Jane Goodall Hopecast Podcast Ep 9 – John Simpson

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Full Transcript

Jane Goodall  0:00   

JANE SPLASH: All through my childhood, my sister and I had two friends. Every holidays, Sally and Susie came to have time with me and my sister Judy. And we did everything together. So Sally and I were the two older ones. And Susie and Judy, we called them the little ones. I created a little club called it — I don’t know why it was the “Alligator Club,” but anyway, that’s what it became called. And there’s a little kind of secret place in the garden with Rhododendron bushes all around it. And, in there, we took an old tin trunk. And it was war time, so food was rationed and scarce. But we used to save up little crusts from our bread and occasionally half a biscuit. And we managed to get hold of a tin of cocoa. We took a kettle down there, we kept sticks gathered up, and we had a tripod with a chain hanging down. We put the kettle on the chain, so that we could make cocoa. And we used to creep out — midnight feast. Oh, how exciting! It really was midnight, and Sally and I would wake up the little ones, and we’d go down, and we’d eat these little bits and pieces. And, one night, there was a policeman outside. And he was just, you know, wondering what’s going on in there. He called out. And we went over to the garden gate. And he said, “What are you doing in there?” So we explained, and we said, “Can we offer you a cup of cocoa?” So we came in, and sat with us in our little Alligator Camp and enjoyed a cup of cocoa with us. So it was, it was really special. 

CONSERVATION CHOIR INTRO: Changing mindsets and opening hearts about Mother Earth. Our planet is a gift. I believe in the collective efforts of everyone. I believe that everyone can make a difference. I aspire to change the world, too, because of the hope she gave me. She devoted her life it. Together we can save the world. Together we can, together we will. What is your greatest reason for hope? I’m Jane Goodall. And this is the Hopecast. 

INTRO: Today, I have the absolute joy of speaking with John Simpson, a man who has spent five decades reporting from dozens of war zones across 120 countries, as the World Affairs Editor of BBC News. As you might imagine, John’s life has been anything but ordinary. Throughout our time together, we share our war stories, relive experiences that have impacted us the most, and talk about the 50-year careers that continue to give us such purpose. I’m especially fascinated by John’s thoughts on the news media’s role in sharing the many hopeful moments that unfold across our planet every day, rather than only covering the world’s tragedies. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with John Simpson.  

INTERVIEW: How exciting! You’re one of my favorite people — one of my heroes, actually. So I’m tremendously looking forward to this opportunity to talk. Because we don’t really have that much opportunity, do we? 

John Simpson  3:36   

We don’t! No, just these sort of public things once in a while? Yes, I don’t suppose everybody wants to get into huge compliments, but you really are the heroine. And everybody knows that. And that’s why everybody’s watching.  

Jane Goodall  3:50   

You know, John, I do all these press conferences and interviews and stuff, and sometimes they ask me, “Well, you know, what, what can we do? Can we have hope for the future?” I say, “Well, actually, the media, I think, has a really important role to play.” And we are so surrounded by doom and gloom. And, let’s face it, there is an awful lot of doom and gloom. But it would be so nice if the media could devote a kind of equal — I mean, there’s so much good going on around the world. There’s so many amazing projects. There’s so many places where nature has come back because people care, like the rewilding in Britain, for example. And, you know, if the media would just sort of give almost equal time to these wonderful people and wonderful programs as they do to all the bad stuff. I mean, it seems to me that one murder is worth more in much of the media than reclaiming an entire river and purifying the water. 

