A former acting editor of Wales on Sunday – part of the WalesOnline family – who survived being captured by the Taliban is to have a play about her exploits staged at one of Wales’ premier arts centres.
After working for several years in Cardiff in the 1990s, Yvonne Ridley moved to Fleet Street. She gained worldwide fame in 2001 when she went into Afghanistan as a reporter for the Sunday Express in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
As President George W Bush prepared to invade Afghanistan because Taliban leader Mullah Omar refused to expel Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda strategists, Yvonne decided to enter the country illegally so she could write an insider’s account.
Wearing a burka, she hired two guides to take her across the border from Pakistan. But never having ridden a donkey before, she dropped her camera and fell off the animal as her escorts were being quizzed by a Taliban soldier.
When the soldier pointed a Kalashnikov at her head, instead of panicking her immediate reaction was to think, “He’s bloody gorgeous”.
After being taken to jail in the capital Kabul, she decided there was no point in kowtowing to her captors. Unlike other prisoners who thought their best chance of getting out alive was to be docile and repentant, Yvonne took feistiness to a new level, insulting and swearing at the Taliban guards.
Eventually, on the night the Americans began to bombard Kabul, Mullah Omar gave the order that she was to be released. As they prepared to free her, one of the Taliban soldiers told her she was “a very bad woman”.
A decade and a half later, that’s the title of the play about her adventures that will be performed at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff for five nights and one matinee performance from January 26 to January 30.
‘I decided it would make great theatre’
The germination of the play began in 2009 when Yvonne was on an aid convoy called Viva Palestina, which took medical supplies and other goods to Gaza after it had been bombed by the Israelis.
The convoy began in London, drove through France and Spain and then travelled across North Africa to Gaza. Also on the convoy was playwright Greg Cullen, who has worked in Wales since 1983 and currently runs the Cardiff-based Shock n Awe Performance Company.
He said: “It didn’t take long to realise she was a very special and charismatic woman. Even George Galloway deferred to her.
“In some of the countries there were some difficult moments, but Yvonne was never afraid to defend herself and others when secret police were being aggressive towards us.
“The incredible thing is that a lot of the incidents had a humorous as well as a serious side.
“I decided it would make great theatre – something of a cross between a thriller and an Ealing comedy.
“I’m very excited about it, and the plan is to go on tour after Cardiff and end up at the Edinburgh Festival.”
Tickets for A Very Bad Woman will be on sale from Chapter’s box office for £10 and £12.