My Secret Life: John Simpson, journalist, 66

My parents were ... an unsuited couple, really. My father was very outgoing and witty and demonstrative; my mother was very quiet and gentle. My mother said my father was a monster – which he was, but only in the nicest possible way. When I was six, they split up and I had to choose between them. I bizarrely chose my father, which was absolutely unheard of in the Fifties. I miss him every single day.

When I was a child ... I read a book called Teak-Wallah, about a man who was in charge of an enormous estate of teak trees in Thailand in the Twenties and I assumed this kind of thing still existed, with elephants and snakes and God knows what.

If I could change one thing about myself ... Why stop at one? I'd like to be a different person. A nicer, less irritable person – I am quite hot-tempered and spend the rest of my time making up for it.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... looking after young children. I've got a four-year-old boy, and with him I've seen sights elderly gentlemen ought not to see.

At night I dream of ... scuba diving. My ear got damaged in a bombing so I can't do it anymore – I still miss it and send myself to sleep thinking of floating around over coral.

I wish I'd never worn ... When I first joined the BBC, you needed suits to be a reporter. I had money for the first time in my existence and had a suit made. It seemed mild enough looking at the material, but when I got it, I looked like a circus clown. It was monstrous, with vast great checks on it.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... I look as rarely as I can – I see the face I deserve.

My favourite item of clothing ... I like nice, tough shoes, brogues with commando soles. I wear them in the nastiest places; if you're going to get blown up, they might recognise you by the quality of your shoes.

I drive/ride ... I mostly travel by bus. I think I'm doing my bit for the environment but really I'm just a cheapskate.

The last time I cried ... was in Iraq, talking to a woman and her brother-in-law who had sold absolutely everything as a ransom for her husband. They beggared themselves, and of course found out he had been murdered within minutes of capture.

My favourite work of art ... I take my little boy to the National Gallery often; he likes Uccello's battle of something or other, I like the Botticellis – we have a bit of a tug of war.

A book that changed me ... was Middlemarch, as a student. It's a frightfully starchy, boring old thing, but I didn't realise how big a part in life sympathy for your fellow man has until I read it.

Movie heaven ... Movies are heaven, anyway! But now I've got a little boy, it's sitting on a couch with him watching a Marx brothers' film, or Charlie Chaplin... he loves black and white, silent comedy. And there's got to be salty popcorn.

My greatest regret ... is taking my translator with me during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was standing near him when we got bombed. He lost both his legs and died of blood loss. There aren't many days when I don't think about him – I feel it's a kind of duty to keep his memory alive.

My five-year plan ... To beat the ageism out of BBC management. I'm working harder and better than I've ever worked before, and I want the bastards to realise you don't have to be 31 to work hard.

My life in six words ... Telling people about the real world.

A life in brief

John Simpson was born in Cleveleys, Lancashire on 9 August, 1944. He joined the BBC in 1970, aged 25, and in 1988 was appointed the corporation's world affairs editor. He has reported on more than 38 conflicts in over 140 countries around the world, and in 1991 he was made a CBE. He lives in London with his second wife, Dee Kruger, a South African television producer, and their son, Rafe. Simpson's latest book, Unreliable Sources: How the 20th Century Was Reported is out now

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