Former British soap star Ross Kemp on his new role reporting from the front lines of Afghanistan.
ESQUIRE: In Afghanistan you had a lot of access to the front line…
ROSS KEMP: Yes, but that access only comes about through trust. There was an article in The Times saying, “How the hell does this soap star get access to the front line when I can’t?” Well, I think he answered his own question by the way he wrote that article as far as I’m concerned. If you’re going to be bitching about it you’re not going to get access, you idiot. I’ve heard stories of journalists that have gone out to Afghanistan and when they’ve been told by a Company Sergeant Major to go into a vehicle they’ve gone, “No, I want to be in the front one”. Because of our professionalism and the fact that we listen to what we’re told to do, we’ve been able to go out there five times at the front line and spend longer out there than any other news crew has been able to do.
ESQ: Journalists say that the sights and sounds you experience in reality are nothing like you get in films and on TV. How did they compare for you and did filming in HD help convey the reality?
RK: I think we’ve got closer to it than most have. HD is a very good way of showing it. I know the films that we’ve made have been used not only by the British Army to help people get a fair idea of what it’s like, but also by the Americans, Canadians, Estonians and by the Danish as a kind of environmental training film.
ESQ: After watching the documentary, are young men going to be more or less likely to enlist?
RK: Trust me, I didn’t go out to make a recruitment film for the British Army. All we did was to go out and show what it’s like. And I’m not anti-Taliban — I have the greatest respect for them as an organisation, in terms of the way they fight their wars. I’m not really concentrated on their politics. But I would suggest that as a fighting band they are highly organised and they have the respect of the NATO forces out in Afghanistan.
ESQ: The Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan. What makes people think they can defeat an indigenous force who would rather die than surrender, such as the Taliban?
RK: One thing that you mustn’t forget is that the Russians were not just fighting against the Mujahidin, but against the majority of the people of Afghanistan. Of course, if you go into Helmand and you speak to Talibs they don’t want ISAF forces [International Security Assistance Force] there because they’re sympathetic to the Taliban. But if you go across other parts of the country, most Afghans don’t want the Taliban back in Government. A farmer in Helmand said to me, “The Taliban are your problem, you are the Taliban’s problem, all of you are my problem.” If you ask the average Afghan in Kabul, he doesn’t want a return to the way of the rule that existed because he likes free business, he likes to wear jeans, he likes to live his life. He is a Muslim, but he doesn’t want to live under extreme law. So I would suggest that the majority of people at the moment are still probably on the side of ISAF.
ESQ: Are you confident of a successful outcome?
RK: The new elections slightly worry me because it appears the same people that allowed the corruption to exist in the first election are going to be organising the next one. But the ultimate thing that we have to keep reaffirming to the Afghan people is that we are only visiting their country and that we will leave by a certain date. If you keep extending that time you will begin to lose faith, unless they can see gains being made against the Taliban. If you lose the support of the Afghan people in general, you should get on the first available helicopter out of there.
ESQ: What would it take for you think: actually it’s getting a bit too dangerous, I’d better stop now?
RK: I’ve already got there, mate. And it hasn’t stopped me because I’ve got a mortgage to pay like everyone else and it’s become a job. So, if you’re lighting someone’s cigarette and a round goes between you and the cigarette, that’s close enough isn’t it? I just get on with it really; this is my life now.
For Esquire magazine – for original PDF click here – TV_Ross Kemp