Extraordinary first person stories from around the world

Extraordinary first person stories from around the world


London, United Kingdom




Extraordinary first person stories from around the world






BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH


Students by day and hostage negotiators by night

In 1994 Robert Clerx was studying in Colombia, when an old school friend, Miles Hargrove asked him for a very large favour. To help him buy back his father. The boys had been friends since Miles and his family had moved to Colombia from America for his dad’s job. Then Miles’ dad was kidnapped by the Farc guerrilla group, who demanded a six million dollar ransom and would only negotiate with family, or a friend. But the family didn’t feel confident that their Spanish was good enough to take...


The weird world I was warned to keep secret

Pauline Dakin is a Canadian journalist, broadcaster and a professor of journalism in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, her childhood was marked by many mysterious incidents and unexplained getaways - where her family suddenly had to flee at a moment's notice and she couldn't talk to anyone about what was going on. Pauline tells Jo Fidgen how she managed to uncover her family's extraordinary secret - including a hidden community called the 'weird world'. This interview...


My search for my sister, the "keeper of memories"

Nakuset only goes by one name and it means "The Sun" in her indigenous Canadian culture. Born into an abusive household, her early days were difficult and it wasn't long before she and her sister Sonya were taken into care by social services. This was the 1970s, and there was a widespread policy of taking indigenous children and putting them up for adoption with white families, removing them from their culture in the process. Nakuset was adopted, her sister wasn't. It was a painful process...


The woman in lockdown with 70 spiders

Caitlin Henderson loves spiders. For the last few months, she was working for a travelling spider exhibition in Australia. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she had reached Queensland – the venues shut down and the spiders needed somewhere to go. Suddenly Caitlin found herself living in lockdown with 70 spiders in her rented bedroom. Welcome to ‘Hotel Arachnid’. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Maryam Maruf Picture: Caitlin Henderson surrounded by spiders Credit: Caitlin Henderson


How I created the first Chinese Superman character

Gene Luen Yang grew up in a Chinese family in the United States, and when his mum bought him his first Superman comic, the story immediately resonated with him. Gene went on to become a cartoonist, and he even helped create the first Chinese Superman character. He is also the first graphic novelist to be a finalist for the National Book Award and his most recent book is called Dragon Hoops. Presenter: Emily Webb. Producer: Katy Takatsuki. Picture: Gene Luen Yang. Credit: Courtesy of Gene...


The refugee lawyer prosecuting IS war crimes

Rez Gardi grew up in a refugee camp - the child of Kurdish human rights activists who had fled to Pakistan. For years she was denied an education, but she excelled anyway. Now she is a Harvard educated lawyer and she is fighting to prosecute IS war crimes in Iraq. Presenter: Emily Webb. Producer: Harry Graham. Picture: Rez Gardi. Credit: Courtesy of Rez Gardi.


Beyond the bushfires: a koala doctor's story

Cheyne Flanagan is the clinical director of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. When the bushfires started raging across the country in 2019, her team mounted a huge rescue operation to save as many animals as they could. Presenter: Emily Webb. Producer: Andrea Kennedy. Picture: Cheyne Flanagan tending to Paul the Koala. Credit: Nathan Edwards/Getty Images.


Wynton Marsalis: the making of a jazzman

Wynton Marsalis grew up in New Orleans in what’s been called America’s ‘first family of jazz’. His pianist father Ellis gave him a trumpet when he was six years old, but there was a slight issue - he didn't like playing and he didn't like jazz. But when Wynton started listening to his dad’s records, he had a musical epiphany. Mentored by his father, Wynton began a ground-breaking career. He’s sold millions of records worldwide, hosted jazz clinics on Sesame Street and at the White House, and...


Trying to get my penpal out of prison

When filmmaker Ray Klonsky was a teenager he received a letter from David McCallum, an inmate at a New York prison who was already more than 10 years into his sentence for a murder he said he did not commit. The pair became penpals and after a while, Ray and his father Ken started searching for evidence that could prove their new friend's innocence. In a remarkable story of chance encounters, a decade-long fight for justice began, with the help of the world-famous boxer Rubin 'Hurricane'...


