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


The Cuban dad who became a lifeline for Chernobyl's children

In 1990, Manuel Barriuso was a professor of Russian literature in Havana when one morning he was ordered to the city's paediatric hospital. Unknown to him, a plane-load of seriously ill children – all victims of the devastating Chernobyl nuclear disaster – had arrived in Cuba for free treatment in a historic humanitarian program. And Manuel – who had no medical background – would be one of their translators. He had to abandon Tolstoy and Chekov and learn about oncology to translate life and...


An Orthodox rapper in Jerusalem

Nissim Black grew up in the American city of Seattle, where he made his name rapping about drug dealing and drive-by shootings. These were all subjects that were familiar to him, and his music was doing well, but nevertheless Nissim became increasingly unhappy with the gangster image he portrayed. He started as a Christian looking for answers in the Bible, but a growing interest in the Old Testament led on to a conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and ultimately a move to Jerusalem. Nissim still...


My son found his birth mother using Google Earth

Sue Brierley adopted her son, Saroo, after he had been found wandering the streets of Kolkata as a five year old. He had got on a train that took him across India and away from his birth family, and couldn’t find his way back. Sue always believed that Saroo’s birth mother was alive, and would send comforting thoughts to her every night, sharing the boy's progress as he grew up in Tasmania. 25 years later Saroo used satellite maps online to retrace his steps to his first family’s home in...


Taking over my parents' legendary jazz venue

In 1961, American couple Allan and Sandra Jaffe were on their honeymoon when they stumbled upon some of their favourite jazz musicians playing at a small art gallery in New Orleans. Within days the young couple had been offered the chance to run the place. Over the next 30 years they helped turn it into one of the city’s jazz institutions, Preservation Hall. Their son Ben Jaffe tells Outlook’s Emily Webb about following in the footsteps of his tuba-playing father - both in running the venue...


New York to Saigon: taking beers to my friends in a warzone

A crazy idea thrown around a neighbourhood pub soon became the adventure of a lifetime. In 1967 New-York-City-native Chickie Donahue crossed oceans and hitched rides across a warzone to hand-deliver beers to his friends fighting in Vietnam. Not a soldier, Chickie relied on his charm and wit to get him to where he needed to go. But what began as a short morale-boosting mission soon became much more trecherous as Chickie found himself caught up in the deadly Lunar New Year attacks on what was...


Egypt's only woman rally driver who "dances with the dunes"

Yara Shalaby is Egypt's first female rally driver. She's mastered the sport in some of the country's toughest desert terrain, while also putting up with a lot of detractors - people telling her that women can't drive. In spite of that, she's risen up in the sport and has beaten many of her male competitors in the process. Get in touch: outlook@bbc.com Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Catrin Manel Picture and credit: Yara Shalaby


Jail Time Records - songs from a Cameroon prison

Vidou H was a music producer and DJ with an enviable life in Cameroon, but everything changed when he and his brothers were falsely accused of murder. He was sent to a tough overcrowded prison to await trial, a process that took two years. For much of that time he had no access to music, until a recording studio was set up inside, the idea of an Italian artist called Dione Roach. Dione hoped music could help with rehabilitation and Vidou H was quickly put in charge of the production side. He...


We discovered we were stolen as babies

In 1975, when Maria Diemar was two months old, she was flown more than 8000 miles from Chile to Sweden to meet her adoptive parents. They couldn't have children of their own, and thought they could offer a home to a child from a poorer country. Two years later, they brought over another baby from Chile, just a few weeks old, and called him Daniel. The adoption agency didn't have much information about the children's biological parents, but were clear that - to their knowledge - their birth...


Swimming with polar bears – a photographer’s 'crazy' dream

The list of underwater predators that Amos Nachoum has photographed is long - it includes the Nile crocodile, the great white shark, orcas, anacondas and many other creatures that most of us would hope never to encounter. But for Amos that list was incomplete, his dream, his white whale, was to swim with a polar bear and photograph it. His first attempt went badly wrong, but it did not deter him and in 2015 he made his second attempt. He shares his account of that adventure with Outlook's...


Mary Wilson: her life as a Supreme

Last week the singer Mary Wilson died at the age of 76. She was born to a poor family in Mississippi, the daughter of an itinerant worker and a mother who couldn't read or write, but she grew up to be a legend of Motown, co-founder of one of the most successful groups of all time: The Supremes. In an interview from the Outlook archives, Mary describes her childhood, why she hated some of their early hits and what really happened with Diana Ross. Get in touch: outlook@bbc.com Presenter: Emily...


