Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

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Sunday, 9 September 2007


La Caixa savings bank, Spain’s largest, owns substantial land assets in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. This Summer I was in Port Aventura, the theme park which it bought from Universal some years ago, to witness the opening of Europe’s fastest rollercoaster-Furius Baco- on which la Caixa spent €15,000,000. Accelerating from 0-83.9 mph (135km/hr) in 3.5 seconds, with a maximum G force of 4.7, this steel ride travels 900 meters in 25 seconds.

Seven-times world motor racing champion Valentino Rossi was due to spend the morning with us, launching the ride and talking to the assembled international press corps. I had been bidding for weeks for an exclusive interview with Fernando Aldecoa, the Group Financial Director. I hoped to talk to him at some point during the day.

The Spanish media were there in droves, the rest of us in our relatively quieter small national groups- French, German, British,etc. I spotted a Spanish guy in a smart black suit, trilby hat and shades, Blues Brothers style, and another sitting patiently on a chair with a hand-held puppet dressed in a motorcycle racing kit just like Rossi wears. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a traditional press conference. I had my trademark red book of serious questions in my hand, my glasses on and my pen poised, but things were starting to feel a bit surreal in the heat.

I wanted to talk to Rossi, so I used my favourite tactic- find out where the main man is going to enter and exit, and put myself there first ahead of the pack. At pressers (conferences) I usually try to get there the night before or in prior to anyone in the morning, to case the joint and to think about my positioning. I’m happy to cut sleeptime in order to be the first journo to ask my questions- It’s a jungle out there.

I cosied up to the motorcycle team guys to suss out the scene, pretending to be really interested in the Moto GP race in Barcelona that weekend and casually asked where I might see Valentino. They told me so like a bat out of hell, I bolted up a stairway to a certain point at Furius Baco.

The Blues Brother complete with camera crew arrived on the other side, opposite us behind a barrier, where the press crowd was swelling hugely. When Rossi arrived, I called out “Valentino!” shook his hand, wished him luck, and asked him how he was feeling. He was wearing a T-shirt and three-quarter length cargos, trainers, earrings, lots of curly hair, we had eye contact and spoke for a few minutes; he said “Thank you. I’m feeling OK” he was excited and composed.

Blues Brother yelled at him with a mic in English. After the ride, I raced down to where I’d been told Rossi would be entering the press room for questions, so when he came in, I was ready, wrung his hand again, and asked him what he thought of Furius Baco.

Acceleration is not bad, eh?” he smiled. He should know!

Then he got up onto the stage alongside an actor wearing a Woody Woodpecker outfit, (the Port Aventura mascot), and the questions started, with the Spanish the most uninhibited. Journalists are not normally shy and we had some big-hitters in our group but my colleagues seemed like pussycats on prozac compared to the home crowd.

First off, a Spanish hack went up to the podium and presented Valentino with a children’s medical kit, because the champion is known as “Il Dottore” – The Doctor. The journalist was wondering if Rossi himself might need resuscitation after the Furius Baco trip.

Rossi said thanks for the kit. He didn’t seem to need any resuscitation. I guess he was reasonably used to high speeds.

Then someone else presented him with a plate of Spanish Teruel ham- saying that it was better than the Italian Parma that the champion might normally eat, he should try it- he might find himself able to drive faster.

Rossi said thanks for the ham and took the plate.

Throughout, he smiled, displayed good humour, and joked with Woody Woodpecker. People spoke fast, mainly in Spanish, with some Italian.

Finally, the puppet, who was sitting right at the back behind us, started speaking in Spanish.

“ Valentino, do you wear a lucky charm?" it shouted. Our heads all swivelled Alien-style.

Answer; yes, Rossi carries a turtle amulet which brings him luck. The puppet went on to ask many more questions, it didn’t stop. Valentino replied to each one. They were really going some.

I thought I was hallucinating. Was the super-rich champion racing driver subject of this press conference really engaging in fast, direct dialogue with a two-foot high hand-operated puppet sitting on someone’s knee? I looked around at the audience. No-one was batting an eyelid.

Turns out that the puppet is from Los Lunnis, a popular Spanish children’s programme on TVE.

The mystery Blues Brother got to shout out some questions too, in English, and I discovered that he is a famous comedian, José Miguel Monzón, known as El Gran Wyoming, or the Great Wyoming, from Channel 6 in Spain, La Sexta.

