From being shot at on the frontline. To shooting people. Former defence reporter Kaija Larke shared:
– Fascinating experiences and stories from reporting in Afghanistan and other hostile territories
– How she’s transferring those skills to help businesses tell their story
– Her new podcast encouraging business leaders to talk about mental health
All that sandwiched between #NetworkMyClub members and guests networking online at our weekly meetup on Remo.
Where did it start for you?
I only ever wanted to be a journalist. All started when I was 14 when I had my first by-line in newspaper. It was round that time that the First Gulf War was happening and Kate Adie was trailblazing on the frontline her self; I turned round to my mum and said “that’s what I wanted to do”.
After university worked in commercial radio and then had opportunity to work for BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) as a freelancer. I’d already been working with them doing media training and had been on few military exercises.
Then an opportunity arose to join them as staff. At that point I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to do it, but I really wanted to deploy to Afghanistan. In early 2010 I went over to Afghanistan and stayed for 3 1/2 months.
My mum wasn’t best pleased when I told her I was off to a warzone!
What experience stands out?
I wish I had more photographs because my Instagram feed would be amazing.
Afghanistan was a huge highlight. (see photo above) We visited a marketplace after a huge intervention from British and NATO forces to clear the Taliban from the area. They’d just reopened so the locals could trade. It was about a 1/3 open at that point. As we went in the soldier asked me if I wanted to go in. I said if we could get in and out alive, I want to go in.
We were trying to talk to locals, but they wouldn’t. They were terrified as the Taliban were watching us from outside marketplace. It was time to leave.
As we went out, they found a suspected IED device, so we had to lay on the ground. That taught me how the military operated and looked after us.
After that I was the last embed reporter in Iraq with the Royal Marines before e pulled out. We were watching them train the Iraqis on new boats they’d been provided with by the Americans to protect their oil platform, which is where the bulk of their GDP comes from.
Six years ago, I was the first foreign journalist on Russian submarine post-cold war which was absolutely phenomenal. It’s almost unbelievable now that the Russians were on a NATO exercise and we were allowed on the submarine. We’d been on the Russian ship beforehand doing shots of vodka with the captain. That certainly made for an interesting climb down to the submarine!
I was in a helicopter over Kenya when troops were training to deploy to Afghanistan and spotted herd of elephants.
Probably the most dangerous was when we were Shiwa (Afghanistan). While we were having dinner, the compound next to us came under attack. All hell broke loose. We didn’t have body armour or helmets on.
You’ve met presidents, prime ministers and royalty. But who stands out for you?
I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Adie which was my childhood dream come true. Prince Charles came out to Afghanistan to see the troops and was so down to earth and wonderful. He took time a considerable amount of time to speak to the journalists, asking how we found it and took a genuine interest in us.
Let’s move onto the now. What was your inspiration behind starting a business?
I’ve got two young children, returned to work after both pregnancies but wasn’t doing a lot of travel. I knew I needed to leave my job.
I left with no life plan. But knew I could freelance and wasn’t scared by that prospect. I was approached by Help For Heroes who asked if I would do some video content for the Invictus Games.
After that, I was asked to be the Team Videographer for a team of injured veterans that were taking on the Race Across America (The World’s Toughest Endurance Cycle Race). After that I realised, I wasn’t going back to freelancing in newsrooms, I had a business developing.
I now work with more businesses, but it always has some sort of connection to the military. I’ve taken my storytelling skills into business. Now working with businesses to tell their story and gain more clients.
What’s next for you and your business ‘This Media Larke’?
I still work with a lot of the veteran’s community, but also employ a lot of veterans and reservists when I need to upskill. Currently trying to expand that and work with good people.
For an awards ceremony last year there were a team of 13 of us, and all were veterans or reservists.
Lockdown has given me a chance to re-diversify. I’m doing a lot of networking, working with small businesses trying to work with them to show that there are affordable ways of creating video content.
Alongside your business you’ve launched a podcast which focuses on mental health within business leaders. What was the inspiration?
It’s presented by a veteran who has been diagnosed with complex PTSD. He reached out to me and asked for help starting it. During the pandemic mental health effected people in one way or another.
Within bigger corporates it’s so important that the conversation comes from the top. Some people don’t believe they’re in a safe environment or can talk.
We’ve interviewed senior executives who are being incredibly open and honest about their mental health journeys. It’s incredibly inspiring.
It’s about teaching businesses that we aren’t all the same, but we are human. We need to support each other the best we can.