Mark Austin

'Someone once held a rusty grenade over my lap ...'

Going to Robben Island with Nelson Mandela was very special.

I went to cover the first democratic elections in South Africa and watched Nelson Mandela become the first black president of South Africa. It was extraordinary to meet and interview him on several occasions. On Robben Island, he took me to his cell and I went in with him.

It was an amazing time to be there for news purposes and a very historic time, but it was also very emotional because my eldest daughter was born there. It was dangerous, too, because there was a fear that the new democratic South Africa wouldn't happen because of the violence. You really felt that you were somewhere where history was unfolding.

We had memorable holidays there as well. It was the first time we went as a family on safari; we went to the Shamwari Game Reserve, which was a very special holiday.

Afghanistan is simply one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet.

It has wonderful people and wonderful scenery. We once drove from a place called Jalalabad to Kabul. It took 17 hours and 11 punctures, but at every stop we were offered tea and help – people would invite us into their homes. They're wonderful people and their country is cursed by war and corruption and civil strife.

Once someone held a rusty grenade over my lap and demanded money.

We were travelling through Rwanda and Burundi, just after the genocide, during the civil war. I can remember stopping with the camera crew once at a roadblock. There was one of these sort of drunk, drugged-up militia guys, and he threatened to pull the pin on the grenade unless I gave him some money – which, of course, I did. That was pretty bad. But Rwanda is a wonderful place now, it's a beautiful country.

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Mark belives Rwanda is now a 'wonderful' place (Getty)

I have a gold-plated loo roll holder from one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

A cameraman gave it to me. He was filming in Iraq and the British troops had taken over one of the palaces and he gave it to me as a gift. I'm not using it as a loo roll holder; it's in a box. The thing is, it's a memory of a pretty bad war. Plus, it sort of belongs to the people of Iraq, so I should give it back I suppose.

I would love to travel with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I just love him, he's a wonderful man. He's unfailingly interesting about everything. Or Didier Drogba, the Chelsea footballer. Very different! I got to know Desmond Tutu very well when we were in South Africa. We could go on a tour of the world's trouble spots so he could bring some sense to people.

Antigua is a really good place to relax.

In December, we stayed at a place called Curtain Bluff, which was fantastic. It has amazing tennis courts right on the beach and I got up and had a tennis lesson on my forehand every morning. I'd play tennis before breakfast and then just fall on to the beach. It was so relaxing. Holiday is the time when I find I can read most; I think I read four books in seven days.

If you like meat, you need to eat Kobe beef.

It's very expensive though. Kobe is a city in Japan, and I was there covering the earthquake in 1995. It was quite harrowing, so at the end of the trip I took the camera crew out to dinner, and we had Kobe beef. It's the way it's prepared – it's a delicacy. It's very tender, flavourful … it's almost like it's massaged. It comes from a particular type of cattle in the Kobe region which is quite rare but we went ahead and had some. It was absolutely wonderful. It's one of the best types of beef in the world. I'll get all the vegetarians slaughtering me on Twitter now.

Mark Austin is a journalist and former foreign correspondent who now anchors ITV's News at Ten

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