The woman behind Senegal's Sex and the City

Kalista Sy is on a mission to show Senegalese women that they can be themselves. She’s created a TV series called “Maitresse d'un homme marié” which tackles subjects which are normally off limits in Senegal – such as sex, infidelity, domestic abuse and polygamy. The series is hugely popular, even though it has been criticised by religious clerics and TV regulators in the country. Kalista tells Jo Fidgen how she learned to write a TV series via the internet and how women get in touch with her...


Sacrificing my sexuality to be a black role model

Francois Clemmons is a singer and founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble in America, but he became famous as an actor when he played the role of Officer Clemmons in the hit children’s TV programme 'Mister Rogers Neighborhood'. He joined the show in 1968, and was an important role model for young African-American children, but then he had to make a difficult decision. As a gay man he was told that his sexuality was not compatible with his TV role, so he had to choose between his sexuality...


Blades, bullets and my escape from 'murder city'

Jessel Recinos loved the skate park in his hometown in Honduras, but it was there that he got drawn into a gang. When he was 16, Jessel was shot in the back - and barely survived, but as soon as he could walk again he went back to rollerblading. He created a club called Skate Brothers which offers young people an alternative to crime. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Deiniol Buxton Picture: In-line skater flies off the ramp Credit: LawrenceSawyer/Getty Images


They thought my husband was a spy

Daniela Tejada said goodbye to her husband at the start of his work trip to the United Arab Emirates. She expected to see him in two weeks – but he disappeared. Picture: Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada Credit: Daniela Tejada Credit: audio clip used from animation series, Archer created by Adam Reed for the basic cable network FX. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Fiona Woods


My journey to become the first Native American US Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo survived prejudice and abuse, failed marriages and single motherhood to become one of America's most acclaimed poets. In 2019, she was appointed the US Poet Laureate, becoming the first Native American in history to be awarded the post. Her poetry is deeply rooted in indigenous histories and myths but part of her inspiration comes from jazz, including the Miles Davis tracks her father played in the car when she was a child. Joy's latest poetry collection is called An American...


The Covid-19 nurses: Sharing our stories

Around the world nurses are risking their lives to treat coronavirus patients. Intensive Care Units in particular have been described as the frontline of this pandemic. It's there that the sickest Covid-19 patients are looked after round-the-clock by highly specialised nurses. Today two of those nurses from two different continents are sharing their stories with Kim Chakanetsa. Hannah Gray is a 23-year-old nurse working in an Intensive Care Unit at a major London hospital. Her unit has...


I became ‘dad’ to a baby ocelot

When Harry Turner left the UK for Peru to clear his head, he never expected to become a father... and to a very unlikely baby. He told Rajan Datar how he helped save a baby ocelot in the Peruvian jungle and how the ocelot saved him in return. If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this programme, you can find details of organisations offering information and support at this address: bbc.co.uk/actionline. Presenter: Rajan Datar Producer: June Christie Picture: Harry Turner and a baby...


Love and defection on the dancefloor

Cuban principal ballet dancers Mayara Piñeiro Contido and Etienne Díez found love in exile. They now perform as a couple on stages around the world. Reporter: Colm Flynn Producer: Alice Gioia Picture: Mayara Piñeiro Contido and Etienne Díez Credit: Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet


The actor who preferred to die rather than stop filming

Il Postino: The Postman, was a hugely successful Italian film made in 1994, but behind the scenes tragedy had played out during production. The lead, Massimo Troisi was plagued by heart problems relating to a childhood illness. The film’s British director, Michael Radford, was faced with a difficult decision, to finish the film or stop, as Massimo’s health deteriorated on set. He opted to push on with the production, but Massimo didn’t quite make it. He died the day after principle filming...


How the Donut King lost his crown

Ted Ngoy was among the first Cambodians to find refuge in America from the Khmer Rouge. He was scratching a living at a petrol station when he got a whiff of a donut and something clicked in him. He learned to bake, then trained and supported other refugees like himself, and was soon presiding over a multimillion dollar business. He was known as the Donut King, and had the deep respect of his family and his community. But he struggled to hang on to his crown. Ted’s story is featured in the...


The psychiatric nurse who overcame a life of addiction

The dramatic turnaround of a carnival runaway and drug addict who spent more than 20 years living on the streets. Today Anthony Brown is a psychiatric nurse and college professor. He has written a book about his remarkable journey called: From Park Bench to Park Avenue. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Deiniol Buxton Picture: Anthony Brown Credit: Rik Boose