By Jeremy Miles
Veteran BBC war correspondent and one time crusading anti-sleaze MP, Martin Bell, has by his own admission led “an odd life”.
It has involved risking life and limb in no fewer than 18 war zones, meeting tyrants and terrorists and then unseating sitting MP Neil Hamilton from the apparently unassailable Tory stronghold of Tatton.
Bell, long known as The Man in the White Suit, epitomises the fight against wrong-doing in high places. His latest book, A Very British Revolution, is about the expenses scandal that rocked Parliament last year.
The ‘An Audience With...’ tour finds the 71-year-old sharing his disgust at the greed and sheer lack of accountability that led to MP’s being able to claw in money for everything from mortgages to Brillo pads and duck-houses.
It also exposes what Bell believes is the terrifying lack of knowledge of many elected representatives who sanction wars while ignoring the lessons of history.
Bell himself knows an awful lot. Not only about military history and international politics but, as the son of the man who compiled the first of the The Times cryptic crosswords, he can tell you that Presbyterian is an anagram of Britney Spears. So that’s how he keeps the celebrity-obsessed tabloids on-side.
He also knows how to protect himself. For a start there’s the “lucky” white suit. That’s right, the one he was wearing when a hunk of shrapnel hit him in the guts in Sarajevo back in 1992. Well at least it didn’t kill him. There are many other charms and amulets too. In his book, In Harms Way, Bell revealed that, when heading for a battle zone, after packing his white suits and green socks, he would load his bag with everything from a four leafed clover and a brass pixie to a special piece of snakeskin.
Then there were the rituals. For instance no dangerous mission could be undertaken without listening to his precious tape of The Love Songs of Willie Nelson (both sides). Meanwhile the layout of hotels and lodgings acquired special significance too. Certain doors had to be avoided and corridors traversed in a certain direction in order to ensure that the hand of fate remained on his side. Finally in the safety of his room he could unpack his bag of tricks. Ironically back in that 1994 book Bell revealed that among the more practical essentials that he would always carry was a bulldog clip for the receipts for his expenses.