I’ve attended some awesome press conferences in my time, but I will never, ever forget this one.

Oh, I got my exclusive with Fernando Aldecoa. It was for print and online news at www.Loydslist.com

Wednesday, 23 May 2007


The first story which catches my eye is the situation in Pakistan, specifically Karachi, where the political violence erupting is the worst seen in twenty years. The giant port city of 15 million people is sometimes a killing field with its sprawling, high-rise tenements, drugs, carjackings, mafia racketeering, dawn raids, and cordon and search operations. It is a fascinating place to try to operate from for hostile environment-trained reporters.

The tensions arising from the ethnic mix of around 13 million Urdu-speaking Mohajirs, immigrants who fled to Pakistan from India, Pashtuns from the North West Frontier Province (where my father was born,) and Sindhis, already provide the ingredients for a powerful, Karachi-flavoured Molotov.

Add to the mix the street battles arising from General Musharraf's suspension of his Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, (described by commentators as a manoeuvre to help the President win a second term in office,) the thousands of paramilitary rangers deployed onto Karachi's roads, and the bloodletting is almost a foregone conclusion.

This sort of situation brings Pakistan and Karachi onto the international news agenda because of heightened interest in the area since 9/11. It wouldn't have produced so much as a blip on the radar in our Western newsrooms prior to those cataclysmic events.

But it still figures only for a short while. There is still an 'over there' approach to the story, as in, 'hey guys, make a note, there's trouble over there again.'

What colleagues fail to report on is the importance to us over here in the UK.

What is the relevance for Britons?

The dominant Karachi ethnic group, the Mohajirs, are supporting President Musharraf, himself a Mohajir,by coming out onto the streets.

The Mohajirs were never actually viewed as proper native Pakistanis when they first came to Pakistan, they were never referred to as 'sons of the soil.' Though many of them are literate and professional, they faced discrimination. So they formed a political cluster, the MQM, to represent their interests.

Led by Altaf Hussein, the movement commands over 30 million Pakistanis. If Hussein gives the word, Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan, and other towns in Sindh province can be brought to their knees with complete standstills. Years ago, Altaf Hussein came to England as an exile and now runs the MQM from his state-of the-art high security headquarters in London. Not a lot of international journalists are allowed access.

I have met and interviewed him, and I have watched him broadcast live into Karachi via a telephone from his desk. The powerful oratory is relayed via loudspeakers to gatherings of thousands of his followers.

Many Mohajirs live in London, some of them having successfully sought asylum. Quiet but committed, they are closely involved in their leader's thoughts and actions. They are British Pakistanis, most of them are working here and rearing their families with aplomb.

I attended Altaf Hussein's wedding reception at Alexandra Palace in London. The cream of Pakistani pop music and comedy talent had been flown over for the occasion. The man who can paralyse Pakistan's port was surrounded by some powerful players.

We need to understand that 'over there' is now 'over here.'

International borders have little significance on the world stage.

We are all witnesses to the action; we are all involved.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007


I love my real time financial journalism and in the past few weeks the Banks - or rather their Governors, Presidents and Executive Board Members around Europe have been talking like they never did before. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet is the most interesting for me; charismatic, a sound economist - the way he handles journalists is incredible. Watching him in action at a lockin or a press conference is electrifying theatre of the highest order.

Euro Zone finance and the sexy economic indicators releasing all the time can be engrossing, but take an event like the Bhutto assassination and the world changes in seconds.

I take my eye off Eurostat and wizz into the BBC Newsroom where News 24 and World combine to roll to an audience of 180 million, spending all evening there as events unfold for studio analysis. Having asked Bhutto the probing questions every time I met her, why do you do this when you have a family, what difference can you really make to Pakistan, etc etc, I have gotten to know her and Pakistani politics is going to be a much less colourful place without her.
She made it more interesting- she had so much more warmth and personality than some of her contemporaries- and so many felt they knew her, her people, her party workers, even some of us in the media.

Returning to the newswires, the markets are reacting bigtime. Financial news, for all its special terminology and rarified reporting atmosphere, is very firmly fixed in the world of geo-politics and the impact of the killing of Benazir Bhutto is a perfect example of this.