Last night I was able to host what has become that rarest of events: a live book launch with real guests. My book launches over the past 20 months have, sadly, had to be “virtual” online events because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I welcomed nearly 250 guests to Millbank Tower, central London, to mark the publication of my latest bravery book: Falklands War Heroes. Politicians, members (and former members) of our Armed Forces, business leaders, lawyers, charity bosses and journalists mixed happily with my friends and family.
Quite rightly the stars of the evening were the 16 “special guests” – all Falklands War veterans – who featured as some of the individual write-ups in my new book. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and their support staff all showed huge courage nearly 40 years ago – and under the most difficult conditions 8,000 miles from home.
I introduced the “special guests” one by one to the audience and gave a short summary of their courage. The incredible collective round of the applause they received at the end had to be heard to be believed. It was very moving and some “special guests” had a tear or two in their eyes at the level of appreciation that their past courage received.
As the title of my new book suggests, it is about the courageous actions of members of our Armed Forces during the Falklands War of 1982. Falklands War Heroes has two simple aims: to champion acts of great bravery from the conflict and to raise money for military charities (all my author’s royalties will go to good causes).
Simon Weston CBE, a veteran of the Falklands War, said a few kind words about my work in the field of bravery and my new book when he introduced me to guests in the opening speech of the evening.
Simon’s own courage is nothing short of astonishing: he was the worst injured man on his ship (RFA Sir Galahad) after it was bombed, the worst injured serviceman to make it home alive and he spent some five years in hospital undergoing more than 90 operations.
To say Simon had some “challenges” in the short and long terms would be an understatement. Yet, after some dark days, he turned around his life and has made a huge contribution to various charities: rightly being awarded first the OBE and, later, the CBE. My admiration for him is immense and he is great company too.
I very much enjoyed chatting to all the “special guests” last night. Like so many men and women who have been decorated or widely praised for their brave deeds, they are the most modest individuals imaginable. They constantly played down their own roles in preference to championing the courage of their comrades.
Falklands War Heroes contains nearly 40 separate write-ups and is based entirely on my own collection of gallantry and service medals from the 1982 war. Partly by good fortune and partly by design, the collection covers pretty much all the major events of the war.
The Falklands War, which may prove to be the last “colonial” war that Britain ever fights, cost the lives of 255 British military personnel, with many more wounded, some seriously.
I and many other guests who were present last night lived through the war and remember how decisive Margaret Thatcher was in dealing with the crisis in order to safeguard the freedoms of 1,820 islanders after the Argentine invasion.
For this book, however, I left the politics and other controversies to one side, concentrating instead on some of the outstanding acts of courage by the UK Armed Forces after a strong Task Force was sent to regain the islands from the invaders.
I thank everyone, particularly the war veterans, who were involved in making last night’s launch such a huge success. It was certainly a good feeling to have a “live” book launch once again and to catch up with so many friends, old and new.