Excerpt: The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth

The inimitable Frederick Forsyth has sold more than 70 million books—and his own story, The Outsider, proves just as captivating as his novels.

The plan was to motor by Land Rover to the last known Biafran position, then march on to a point far down the road and mount an ambush. I agreed to go along even though this would be an all-Biafran affair with no white mercenaries involved. I was always quite chary of going with an all-Ibo patrol because if things went seriously pear-shaped they could simply vaporise into their native rainforest, whereas I would be lost within ten yards and quite likely to walk into a Nigerian army unit, mistaking one for the other. 

But everything went smoothly. It never occurred to me that some fool on the Nigerian side might send up a party of visiting journalists. 

The commando officer picked his spot on a grassy bank above the road and we settled down to wait. After an hour there was the low rumble of engines coming up from the south, then the wash of dimmed headlights. 

We were invisible in the long grass and under the trees but the road, with no tree cover, was visible by moon and stars. The leading Nigerian Land Rover stopped several bullets and drove itself straight into the rain ditch, blocking the road for the convoy and preventing escape forwards. The lorries behind panicked, stopped and began to shed the dim forms of the men inside them. The Biafrans kept firing and the Nigerians started shouting and screaming. 

Then above the noise I heard a single voice shouting in perfectly accented English: ‘I’ve been hit, oh my God, I’ve been hit.’ That was the first indication there were any Europeans down on the road. 

Peering into the gloom I discerned the shouting figure on the road and the voice made plain it was a fellow countryman. Next to me a Biafran soldier also spotted the target and raised his FAL rifle to complete the job. Journalistic rivalry may occasionally become tense, but never that bad. I reached out, eased his barrel upward and his shot went off through the treetops. He turned and I could see the whites of his eyes glaring at me. Then the ambush commander blew his whistle—the signal to shimmy backwards off the bank, into the forest and run like hell. 

The Englishman on the road had taken a bullet in the thigh. Months later I learned that he was Independent Television star Peter Sissons, who was evacuated, flown home and made a full recovery. 

Years later, at a fancy dress charity ball of all things, and being somewhat in my cups, I let it slip. He and his wife were there. Peter took the news with appropriate dignity, but it was his wife who gave me a big wet kiss.

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth is published by Bantam

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