John Simpson  4:53   

You’re right. Of course, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I do think that nowadays people are more aware of what’s happening in their, in their world, in their in, in our, on our planet, because of the media. And it isn’t always the good news that gets reported. And the good news often doesn’t. But somehow or another, the fact that there’s a problem with our world and that we are responsible for that problem, I think that has got over to everybody. And that’s the principal thing. That’s the key thing that we have done this to ourselves, and we have to find ways of undoing it. And I don’t think that would have got around so much if it hadn’t been for the coverage that stories like that receive in the in the media, I think it is because of the newspapers and radio and television that we know so much about this. I’m sure we can do a lot more. You’re absolutely right. When you see some of the newspapers you kind of despair, sometimes. The fact is that these things are available to us. We can know about it. And I would say that on the most important subject of all, which is climate change and what we’re going to do about it, there’s scarcely a person then that — certainly in the Western world — that isn’t aware of the problem and isn’t aware that it needs to be dealt with. So let’s, let’s, let’s hope. I don’t know, I’ve always I think I quoted it to once before. There’s a poem by John Masefield —  

Jane Goodall  6:37   

He’s lovely, though! I love him.  

John Simpson  6:38   

I love him and just a little foreline, little squib, in which he says, “I have seen kind things done by men with ugly faces, and I have seen flowers grow in barren places, and I’ve seen the Gold Cup won by the worst horse at the races.” From the moment I read that somewhere. I just thought, “Yeah.” So I, you know, I think we’re there with a chance still. 

Jane Goodall  7:10   

Well, you know I agree with you. All my lectures, everything is about hope. Because if we lose hope — I mean, if you don’t have hope that what you’re doing is going to make a difference, why bother? I mean, you know, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. 

Some of the experiences you’ve had, John, in some really dangerous places — I mean, they’re absolutely gripping. And I know that everybody would absolutely love it if you shared some of them with us. And, you know, the one that’s jumping into my mind right now is when you were in a hospital being bombed in Sarajevo with — I don’t know what kind of wounds you had, and the hospital was bombed. Do tell us that story. 

John Simpson  8:02   

Well, yes, I mean, it’s not one of the more amusing moments of my life. But what happened? It was but it what it did have that sort of a quintessential element of ludicrousness. I was on my own in a vast, great five storey hotel in — actually it was in Belgrade, in 1999, when NATO was bombing the Serbs and trying to force them to get out of Kosovo and I was there originally when the the entire five-storey, twelve-storey hotel was packed out with journalists. And then, the local, kind of, bandits — the real nasty ultras who carried out lots of murders and everything said in rather graphic detail, they were gonna slice the throats of any journalists from NATO countries who stayed there. And I’d never seen a stampede like it. I mean, they were all out of there. I mean, I haven’t got a cameraman, I haven’t got any means of sending the stuff to London. I suppose I’d better go, too, very reluctantly. And I tried to dissuade people, but nobody wanted to be dissuaded. And then right at the last minute, I was sitting at a bus about to leave, when somebody, one of my colleagues said, “Oh, God, I forgotten I was going to give a bit of equipment to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation chap.” And I said, “What? There’s somebody staying in the hotel?” And he said, “Yeah, apparently he’s insane.” But so I thought, “That’s it, if somebody else is staying, he’s got a cameraman. he’s got he’s got all the equipment, I’ll staym too.” So I went and found him and I said, him, “Are you really staying on? Why are you saying?” And he said, “Well, last time I checked, Australia wasn’t a member of NATO, and we’re not doing any bombing here, mate. So I think it’s probably alright for me to stay.” And I thought, “well, if that–” what I was scared of was kind of just disappearing, and nobody would know what had happened to me for weeks at a time, or something. So I thought, “Okay, I’ll stay.” Then my fantastic wife, who was my producer in those days, managed to kind of fight her way through all NATO forces and everything, and got in to Belgrade. And she and I then had, apart from the three people from the ABC, we had this entire five-, five-star hotel to our — to ourselves. And, every morning, we used to go and spend time in the spa. There wasn’t anybody else there, but they there all the machines were on. So we had a inevitable kind of things you get in spas — and in particular, there was a jacuzzi. So we went and sat in the jacuzzi. On the way out of the jacuzzi — not one of the more glamorous war injuries — I tripped up and broke the main tendon to my knee, which, you know, needs very urgent care, otherwise, you can’t walk again. Well, not on that leg anyway. And I got taken off to a hospital very, very quickly. My also equally wonderful cameraman roared ’round through the empty bomb-strewn streets. And there was bombing all the time. And I said — he said to me, said “What, what hospital? What hospital?” So I said, “Go on, just take me to the nearest one.” And so we got into this hospital — what I didn’t know was that, unfortunately, the American Air Force had mistakenly bombed the hospital the night before. So when somebody from NATO turned up on a stretcher, groaning and demanding attention, I wasn’t the most popular person. And they, kind of, dragged me out. They did a fantastic job on my knee, really, really, really good. But I woke up once during the operation, which I wasn’t meant to. And I was vaguely aware of sort of shouting and stuff. And it turned out, in the end, after I’d recovered, the surgeon, who was magnificent, said to me — a young man — said to me that his professor had turned up during the operation and insisted that everybody should leave, and they should stop operating on me, because I was an enemy civilian. And the surgeon was absolutely magnificent. And he said, “I swore a Hippocratic oath that I would…” you know, and all the rest of it. And so they carried on and the professor got slung out, and there was still bombing going on all ’round. Unfortunately, the hospital that I’d chosen was right in the middle of about five major targets and bombs did kind of stray across and hit the hospital from time to time. But all fine! I’ve got a rather large, unsightly scar, but in every other way, fine. 

