I felt like a sheep being herded by irritable sheepdogs

PASSPORT; GAVIN ESLER

Gavin Esler's battered UK passport has been in the wars, and so has its owner. Flicking through the pages, the former foreign correspondent remembers trips to Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war. Says Esler, "I went on a trip with President Bush in November 1990, when he went to visit the troops. We were told on the White House plane, which will normally serve you booze from the moment you get on to the moment you get off, that we were forbidden to have anything stronger than Coca-Cola while in Saudi airspace. I didn't care because I can't drink on these trips - it makes me too sleepy. But some of my colleagues found this an intolerable burden and one demanded, 'Who is going to fly up and find out?'" Esler spent the last eight years in America, and the pages of his passport have been shredded by forms that have to be inserted and then ripped out as he goes through immigration. As the BBC's chief North American correspondent, he spent a huge amount of time travelling with George Bush and then Bill Clinton. He says, "The good news is you get taken through customs and immigration in record time - the White House does most of it for you. The bad news is that you feel like a sheep being herded by fairly irritable sheep dogs who keep you on the move. On one of these trips I made baaing noises but there was a sense of humour failure with the White House staff." Having met Clinton on numerous occasions, one aspect of his character particularly impressed Esler. He says, "When my wife was pregnant and we met Clinton and his wife at a White House function, he was extraordinarily normal - talking about the difference between having babies in America and in Britain. My wife, who has been somewhat cynical about some political leaders, found it refreshing - here was a fully paid-up member of the human race."

Gavin Esler presents 'Newsnight'. His book 'The United States of Anger' published by Michael Joseph, costs pounds 16.99

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