Your name is ALI CORNWALL, and you are the latest living legend in British reporting.
At a mere 45 years old, you’ve secured for yourself the position of lead anchor for BBC London, and a reputation for stringent fact-checking, incredibly high standards, and natural storytelling ability, all of which has helped your career to soar.
This in addition to your fearlessness in the field, proven by your investigative work in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria.
And you are fearless.
You were shot in the arm while interviewing child soldiers in Sierra Leone, post-conflict, a period that lent itself to empowerment through violence. Too shocked to scream, you screamed anyway when you hit the ground because the bored boyish faces above you demanded it. You kept talking, through the searing pain, and, impressed or amused, the boys kept talking with you.
In The Gambia, you were taken hostage in a dirty white van. You were struck on the head but you vaguely remember a swollen-faced woman you didn’t know, a bespectacled man you recognized as a local reporter, and two twenty-something men likely assumed to be coup plotters. When you were shoved out of the van, you were blindfolded, but you heard the shots of an extrajudicial execution, you smelled the petrol being poured and lit and heard the dull slapping of flesh as the woman was denounced as a lesbian and raped by turns, as though this would cure her.
Your heart was pounding. They’d confiscated your notes but you’d known better than to oppose Jammeh in writing on his own turf. Your credentials prove you are a British national with all the proper clearances. They ask you about the story you will write and you think fast, say you are only doing background research for a piece foregrounding the deaths of Gambian immigrants, who died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. You say, “I’m hoping the piece will pressure the ICC into investigating these deaths, as President Jammeh wishes.”
They blindfold you again. Drive you. You hit the ground face-first. Then the first blow comes, the solid weight of a metal pipe smashing the tissues of your upper back. A gun grinds into the back of your neck. Your curly hair is pulled back by a fist and a steel-toed boot kicks you in the face. You’re choking on blood and fragments of teeth. They’re laughing. They let you go.
You still think it would have gone differently if you weren’t black.
When you returned to London, with new shiny caps on your front teeth and stitches railroading your face and back, you told the esteemed CALLUM STERLING of The Nightly News the story as it was meant to be told. The executions. The LGBTQ discrimination. The repression of free speech. The atmosphere of fear.
You tell it the way you experienced it, the way it should reach the public, and the public responds. You’re a familiar face, now swollen from torture, your voice thick and emotional when you talk about the women whose rapes you heard, and the necklacing of the coup plotters. You denounce Jammeh’s human rights violations, knowing you may one day go back, and Callum leans back in his chair and says, “Yours is a stupid courage, Ali, but maybe it’s one more of us ought to have.”
That was over a decade ago. Now you are anchor for BBC London, and your old post belongs to GILES HALL.