Ten Quirky Things About Tess

Tess in Mogadishu, Somalia, 1992
1. She survived a plane crash

"I was covering the war in Somalia for CNN when our Hercules transport plane came under heavy fire at Mogadishu Airport. We diverted to a tiny nearby airstrip and landed safely.

But when the shooting at the main airport stopped and we took off again, it turned out the airstrip was too short for the Hercules.

The wheels of the plane hit a sandbank at the end of the airstrip, ripping a crack in the side of the aircraft that was big enough to put your hand through.

The pilot gave us a thirty percent chance of survival, and flew us – very cautiously – to Nairobi in Kenya, where we crash-landed on a foam blanket. Everyone survived, but I still have nightmares about it."

2. She has big feet

"By the time I was thirteen, my feet were a UK size eight-and-a-half (though thankfully they stopped there). I remember after one miserable and fruitless shopping trip for school shoes in my size, I sat on the bottom of the stairs sobbing.

‘I wish I’d been born thalidomide!’ I yelled to my mother.

She was unsympathetic. ‘Knowing your luck, you’d have been born with no arms and still had big feet.’"

3. She used to add five years to her age

"My first husband was 17 years older than me, so to make the age-gap seem less, I added five years to my age.

When we divorced eight years later, I went back to my real age bit-by-bit, which effectively meant I stayed the same age for years.

Whenever an article is written about me, they nearly always get my age wrong. Never believe anything you read in the newspapers…"

4. She’s made a parachute jump

"A girlfriend talked me into this when I was 22. She set it up with half-a-dozen mutual friends, including historian Andrew Roberts, and then ran off to South Africa the week before the jump. We did it anyway; it was the most terrifying and exhilarating experience of my life.

I sang ‘High Flying, Adored’ (from Evita) for the entire seven minutes it took me to land. Only later did I learn it’d been broadcast by the monitoring station to half of Wiltshire."

5. The British Secret Service taught her to ski

"In my twenties, I spent years unsuccessfully trying to learn how to ski properly. It was only when I moved to Beirut, Lebanon, that I became friends with the British Ambassador, who was a keen skier and had to be protected at all times by members of the Secret Service.

The team took me in hand and taught me how to really ski (although my sniper skills could still use some improvement.)"

6. She met both her husbands in a bar
Tess' wedding to Erik, Hawaii 2004

"I’ve always celebrated my birthday by getting as many friends together as possible at a restaurant. On my twenty-third birthday in London, a tall, dark, handsome stranger crashed the party, and we ended up talking all night. Two years to the day later, on my twenty-fifth birthday, we got married.

Eight years and a difficult divorce later, I flew to Florida for a friend’s wedding. I ran out of cigarettes at the reception and went to the hotel bar to get some change for the cigarette machine. I got talking to a tall, blond, handsome stranger – and reader, I married him too."

7. She’s a qualified diver

"I’ve always been terrified of being underwater, so I decided to conquer my fear by learning to dive while I was living in Lebanon, which borders the Mediterranean.

It took me three months (and God knows how many Valium) to acquire my PADI and NAUI certificates, and I did dives of up to sixty metres, encountering both shipwrecks and sharks.

I’d like to tell you I was cured and can’t be kept away from coral reefs for love nor money, but the truth is I’m still terrified of going underwater, and have never touched an aqualung since."

8. While writing her first novel, she was shot at, bombed and robbed
Tess in Beirut, Lebanon, 1997

"I quit my job as a TV news producer to write my first novel, Hard News, going on the road as a freelance with CNN to pay my way whilst I finished it.

I got trapped in a hotel in Somalia for two days under constant fire, wrote an entire chapter in the back of a police tank in South Africa as it was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and had my hotel room burgled while I slept in it in Baghdad – they even took my watch from the bedside table as I snored on.

Since the novel was set in the world of TV journalism, I tried to include some of my real-life experiences in the plot, but my Editor took them out – for being too far-fetched."

9. She fled the Nigerian Mafia with her family

"When I was twelve, my family moved to Nigeria, where my father was working as a Contracts Manager for a Nigerian construction firm. When one of his colleagues didn’t turn up one day, and his boss casually let slip that he’d had him murdered, my father realized we had to flee the country immediately.

Unfortunately, his boss had all our passports to apply for visas, and the family was under constant surveillance by his men.

So in the middle of the night, my parents, my brother and sister and I sneaked out with just the clothes we stood up in, and raced hell-for-leather to the airport. The boss’s men chased us by car to the airport, and then on foot through it.

It was like a scene out of a Bond movie. If my mother hadn’t bribed officials to let us through without the correct paperwork, my father – and perhaps all of us – would have disappeared forever."

10. She believes in love at first sight

"Absolutely. And it’s happened to me four times. Two of the men I married, and two of them broke my heart.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way."

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