Jane Goodall  13:30   

It doesn’t really matter having a scar on your knee, but you were jolly lucky, weren’t you? Or jolly stupid, one or the other. Or both! 

John Simpson  13:38   

Um, well, the they kind of go together. Jane, I mean, you must have found that. You do things that you think are probably going to be stupid, and actually, they turn out to be good. And, and, and then, uh — you don’t do this, but I do, of course — claim all the credit for farsightedness and, and when in fact, I was just jolly lucky. 

Jane Goodall  14:01   

You know, when I first got to Gombe and everybody told me I was stupid, and that there were dangerous animals — there were were leopards and buffalo back then — and, you know, how stupid I was. And I would go out and sleep up there at night. And I just, I got used — cause first three months, Mum was there. So I always came down from the mountains to have supper with her, because otherwise it wasn’t fair. Then I would take my little torch and — which Americans insist on calling flashlights — and I had this silly idea that while I’m in my little pool of light from the torch, “I’m safe.” Because, actually, I was visible to everybody because of the torch. But I just had this feeling, John that I was meant to be there and that no animal would hurt me. And people told me I was absolutely stupid. So was I stupid? No animal did hurt me. So I wasn’t stupid, right? 

John Simpson  14:53   

No, but you might have had a bit of luck. 

Jane Goodall  14:56   

Well, luck, of course. 

John Simpson  14:58   

So tell me a little bit about the countries where there are chimpanzees. I mean that — it’s right across from the, the other Congo, the Congo Brazzaville. 

Jane Goodall  15:10   

Yeah. from the west coast. Like, and it goes up as far as Mali, Southern Sudan, wherever there’s bits of forest or riverine forest. And then, you know, the big, the big hot spot for chimps is the Congo basin in the tropical forest. And then it comes eastward Kigoma, Gombe, where where I was, and then inland from there. So the chimps range from thick rain forest, and then they come into Senegal. It’s very, very hot and dry. There’s just little bits of riverine forest. And it’s so hot that the chimps will actually forage at night. No chimp in Gombe would dream of leaving his or her nest at night. You know, you go to bed in the evening and you stay there. If you hear a leopard, you scream threateningly. People think chimps are my favorite animal. I always say chimps are too much like people, there’s nice ones and nasty ones. 

John Simpson  16:06   

How do you know when they’re — I mean, can you tell from looking at them whether they’re nasty or nice? 

