Be Careful What You Wish For

19 Oct

“Be careful what you wish for”, were the eerie words of wisdom from The Politics Show front man Jon Sopel.

Having experienced post traumatic stress disorder after helping lift dead bodies onto a helicopter after the Lockerbie disaster, Sopel has seen the dark side of journalism.

Jon Sopel and I

Sopel was young and naive when he experienced this, after asking a helicopter pilot at the incident whether he could join him and see from the sky the terror that shook the Scottish border. He made the mistake of being too eager and didn’t ask any details which led him to have “seen things, touched things that you don’t want to do”. 

“It was a difficult Christmas that year”, says Sopel, who now admits to having experienced post-traumatic stress. 


Reassuringly, Sopel enthused that mistakes are made early on, and it is best to start in local media, whether it be radio, television or print.

Sopel says, “You can wish for too much too quickly. I was asked to present the Today programme aged 32, next to John Humphries. The BBC were thinking ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ It was too soon for me to be doing that”.

Since Sopel’s early days in local radio, he has famously interviewed the likes of David Beckham, Jack Straw, Heather Mills and Gordon Brown to name but a few. He has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Asian tsunami and Northern Ireland. He has seen and done things which I can only imagine.


With a wealth of contacts, Sopel is able to construct fair, unbiased reports on people and events. His advice to the general public is, “don’t tell journalists secrets. My job is not to keep secrets.”

Sopels powerful ability of reporting truth in his so cleverly constructed unbiased way  has led to the downfall of George Pearson’s career, and also the disastrous relationship between Lib Dem Charles Clark and former PM Gordon Brown.

“You suddenly become friends with contacts and broadcast something and they say ‘You bastard!'”

Sopel sees this as his licence to be nosy. These hard-hitting truths have not gone unnoticed and Sopel hasn’t been short of criticism.

Peter Mandelson, who Sopel describes as a “clever and slippery politician”, wrote a four page letter to the BBC explaining why Sopel should be sacked. Senior communicator for the Lib Dems denounced Sopel’s words as ‘lies’ during the election.

However, Sopel believes it to be his duty to tell the truth, regardless of whom it may anger (and in the case of Mandelson it seems to happen rather frequently).


I asked Sopel whether he thought it was ethical and respectful that images of parents holding their dead children, for example, should be shown as a result of dreadful events.

He believes it to be a question of taste: “As long as the images are justifiable and used sparingly it is completely necessary for people to see, so long as it won’t make them throw up during dinner”.

“You can’t show the missiles of war, and not show people the outcome”, Sopel added.

As a result, Sopel claimed that families thanked him for showing people what is truly going on.


Sopel hinted on the mental trauma which comes with reporting from war-torn countries. He has seen police beat starving people when they try to get food, as he drives back to a 5 star hotel and orders room service. He has had to put a gas mask on in seven seconds while reporting on live BBC news. He’s faced mine fields and lost friends – Sopel was drinking with Terry Lloyd the night before he crossed the Kuwait border and never returned.

This does not phase Sopel, who responds to the danger with, “You wouldn’t cross the road with the small chance of being hit by a lorry if you always thought like that, You have to assess the risks”.

Admittedly, not everyone is put out for this. Sopel described a woman who completely flipped and panicked whenever she had to put a gas mask on. The woman was sent home.

For many journalists who so triumphantly say, “I want to be where the action is!”, John gives this message:

“Be careful what you wish for”.

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