The BBC stalwart and thriller writer on breaking down over the plight of an Afghan family, his new current affairs show – and failing to be enthused by Emily in Paris

Broadcast journalist John Simpson has been a face and measured voice of the BBC for more than half a century. For most of his career he has been world affairs editor, reporting from Tiananmen Square in 1989, both Gulf wars and the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 among many other places. Some of his expertise and experiences also now find their way into his fiction: his latest novel is Our Friends in Beijing. Simpson, 77, lives in Oxford with his wife and teenage son.

In Our Friends in Beijing, a journalist called Jon is tortured, which you only recently revealed owes much to your own experiences in Beirut covering the Israeli invasion of 1982. Why did you keep this secret for so long?
Well, that torture thing, it wasn’t quite as bad in reality as it is in the book. But I didn’t behave as I would have liked to: I would have told them anything. So I didn’t feel very proud of that and kept quiet about it.

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