Jane Goodall  16:13   

But you can tell that they’re angry by the expression on their face. When they, when they’re angry, their, their lips bunch in a furious scowl. And they, you know, their hair bristles and they look fierce! And they are fierce. I mean, they’re much stronger than us. 

John Simpson  16:27   

Are they? 

Jane Goodall  16:28   

Oh, yes. And they can kill people. And they kill each other, you know. 

John Simpson  16:32   

You were the one that discovered that. I mean, that’s one of one of your many fantastic discoveries. 

Jane Goodall  16:40   

Yeah, do you know at that time — it was the early 70s — and, at that time, there was this huge scientific controversy about nature versus nurture. And, “Are babies born with a blank slate?” and, “Is aggression learned or innate?” Most of the scientists were, were saying that behavior is learned. And I said — when I said, “Well, I think, you know, if we go with the theory of the common ancestor, which clearly there was, you know, 6 million years ago or so, then aggression is innate.” And a lot of it’s the same as the chimps. But I got absolutely — I was told, “Play down the war, the chimp war. Don’t publish it.” And I said, “I thought science was supposed to be a — you know — not like Trump, not fake news.” You’re supposed to tell the truth!  

John Simpson  17:29   

And did it catch on immediately? I remember, I remember reading about it. And did everybody say, “Oh, we got it wrong, or did they carry on fighting you?” 

Jane Goodall  17:39   

No, it sort of, kind of slowly crept insidiously into the scientific thinking. Nobody wanted to admit they’ve been wrong. Scientists don’t like to do that. So it just, you know, gradually became accepted, just like animals having personalities and emotions.  

John Simpson  17:58   

Yeah.  

Jane Goodall  17:58   

Gradually accepted. 

John Simpson  18:10   

I remember being in the Amazon, in the farthest reaches of the Brazilian Amazon, right up close to the Peruvian border. Very, I mean, incredibly wild. And I was in fact going to see a tribe there which had never been contacted. It was a single-engine plane. I cannot tell you it was an hour and a half journey over nothing but trees. God knows what’s happened with Bolsonaro and the Brazilian rain forest now. But then, at any rate, it was completely thousands of miles of nothing but trees, and a single-engine plane, you listen to the note of the engine the whole time. Real — 

Jane Goodall  19:00   

Yeah, oh yes, oh yes. [laughs] 

John Simpson  19:04   

That was the most, I think, the most memorable thing that’s happened to me. I mean, there’ve been things that were exciting but going down this river — a river called the Envira with a, in a, in a sort of long dugout canoe, for days and days and days on end, seven — I think, was seven days. Absolutely wonderful — scary! And one night we were trying to get back to the village where we were — it was not a village, but it was this, this uncontacted tribe. Then we made a camp, and — awful, absolutely dreadful biting insects and everything. And I couldn’t — after about four o’clock in the morning, I couldn’t do anything else. I got up — I couldn’t sleep anymore — I got up and walked down to the river. And then, as I walked back, a friend of mine joined me, and we saw these enormous pour marks that had gone from the river up to our camp where we had a fire with, you know, and the pawmarks went right around where we were sleeping. 

Jane Goodall  20:16   

Curious jaguar. 

John Simpson  20:18   

Curious, HUGE jaguar, with her — 

Jane Goodall  20:22   

Yeah.  

John Simpson  20:23   

Pup? What do you, what do you call them? Cub? Cub. And she was showing — you could see the smaller pawprints. And the big, big — I don’t know whether she said, “Look, you know, it’s probably best not to mess with them, they’ve got a fire.” But maybe they were — she was looking for one one of us to kind of take away and eat at her leisure. 

Jane Goodall  20:46   

No, John, I don’t think so. And no, I think she was just curious.  

John Simpson  20:50   

Maybe, maybe.  

Jane Goodall  20:51   

Yeah. 

John Simpson  20:53   

We saw her actually, some days later. Magnificent! Oh, my heart went out to those — to her and her cub! You know? Just one.  

