I was staggered by Mandela's frankness, but then he was frank about everything

15 December 2013 10:34 AM

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I was staggered by Mandela's frankness, but then he was frank about everything

I only met Nelson Mandela once, but like everyone else who ever had an audience with the great man, it will be forever etched on my memory.

It was in July, 2003, and he came to London to make a speech about Aids at Westminster City Hall.

He was 84, and seemed quite physically frail, taking five minutes to walk very slowly to the stage with the help of a walking stick.

But once he got there, it was obvious from the power of his rhetoric that there was nothing mentally weak about this extraordinary man.

He demanded action on Aids from world leaders, then launched a blistering attack on George Bush and Tony Blair for the ill-fated war on Iraq.

Mandela’s voice roared around the room with eviscerating venom. And the audience stood and roared back.

Afterwards, I was led to a small roped-off area backstage, and Mandela came and sat alone with me for ten minutes or so.

‘Mr Mandela, this is Piers Morgan,’ said a spokesman for the Red Cross, which had organised the event.

Mandela stared at me for a second or two, then shook my hand and said: ‘That’s good to hear. Blair and Bush made a big mistake in Iraq.

I was staggered by his frankness, but I shouldn’t have been. Mandela was frank about everything.

We spoke about Aids. ‘It is the biggest threat mankind has faced,’ he said.

I rarely feel overawed in the presence of famous people. But I did right then. To receive a direct entreaty from one of the greatest figures of the 20th century was a special moment.

Legendary celebrity photographer Richard Young appeared, and I asked the President if we could pose together for the famous ‘Mandela two-shot’.

We both put on our cheesiest grins. And I mentally cleared a large space on the loo wall.

I was so elated and inspired by our brief encounter, I almost flew back to the newsroom.

Mandela had the same effect on me that he had on everyone – he made me feel compelled to do something positive to try and correct the ills of the world.

I was reminded of this after seeing stressed-out England cricketer Jonathan Trott’s premature departure from the Ashes tour spark a new debate about ‘sledging’ – the art of abusing one’s opponent in a way designed to put him off his game.

I was exposed to this tactic regularly in the 2004 East Sussex Cricket League season, after my ignominious Mirror departure made national headlines.

My favourite of the numerous verbal rejoinders hurled my way that summer occurred when I hit a boundary, and the ball struck my parked Mercedes.

‘Haven’t they repossessed it yet?’ came the withering reply from the bowler.

I suspect I’m in for some rather severe sledging when I head to Melbourne in a fortnight.

In a moment of recklessness, I challenged Australian fast bowling legend Brett Lee to a duel in the nets, to prove not all Poms are as weak as the England batsmen are currently indicating.

I’ve been back in London to record Life Stories (the new series starts on Friday, January 3, ITV).

Tonight, I interviewed June Brown, who plays the glorious Dot Cotton in EastEnders.

Amanda, of course, loved this when I regaled it to her later. Which is why I love her.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

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