Paying the price for chasing his dream

HE WAS living by his wits on a shoestring budget, spending nights in a flea-pit hotel and travelling around to assignments by day in a $10-per-day Baghdad taxi.

For Richard Wild, 24, his first experience as a freelance foreign correspondent was anything but glamorous. It was also a world away from his comfortable upbringing in the Scottish Borders.

He grew up in a spacious country mansion, attended a 15,000-a-year boarding school and studied at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Yet, the British journalists who met Mr Wild during his brief time in the Iraqi capital said he appeared to be having the time of his life.

Michael Burke, 45, an independent television producer with whom he was working, said yesterday: "Richard wasn’t the kind of guy to stay in the studio. He wanted desperately to be a reporter in the field.

"He had put everything into it, buying all his own kit - his own camera, laptop and edit suite. He wanted to be a war correspondent and was determined to stand on his own two feet.

"It may sound clichd, but he really was a good guy, a straight-up nice bloke, keen as mustard and always very pleased to see you."

It was Mr Burke, an experienced producer working on Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, who suggested to the enthusiastic freelance it might be worth researching some film locations around the Natural History Museum in Baghdad, which Mr Wild duly did on Saturday morning.

After speaking to some United States military policemen outside the museum in the midday sun, Mr Wild walked off into a crowd of students preparing to cross the main road.

"Somebody came up behind him and put a small-calibre bullet in the back of his skull," Mr Burke said. "It looked like it was professionally done, and whoever it was just melted away again into the crowd.

"Some Iraqis then took him to hospital, but it was too late. He was dead pretty much instantly, I think.

"At least that way he didn’t feel much."

Mr Burke was contacted by the US military police after they found his name on a piece of paper in Mr Wild’s wallet. He identified the body of the young journalist.

He said: "The MPs [military policemen] said it was possible that he may have been mistaken for one of them off-duty. They said it was the same modus operandi as a soldier who had been killed while looking at DVDs in a shop - the same kind of bullet, again in the back of the head."

It was only a matter of hours before his parents in St Boswells received the telephone call from the Foreign Office they had been dreading for the previous 12 days.

Mr Wild’s father, Robin, 62, a former chief dental officer for both Scotland and England who is now chairman of the District Courts Association, said he and his wife, Daphne, had done all they could to dissuade their only son from travelling to Iraq. Their two daughters, Alison, 36, and Rosemary, 26, had also tried to talk him out of the trip.

The family appreciated Mr Wild’s ambition to be a television war correspondent but believed it was too dangerous to travel to Iraq as an independent freelance journalist.

"It is such a waste of young talent," his father said. "Richard was so keen to be a journalist and believed that if he succeeded in Iraq, it would be the best way to break into it.

"He was a very happy-go-lucky person who really took life as it came."

"I don’t think he really appreciated the dangers of anything," he added.

"He had got into trouble before when he was travelling around Central America five years ago and disappeared for a few days after being robbed.

"The Foreign Office was involved then as well and we thought we had lost him that time, but he turned up in the end."

Mr Wild attended St Mary’s preparatory school in Melrose, where he was Dux Boy, before moving to the 5,000-a-term Sedbergh School, in Cumbria, one of the country’s leading boarding schools, where he edited the school newspaper.

His former headmaster, Christopher Hirst, said: "Richard was very much a man for others. He was looking for causes and was an idealist."

He was also head boy, a member of the rugby team and a keen and talented all-round sportsman. After gaining straight As in every one of his academic exams, he went to Jesus College, Cambridge, to study history.

During his gap year. he went to Sandhurst, where he was commissioned as an officer and spent six months as a platoon commander, responsible for 30 soldiers.

It was after a year of postgraduate study in medieval history at Cambridge that Mr Wild first started doing freelance work for Channel Five News, where he was employed as a researcher.

In March this year, he moved to the ITN foreign desk as a "logger", which involved monitoring and cataloguing all the television news footage coming in from the Gulf during the war.

He met Mr Burke at ITN and it was there that his ambition to be involved at the sharp end of television news, as a war correspondent for one of the major networks, began to take shape.

Mr Wild spent 10,000 on a top-quality digital film camera to ensure he could offer the best film and invested several thousands of pounds more in a satellite mobile telephone and computer equipment.

His trip to Iraq was his first expedition abroad as a reporter. He had laughed off Mr Burke’s advice that he should wear body armour and avoid walking alone on the streets, saying: "I always walk around locally".

Mr Wild was keen to use his contacts with ITN and had approached the network’s Baghdad correspondent, Harry Smith, last Thursday with footage of grief-stricken Iraqis who had just lost a loved one in a clash with US forces.

Mr Smith said: "He knew this was a very dangerous place. He just had a thirst to know what the real story was and what was in the minds of the Iraqi people."

At ITN’s offices in London, Stewart Purvis, the chief executive, said: "In the six months that Richard worked at ITN, he was regarded as a dedicated and popular member of the newsroom team, particularly as he tracked all the material coming into ITN during the Iraq war."

Mr Wild had also contacted British newspapers, including The Scotsman, with a view to offering his services as a foreign stringer during his time in Baghdad.

James Hall, The Scotsman’s foreign editor, said: "Richard came to see us before he left for Baghdad and was full of enthusiasm with lots of ideas for stories he wanted to submit to the paper.

"He was looking forward to going to Iraq and I am devastated to hear of his death."