Jane Goodall  21:05   

Yeah. I can’t match your story but you reminded me that I had one trip in a little single-engine plane. And it was in it was Ecuador. And apparently, these friends of mine were working with some of the, you know, indgineous tribes, far away from anywhere. And they’d started a Roots and Shoots — you know, our youth program — in some of the schools. Well, these were very small communities, which were about one family and grandmother and grandfather, and maybe a total of six houses per little community. And then traveling towards the next community — no roads, nothing. And you reminded me because we, too, flew over a mile upon mile upon mile, over one and a half hours, over nothing but forest in this little plane. And we landed, and here was this tribe, you know, they had all the, you know, the painted faces, and everything, a little Roots and Shoots group, which was very, very sweet. And the funny thing is, right in the middle of this was the chief. And the chief had decided about four years before that they needed to find out what was going on in the world. So he’d taken himself off and learned something about what was going on in the outside world. So we met him. And he was sitting on a little chair in the middle of this forest, far, far, far from anywhere. And he had a laptop, and he was on email. I mean, it was so extraordinary. But anyway, that plane, that was his last flight, he crashed on the next one. So, like you, I was lucky. But you know what happened on that trip? Well, everybody has been asking me for years and years and years, what do you think of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Wildman, and all the rest of it? You know? So I thought, “Well, here we are in the middle of this forest, miles from anywhere, with these tribes.” And the communication between the little communities, basically hunters, really, but they would take news from one village to another. So there was an interpreter. And I said to him, “Next time you’ll meet these hunter-news-takers, gatherers, could you ask him I said one question ‘Do you know a monkey without a tail?'” That’s all I said. No more. And this was, you know, though, he didn’t know why I was asking it or anything. Three months later, I got a reply that out of six of these hunters, three of them had said, “Oh, yes, we know a monkey without a tail, it walks upright, and it’s about seven foot tall.” In the middle of nowhere, John! 

John Simpson  23:52   

In — this was in Ecuador?  

Jane Goodall  23:54   

Yeah.  

John Simpson  23:55   

What a story! 

Jane Goodall  23:57   

John? I think what, what I’m trying to say is — there’s so much out there we don’t understand. There’s so much more for people to find out. And science is so dismissive of anything it can’t prove. 

John Simpson  24:10   

Yes, yes. Yes. 

Jane Goodall  24:11   

I’m glad I didn’t begin as a scientist. I didn’t want to be a scientist. I wanted to be a naturalist. 

John Simpson  24:16   

And Jane, are you, are you a religious person? You’re a bit — 

Jane Goodall  24:21   

We grew up — when I was a child, you know, we went to church, but not that often. My grandfather was a congregational minister. And I never met him, and I have his picture on the wall. I think I would have absolutely been very close with him. And he loved nature. And then, all that early, kind of, you know, going to church and believing kind of drifted away. But when I’m out in the forest, John, I just feel this real connection with some kind of spiritual being, which I guess you call a creator or whatever you want to God, Allah, you know, whatever. And you know, how, how each living thing has a little spark of that great spiritual power, which we in our desire to label everything call a “soul.” 

John Simpson  25:10   

Yes. 

Jane Goodall  25:11   

I mean, what do you think?  

John Simpson  25:13   

Well, I very much agree, actually. The, the Dutch philosopher, Jewish philosopher, Spinoza is my kind of great guide on this idea. I’m actually, I’m quite bored by philosophy, I’m afraid, but — takes too much mental effort. Reading Spinoza, you know, he’s the one that says, in Latin says “Deus sive Natura.” Uh, “god–” that’s to say “Nature is God.” And being part of it is, is being part of, of God. I must say I, I’ve always found that a very, a very satisfying way to be, you know. It explains these extraordinary things. You know, when you wander through the forest, all the — How come they’re all these fantastic root systems of trees? It’s as though —  

Jane Goodall  26:14   

And the interrelated — ah! 

