John Simpson: The risks of my job have had a devastating effect on my son
Veteran BBC journalist John Simpson has told of his guilt at the “devastating effect” on his teenage son of him risking his life as a war reporter in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Simpson, 78, said son Rafe, 16, physically blocked his path to try to stop him jetting off to cover a foreign conflict out of fears for his safety.
“That poor little boy, he’d stand at the front door as I was leaving with his arms across to try to stop me,” said the BBC World Affairs Editor.
“It’s devastating and has clearly had an effect on him. One of his teachers told me he can tell when I’m on an assignment because Rafe’s behaviour changes.
“I had just came back from Ukraine and the teacher said: ‘He sits looking out of the window and doesn’t join discussions’.”
Rafe was “a lovely kid” and he was “absolutely determined his son wasn’t going to pay the price of my life,” Simpson told Sir Craig Oliver in his podcast, Desperately Seeking Wisdom.
Simpson, who has two adult daughters from a previous marriage, became a father again aged 61 with second wife Dee after she suffered four miscarriages.
Having been divorced once he was determined to protect his son.
He still felt responsible for the failure of his first marriage to portrait artist Diane Petteys.
“It was the job that did it. She said ‘I understand you like your job but can you imagine how painful it is for me. Only three days after you get back from something awful you start to talk about leaving again’.
“I was too self obsessed to understand the pain that gave. I understand it now and I’m really sorry.”
Simpson is still scarred by the divorce of his own parents.
Aged six, he was asked to choose between them and remained “so very full of guilt” at having chosen his father, Roy, over his mother Joyce.
His father had endless girlfriends and dark moods that would “last for days” - and Simpson rarely saw his mother again.
He said it “p***** him of no end” that some people say he goes to warzones because he is “an adrenaline junkie”.
“I go there because important things are happening,” said Simpson, who narrowly avoided death in a bomb explosion while covering the Iraq War.
Asked if he was reconciled to the fact that he could be killed because of his work he replied: “That’s exactly right. If something bad is going to happen to me, well you know…”
Despite having been with the BBC for 56 years, Simpson intends to keep working - right into his 90s if he is “up to it”.
“As long as I am not sitting in a corner of a studio with drool running down my chin I hope to carry on,” he said.
You can listen to Desperately Seeking Wisdom on Apple, Spotify, Global Player or wherever you get podcasts.