‘No regrets’ – Terry Waite 30 years on from his release
“It doesn’t seem like thirty years, they’ve gone remarkably quickly,” explained Terry.
“I still remember those days, but strangely enough, I don’t look back and deeply regret them; I wouldn’t want to go through that experience again, of course not, but I learned so much during those days of isolation, which has been of tremendous use to me in the past 30 years and so, in some strange sort of way, I gained from the experience.”
To celebrate the anniversary of his release in 1991, Terry was in conversation with BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner at a small event hosted by the Ambassador of Lebanon, Rami Mortada with Hostage International at the Lebanese Embassy in London.
Terry, co-founder of Hostage International, is an author, humanitarian and formerly a hostage mediator and it was in his mediation role that he was captured in Lebanon when attempting to secure the release of journalist John McCarthy amongst others.
John was due to join the small gathering of friends of Terry’s and Hostage International on 18 November, but sadly couldn’t make it. John sent a message saying: “I am so sorry not to be there tonight to share memories of that experience of release and indeed about the life we shared as captives.”
The evening highlighted Terry’s drive for forgiveness and compassion, with His Excellency Rami Mortada opening the evening saying:
“The freedom isn’t about the freedom from a small room where you were held captive, but the freedom to forgive and the freedom to overcome narrow ideas and inspire others.
“Terry hasn’t stopped giving meaning to everyone.”
Terry reflected on the situation in Lebanon and how his own suffering was nothing compared to what Lebanon has suffered in recent years.
“I have taken from my years something very positive. It wasn’t just negative; it was a hard experience, but I have been able to take from that.
“I have always had sympathy for people who find themselves on the margins of life… but in captivity that sympathy has changed to empathy; empathy is to know what it is like to be kicked around and beaten and feel worthless, but that is a great gift as it gives me a link to people who are going through terrible situations.”
He added: “Suffering need not destroy; out of it something creative can emerge.”
Terry talked through some of his experiences of the captivity in which he was held for nearly five years, mostly in solitary confinement. Towards the end he became terribly ill with a bronchial infection and was put in a cell with other hostages. It was there, he explained, that he truly understood the power of touch. He had been struggling to breathe and a fellow hostage just reached across and put their hand on his arm.
“What matters is that someone else is with you and will stretch out a hand to you.
“That is true today, living in a disturbed situation across the world, so much anger and pain, and I salute Ambassador Mortada for reaching out his hand and opening his home to us.”
The aim of the evening was to celebrate all that Terry has achieved, including his humanitarian work – particularly in setting up Hostage International – and to celebrate Terry’s love of music.
Towards the very end of his time in captivity Terry was given a radio, which he balanced on the bar that held his chains to the wall. It gave him a lifeline – not only the chance to stay up to date through the BBC World Service – but also gave him access to his beloved music. He reminisced, almost fondly, about hearing the transmission of the Last Night of the Proms, with Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.
“One of the reasons we are having music tonight is because music has the capacity to breathe harmony into the soul. It did that when I needed it.”
Terry’s friend, classical pianist and contemporary singer, Vicky Yannoula organised the musical programme for the evening, supported by pianist Neil Crossland. The evening finished with Vicky’s adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with Gianluigi Secchi playing guitar.
Hostage International would like to extend our thanks to Frank Gardner, the musicians, and everyone who supported the evening, in particular Ambassador Mortada and his staff for hosting and supporting the event, and to Lewis Owens for his on-going support for our charity.
As John McCarthy said in his note to the audience: “It’s not just my missing out on Terry’s anniversary celebrations. I really wanted to be there to support Hostage International.
“It really is an important, vital organisation.
“I know how much I needed the help I got on my return and during the process of readjusting to normal life.
“And it’s not just the returning hostages themselves, of course, it’s the families and friends too who should have support.”
Phil Bigley, chair of Hostage International and whose brother Ken was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Iraq in 2004, reiterated the need for the charity as he spoke about how Terry supported his family through their experience.
“Terry shared our pain and helped us understand.”
Phil urged people at the event to give a regular – ideally monthly – gift to Hostage International to ensure that this support can be continued, throughout the world, in helping families and former hostages.
19 November 2021
Image ©Stephanie Belton