John Simpson  26:15   

Absolutely. And the insects! And the ways in which animals and insects and birds and– 

Jane Goodall  26:25   

Plants! 

John Simpson  26:25   

— trees kind of live together and in a sort of synergy, together, and work and help each other. And you just think, you know, I don’t, I don’t really believe in a kind of traditional God, but I do think that that shows you the presence of a mind, of an intelligence, a loving intelligence, and I’m afraid I think we’re in the process of screwing it up rather heavily. 

Jane Goodall  26:57   

We’ve screwed it up. But you know, John, that the interesting thing is I’ve been reading quite a bit. Have you ever heard of Ervin László? Ervin László, he’s Hungarian, he survived the Holocaust. And he’s said to be Europe, Europe’s number one philosopher of science. But now he’s come around to action. He loves Roots and Shoots. And he asked me to write some forwards for his book, so I had to read the book. And what I discovered is that some of the very best brains on the planet have come to the conclusion there is intelligence behind the universe.  

John Simpson  27:35   

Well, I feel, I mean, I’m not a great brain, but I feel that we can see the evidence of that absolutely everywhere. 

Jane Goodall  27:44   

I do, too. Absolutely. So, John, I think that we’ve come to the end of our time. And I’m very sad, because I would like to go on talking to you for at least another couple of hours. I cannot thank you enough for spending the time to be on this Hopecast. And I hope that people have, you know, from all the stuff that we talked about — there’s so much hope there. All the stories of wonderful people doing wonderful things and, you know, humanity will win out. We have to, you’ve got a child. I’ve got grandchildren. We can’t give up, can we? So anyway, thank you very, very much.  

John Simpson  28:23   

Well, thank you. And it’s a wonderful privilege always to be with you, Jane. It really is. And if there was any– anything, you know, that makes me more hopeful — the new, I, well, I haven’t actually found it yet. You’re the greatest hope. 

Jane Goodall  28:41   

Well, thank you, John. To be continued on our own — with whiskey! 

John Simpson  28:46   

With whiskey, 

Jane Goodall  28:46   

Of course, whiskey. 

Interviewer  28:46   

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Do you remember the first time you came across a chimp in the wild? You must. 

Jane Goodall  29:11   

FROM THE ARCHIVES: For four months, they flippin’ ran away every time they saw me. They’d never seen a white ape before. And, you know, so all I was learning was from this peek at them with my binoculars. They weren’t very good binoculars. We had so little money. The breakthrough came when the first chimp who began to lose his fear — and, through my binoculars, I saw him sitting on a termite mound, breaking of grass stems, pushing them down into the termite mound and eating off the termites. And I saw him break off a leafy twig. And to make that into a tool, he had to remove the leaves. And at that time, science thought, humans and only humans use handmade tools. In fact, if you read about how early humans might have behaved, you find reference to chimps. 

Interviewer  30:02   

Really?  

Jane Goodall  30:03   

Genetically, we differ from them only by just over 1%, with our DNA. 

Interviewer  30:09   

I know a lot of people that don’t differ from them by any percent. 

Jane Goodall  30:14   

That is very rude to the chimps! 

CREDITS: Feel hopeful and inspired to act with the Jane Goodall Hopecast by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Pdcasts, and anywhere podcasts are found. I’m your host, Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer. Enna  Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest-Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelssohn, with additional violin tracks from Angie Shear. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest-Filler. 


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The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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About Author

Ashley Sullivan is the Communications & Policy Officer at the Jane Goodall Institute, where she works to connect individuals with Dr. Goodall's vision, and the JGI mission. Ashley graduated Stony Brook University with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Biology, and is currently pursuing a MS in Environmental Science & Policy at Johns Hopkins University. She has a varied background including conservation, art, communications, digital media, design, photography, and documentary filmmaking. Ashley believes in sharing information to empower and in magic of storytelling to change hearts and minds. Through growing understanding and empathy, she believes it is possible to ignite positive change, every day.