Award-winning Sky News war correspondent Alex Crawford tells Catherine Vonledebur her tales of survival and heroism from the frontline during the 2011 Arab uprisings.
AS rebels invaded and looted Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Libya, Sky News special reporter Alex Crawford spotted a young man, not unlike a Sacha Baron Cohen character.
Amid the chaos, smoke and gunfire he appeared wearing the dictator’s iconic hat, stolen from his bedroom.
Alex’s interview went viral on YouTube after it was turned into a rap: ‘OMG!!! It’s Gaddafi’s Hat - Noy Alooshe (Freedom Fighters Remix)’.
“My children liked it very much,” she told a packed lecture theatre at Coventry University, after playing a clip.
Looking tanned and relaxed, despite a hectic schedule, Alex was giving a talk entitled Travels with my Camera Crew.
“Gaddafi’s compound was huge,” she said. “There was a zoo, a housing estate with big fancy houses, a swimming pool and a football pitch. The rebels managed to attack all four gates.
“I remember hearing my colleague say ‘they’ve broken into the north gate’ and we were at the west. By the time we got there, thousands were streaming through.
“We kept running and running. It was like a gangster movie – people were walking past carrying guns in black cases.
“We stopped by a famous statue I recognised from TV of an iron fist crushing the US.
“Amid the smoke, burning and gunshots this man was walking out wearing a very clean, white hat and carrying a gold handled fly swatter. He looked bizarre.
“He was walking straight past me so I interviewed him. He was a very engaging and charming man and delivered a very touching speech. This young man had been into Colonel Gaddafi’s bedroom and taken his hat.”
In 2011, Alex covered a year of revolutions in the Arab World from Tunisia (“a walk in the park compared to the others”), Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria (‘‘the hardest nut to crack’’).
The 49-year-old mother-of-four was given an OBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours List and won Broadcasting Journalist of the Year at the London Press Club awards.
She said: “I’m glad this talk was called Travels with my Camera Crew because I couldn’t do anything without them. We have a very satisfactory relationship. They do an enormous job to make me look good and I pick up the awards.”
Alex and her camera crew risked their lives to film the first proof that Gaddafi was attacking innocent civilians in Zawiyah.
She said: “Gaddafi denied he was turning guns on his own people – he blamed it on Al-Quaeda – but we had it on camera.
“It was very frightening. We were trapped in a Mosque for three days surrounded by Gaddafi’s tanks. No-one could get in or out. There was machine gunning and shelling.
“A number of brave Libyans helped us get out. They knew we were vital. We managed to smuggle the tapes out of the country when we were taken through the border by medics.”
Last August, Alex was the only reporter to ride in the back of a truck with the rebels as they took over Green Square in Tripoli.
She broadcast live to the world via a manually-operated satellite signal and a camera plugged into a cigarette lighter charger.
Alex said: “We met the rebels who had helped us seven months earlier in Zawiyah.
“People were pouring on to the streets. Thousands were in Green Square celebrating.
“It was live and there was an immediate worldwide reaction from the likes of The White House, 10 Downing Street and the UN.
“I thought we were probably the first ones there as I never saw anyone else. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I was avoiding bullets and trying to do a good job.
“An interviewer asked me afterwards, did I think ‘this is going to do tremendous things for my career?’ No I didn’t.
“When everything is unfolding around you, you are thinking: ‘I hope we will all get out of this okay’.”
Alex said she was “stunned” by the death of fellow war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in Homs, Syria, in February.
“Marie was in Syria the week after I was. She was staying in the same house as one of my colleagues.
“Syria is a ferociously frightening place.
“I couldn’t help but think ‘but for the grace of God it could have been me’. I was really stunned by her death.”
Shells hit the house in which veteran Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie, 56, was staying. She was killed by a rocket while trying to escape.
But Alex tells me that Marie’s death has made her more determined to continue reporting from the frontline.
Alex said: “The Leveson Inquiry has shown how awful some journalists are, but on the flipside to that and the hacking scandal, what Marie Colvin’s death has shown is that there is an awful lot of valid journalism.
“Passionate journalists from Sky, CNN and the BBC are risking their lives to uncover injustices around the world.”
Senior media lecturer and lecture organiser John Mair posed the question: “Who is Alex Crawford?”
Looking puzzled, Alex pauses for a moment for two before replying: “A mother first and foremost You have other people to look after.’’
Alex has three daughters and a son - Nat is 16, Frankie, aged 14, Maddy, aged 12 and ten-year-old Flo. They live in South Africa, where Alex is based, with her husband, the former Indepdent racing journalist Richard Edmonson. He gave up his job when Alex was appointed a special correspondent for Sky News.
She has dismissed the ‘mum-of-four goes to war’ line because she says no-one questions the motives of fathers who go to war.
But it is her family who keep her sane.
She says: “There’s a real gear change when I go home. My kids do not want to know the ins and outs of revolution. They want me to come to the school play or help them with their homework. It brings you back to earth.”
* Alex’s book, Colonel Gaddafi’s Hat, priced £14.99, is based on her experiences in Libya.