My Date in Havana with Fidel Castro; Selina Scott Reveals Her Plans for an Historic Interview with Cuba's Legendary Revolutionary . . . and Why She Thinks BritishTV Is Failing the Public

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 30, 2000 | Go to article overview
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My Date in Havana with Fidel Castro; Selina Scott Reveals Her Plans for an Historic Interview with Cuba's Legendary Revolutionary . . . and Why She Thinks BritishTV Is Failing the Public


Byline: ELIZABETH SANDERSON

SELINA SCOTT will never forget the day she met Fidel Castro. It was at a lavish state banquet in Barcelona given by King Juan Carlos of Spain to celebrate the 1992 summer Olympics.

In a grand marquee that gathered together presidents, prime ministers, royalty and nobility - Mitterrand of France, Menem of Argentina, Princess Anne, Nelson Mandela of South Africa - it was Castro, the legendary Cuban dictator, who dominated the company.

He had arrived in his trademark green military tunic, combat trousers, army boots and, of course, smoking a fat Havana cigar. Even in this company he was the most compelling figure - the man who has seen off eight American presidents and seven Soviet leaders, survived the Bay of Pigs, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the failure of communism.

Selina Scott is well used to the company of powerful men. She is a personal friend of Prince Charles and in 1991 more than 11 million viewers saw her walking with him in the Outer Hebrides for a heart-to-heart talk. She famously crossed swords with American property billionaire Donald Trump and was once asked for her telephone number by Prince Andrew after a particularly flirtatious interview.

But few men had impressed her as much as Castro and it was at this moment that she decided to try to secure a major television interview with him, determined to confront him with questions that held the key to so much history.

After 40 years of communism in Cuba did he think capitalism could return to the country after his death? What is his view about the Bay of Pigs and the series of attempts to assassinate him?

And what is the real truth of Che Guevara's death?

Eight years on, her dream is set to come true.

After years of delicate negotiations between high-placed contacts in Havana, London, New York and Spain - where she has excellent relations with King Juan Carlos - Castro has agreed to let Scott, 49, interview him for British television. It promises to be compelling viewing. He has agreed to talk candidly about his life and times, from his earliest days of leading a guerrilla revolution with Che Guevara against President Batista, through the Kennedy standoff and the Cuban blockade, to the present time.

Castro, who speaks perfect English, has not given an interview to anyone from the 'capitalist' media for more than 10 years, since he agreed to be filmed by the doyenne of American TV anchorwomen, Barbara Walters. And never before has he allowed himself to be profiled, for international broadcast, in such deeply personal detail. Scott says: 'I was only given a short introduction to Castro at the banquet but I was immediately struck by his presence. He was so imposing and incredibly focused on the people he was meeting. There was just this air of command about him.

'At that time I was trying to work out who in the world I would like to interview for a programme I was doing on ITV and here was the person who was right at the top of the list. There are just so many questions, so many stories about Castro, so much fascination surrounding him. So I have kept tabs on him for all these years.

'Although Castro was born in Cuba, his father was a schoolteacher from the northwest of Spain and I am fascinated how, coming from this normal family in one of the poorest parts of Spain, he became, arguably, the world's most famous revolutionary and a seminal figure in 20th Century politics.

'He was only 33 years old when he took over Cuba, making him the world's youngest ruler. Now in his 70s, the world's longest-serving ruler and one of the last communist dictators, he is in a position to talk about his life and explain how he has kept such a firm grip on his country for all these years.

'The idea is to take him around Cuba and film him. I want to see him with his family and with his friends. And I want to show how he controls and governs Cuba and what he thinks about his country's future.

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