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Simon Reeve

Step by Step

The Life in My Journeys

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
For some reason I hadn't seen many of Reeve's travel documentaries before reading this book, an omission I intend to rectify with the help of BBC iPlayer. But I'd seen enough to be impressed by his unusual approach to the places he visits and this prompted me to read his book to learn more about him.

The first half is autobiographical. Reading it, one would never expect that the adolescent it describes would ever amount anything. The account of Reeve's teenage years depicts a troubled lad who carried out numerous vandalisms, one of which injured a policeman, although not intentionally.

Reeve's life changed course when he unexpectedly got a job sorting the mail at the Sunday Times. Realising how lucky he had been to find any employment, he threw himself into the work and gradually expanded its role until he was working as a journalist with an interest in counter-espionage. Although he had missed out on most of his education—he says he still has no grasp of formal grammar—he began to write books on terrorism. At first these were unsuccessful but this changed dramatically when his prescience in warning of the danger posed by Al Qaeda was recoggnised after the 9/11 attacks.

The BBC asked him to make a travel documentary and this was the start of his subsequent wide-ranging and often extremely hazardous expeditions. His method is unusual: he takes only a small team, usually two people one of whom operates the camera, and he relies on local guides and interpreters. Among many terrifying episodes I'd single out his trip to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, where he needed to be protected by a band of heavily armed mercenaries. Not surprisingly, Reeves felt a huge sense of relief when he took off from Mogadishu.

It seemed we had been lucky. Other foreigners visiting Mogadishu around the same time were kidnapped. Tragically just a few months after we left a brave and much loved BBC producer called Kate Peyton was shot in the back while standing outside a guesthouse in Mogadishu, only hours after arriving in Somalia. She died from internal bleeding after being taken to a local hospital.
It's evident that the main reason Reeve has succeeded as a traveller and presenter is that he genuinely respects and cares about the people he meets. There are innumerable instances of this throughout but probably the most impressive is his encounter with a young Somali woman called Fatima, which he describes in his final chapter.

Fatima was aged twenty-three and had lived for seventeen of those years in a refugee camp in Uganda. She spoke good English and was calm, assured and gentle. "She appeared to be so worldly it was hard to believe she had never lived anywhere but this desert camp."

Meeting Fatima had a profound effect on Reeve.

Before we met I had felt the compelling joy of travel, but Fatima was tangible proof that travel was still an extraordinary luxury, and an intense privilege. … In that moment I knew I never wanted to stop travelling, and discovering.
The lines I've just quoted were written a couple of years before the Covid-19 pandemic transformed all our lives, and no doubt particularly Reeve's, which gives them a strange poignancy. We are all being compelled to taste something of Fatima's restriction on movement, at least for a time.


%T Step By Step
%S The Life in my Journeys
%A Reeve, Simon
%I Hodder & Stoughton
%C London
%D 2018
%G ISBN 9781473689138
%K autobiography, travel
%O kindle version, downloaded from Amazon 2020

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