping through the one truly national story that came his way (a freak tornado that upturned southern England), he went in search of some part of the world where stories and adventure were in greater abundance. He lived in Australia for nine months and made a documentary about the first Aborigine radio station before making his way to Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier. With a colleague, he walked over the Hindu Kush mountains in the company of a troop of mujahideen fighters, sliding down the glaciers on homemade rugs. Surviving on a diet of mulberries, bread, and the occasional indigestible goat stew they watched the Soviet army evacuate Kandahar.
After that, the world sped up; the Soviet Union disintegrated and in 1990, Tom – by now a reporter on the Today Programme on BBC Radio Four – was accredited to the British Army to cover the first Gulf war. Returning from the oilfields, he was immediately turned around by his editor and told to get into northern Iraq, where it was rumoured that Saddam was brutally suppressing the Kurds. Helped by the Kurdish underground, Tom travelled through Syria and paddled across the Tigris River into Iraq in the midst of a moonlit artillery bombardment. Not long afterwards, he fled with half a million Kurds into the mountains, and became the first TV journalist to provide evidence of Saddam Hussein’s brutality.
The BBC posted him to Johannesburg and for three years he travelled a continent reeling from a Cold War hangover. He flew with Jonas Savimbi into Angola, narrowly avoided being taken hostage in Somalia, got drunk with Zimbabwe witchdoctors and felt the terror of machetes in Rwanda. And in between, he chronicled the lurching ride of South Africa towards multiracial rule, from the daily funerals in the townships to the euphoria of seeing Nelson Mandela elected President.
Leaving Africa, Tom moved to Bosnia as the BBC’s Defence Correspondent. He shuttled between the Bosnian Muslim capital of Sarajevo and the tiny ski resort of Pale where Serb leader Radovan Karadzic held court. In the sunless valley of Vares, Tom was taken prisoner by the Bosnian army which threatened to blow his helicopter out of the sky, and he was one of the first journalists to arrive in the Srebrenica area after the massacre.
In 1997, he became the BBC’s Washington Correspondent, and covered two presidential election campaigns, September 11th and the launching of the Iraq war. He accompanied Presidents and Vice Presidents on numerous overseas trips as well as many now-forgotten presidential hopefuls to the wilder shores of the United States.
Tom served - briefly - as an officer in the British army, in filial duty to the several generals in his family.
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