Setting up a fake mafia to catch El Chapo

Infiltrating mobs, taking down contract killers and busting drug rings; this was the job of Special Agent Mike McGowan during his 30 year career in the FBI. He was already the expert in undercover operations at the bureau when he was handed the "superbowl" of cases - to bring down the Mexican drug lord El Chapo. In a sting that lasted four years, Mike and his team of agents convinced the notorious Sinaloa cartel that they too were an established crime organisation. He tells Outlook's Saskia...


The scavenger who found a brass symphony

Ronald Kabuye grew up in the Katwe slums of Kampala, Uganda, scavenging for food and trying to sell scrap metal for cash. One day in the street he saw a performance by the M-Lisada marching band, a group made up of children from a local orphanage. Ronald was enthralled. He joined the band, took up the trombone, and learned to read music. Performing gave him an escape and ultimately the opportunity to travel the world and play with some of the world's most influential musicians. Ronald is now...


The making of the 'Wish Man'

Frank Shankwitz was the co-founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organisation that since 1980 has granted hundreds of thousands of wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. Frank’s inspiration came from his own difficult childhood, a near-death experience and an encounter with a 7-year-old boy named Chris Greicius. Frank passed away recently; he spoke to Outlook's Andrea Kennedy about his extraordinary life in October 2019. Presenter: Andrea Kennedy Producer: Tom...


The voyage of The Fisherman's Friends

As the craze for sea shanties (started by Scottish postman Nathan Evans) continues to grow on social media worldwide, Outlook returns to Port Isaac, a tiny English village, where in 2019 Emily Webb met the sea shanty band The Fisherman’s Friends. The group got together 25 years ago and started singing sea shanties, which are a type of maritime song. After a chance encounter with a BBC radio DJ, Johnnie Walker, they ended up landing a £1 million record contract. Much to the group’s surprise,...


The broken computer that unlocked my fortune

Freddie Figgers was abandoned as a baby by some rubbish bins. An elderly couple took him in and taught him right from wrong. He taught himself how to build a computer. When his beloved adoptive father got severe dementia, Freddie invented a special shoe with a GPS and two-way comms inside so he could always find him again. This was the beginning of his journey to becoming the youngest person in the US and the only African American to get a licence as a telecoms operator. Now worth millions...


The record-breaking runner who hated her legs

Mimi Anderson started running at the age of 36. She wanted more shapely legs and so hit the gym. Mimi had a history of eating disorders, but her newfound love of running forced a change in her relationship with food and her body image. She went on to become a record-breaking endurance athlete completing feats such as the Marathon des Sables and becoming the fastest woman to run the length of Great Britain. The training and competitions did lead to those thinner legs. But when she got them,...


My life by Whitney Houston's side

Robyn Crawford and Whitney Houston met as teenagers on a summer's day in 1980 and become inseparable for two decades. Robyn was Whitney Houston's personal assistant, for a while her lover, and always her closest friend. They toured the world together as Whitney became an international superstar. But Robyn also remembers witnessing Whitney's struggle with a drug addiction that would ultimately end her life. After years of silence Robyn finally opened up about their relationship in 2019 with...


Inside the hospitals of lockdown Wuhan

When Chinese-American film director Hao Wu was approached to make a film about the 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, he was eager to do it. Based in New York and unable to get back into China as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread, Hao worked with two co-directors on the ground in Wuhan who got unprecedented access to four hospitals across the city. The resulting film 76 Days tells the moving stories of patients struggling to survive and the kindness of the frontline medical staff...


That time I DJed from space

Four extraordinary stories that explore the thrills and chills of live music performances. PJ Powers, the South African singer who became the first white pop star to perform live to a black audience in Soweto during the height of apartheid. (This interview was first broadcast in 2016) Marjorie Eliot, the Harlem jazz pianist who for almost 30 years has been holding free concerts in her living room every Sunday – she does so to honour the memory of her son who died on a Sunday. (This interview...


The gourmet chef who used to beg for food

Food has always been crucial in Sash Simpson’s life. Growing up alone on the streets of Chennai in India, it was the lack of food that he remembers. But after a chance encounter at a bus station his life was set on a different path which brought him a new family of over 30 adoptive siblings and the opportunity to prove himself in some of the finest kitchens in Toronto. He now has his own restaurant called Sash. Get in touch: outlook@bbc.com Presenter: Emily Webb Producers: Troy Holmes and...