Back in February, we had the chance to interview Martin Bell for a documentary I’ve been producing for Wandering Kat Media. Martin Bell is a British UNICEF Ambassador, a former broadcast war reporter and served as a Member of Parliament for Tatton from 1997 to 2001. These are merely the highlights of his exhaustive career.
Martin Bell, The Man in the White Suit
For nearly 60 years, he has been known as The Man in the White Suit, which we had secretly been hoping he would wear for the interview. He did. Our time with him was limited to a single afternoon spent at his home, which he has lived in for the majority of his adult life. The Uber ride there was the most car sick I think I'd ever been. So much so, I just assumed I had food poisoning. When we got out of the car, I sat on the curb about 200 feet from Martin's house. I remember turning to Kat, nausea causing the world around me to sway in a way I'd never felt before, saying "I can't meet him like this." I couldn't imagine entering his home in this current state. But time was ticking with an already limited afternoon we had with him. My crew helped me to my feet and we made our way to his one bedroom cottage.
At 81 years old, Martin was sharp and inquisitive, and delivered not only a professional, but heartfelt interview. He seemed to enjoy our company, and offered us to spend the evening eating cold pizza and wine with him after our shoot. He was an endless well of stories and questions about our own lives. We accepted his invitation, pouring small glasses of wine to sip, discussing the boundless books that filled the walls of his home, a whole shelf of which were his own published and unpublished writings.
Upon returning to our Airbnb, nearly an hour away from his home, we realized we left a piece of equipment behind. I quickly called him (on his flip phone), and he located our missing light stand. It was getting late, and I suggested he leave it outside his porch and I would quietly pick it up, and be sure to not wake him. He said “Nonsense, I will wait up. I’ll see you soon.”
I took the tube and bus back to his sleepy neighborhood outside of the city. He greeted me with cheer, and though tired, I could sense his desire for conversation. We chatted for a moment more, and he went back inside. I took back to the main road, and waited in the chilled air for the double decker bus to take me home.
The crew from Wandering Kat Media setting up for the interview
It can take a while for me to open up to people. Perhaps it's the early childhood "trauma" and drama from the brutal girls I grew up with on the playground. I'm an observer at first meeting, patiently calculating the situation before I establish my trust with each individual.
This trip felt different. Perhaps it was the freedom that comes with being in a foreign city, or the mind tricks of jet lag tagged with the pressure to connect with a subject during the limited time you have to gain their narrative for the sake of the story you're aiming to tell.
Or maybe, it's the reality that I am an old soul, and I've never been quick to befriend those my own age, but often find ease communicating with elders. I ruminate on this. And can't quite place why it was different to speak so easily to these people we interviewed, especially because I tend to get nervous around people I deeply admire and look up to. Maybe this trait is just slowly coming with my own age, my own growth and curiosity.
Whatever it may be, I'm grateful for that piece of equipment that was left behind. And the lone trip I took through one of the most beautiful cities, out to a quaint neighborhood for one last brief interaction with The Man in the White Suit.