James Blunt, a British pop singer best known for his song “Your Beautiful”, is an unlikely candidate for savior of the world. But, by all accounts, he played a key role in preventing a skirmish between British and Russian troops at Pristina Airport in Kosovo.
If you know your Kosovo history, then you’ll probably have heard that Russian paratroopers beat the British to Pristina Airport and under pressure US General Wesley Clark reportedly told the advancing British troops to secure the airport at all costs – even if it meant using force to push the Russians out. British General Mike Jackson, being an all round good sort (probably a top notch cricketer) had his head screwed on, though, and wasn’t having any of it. Although subordinate to Clark, Jackson disobeyed his direct order, and told the advancing British troops not to engage the Russian soldiers, reportedly telling Clark over the radio “I won’t start World War 3 for you”.
It’s well known that Blunt was an officer in the British Household Cavalry, and that he served in Kosovo, but until now there hasn’t been any indication of his role in events at Pristina airport. Sadly, the headlines, which even in the BBC screech out about how “Singer James Blunt Prevented World War III”, don’t quite live up to their promise. Yes, Blunt was commanding the British troops on the ground advancing on Pristina Airport and, yes, he was baffled by Clark’s order to take the airport at all costs…
“The soldiers directly behind me were from the Parachute Regiment, so they’re obviously game for the fight.
“The direct command [that] came in from Gen Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as ‘destroy’ came down the radio.”
But what did James Blunt actually do? Well, um, not quite sure really. All he says in the BBC interview was that he “party to the conversation” between Clark and Jackson.
Did anyone mention that Blunt has a new album out?
*By the way, although I’ve heard that some US Generals and the US Senate were pretty pissed at Jackson’s insubordination, as far as I know Wesley Clark has never spoken publicly about the incident. If anyone knows any different, I’d really love to hear.
On a related matter, you might want to read Tim Newman’s report of a conversation with one of the Russian Paratroopers at Pristina Airport
I must live under a rock, but I’d never heard James Blunt was a soldier in the British Army. In fact, owing to people’s accent being minimized or non-existent when singing (I saw a performance in the Salamander in Vladivostok a few years ago in which the Russian band performed Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Goin’ On”, and if you closed your eyes you’d never know the singer wasn’t a native English speaker), I didn’t even know he was British.
The Russian Army is still largely composed of conscripts, but most officers (maybe all, I’m not sure) are career soldiers. While it’s true the Army in many countries attracts a few people who joined just for the chance to become involved in violent confrontations, it’s also likely the officer commanding the Russian Paras was ordered not to give ground. Pretty dramatic, though. Pushkin would have been proud.
I think this was a huge skeleton in Wesley Clarke’s closet when he ran for the Democrat candidacy against John Kerry. Had he been successful and run for president against Bush, this would have come out for sure.
And I’d completely forgotten I’d reproduced that conversation. I’m still good mates with Timur, the ex-para in question. Last I heard from him was a few weeks back when he was wondering if I knew anybody who had $12m spare to buy some oil tankers for some offshore refuelling scheme, and if not would I know anyone who wanted to invest in another project of his: a waterpark in Mauritius. Incidentally, he wasn’t a conscript as such. He was required to do his national service upon becoming a Russian citizen (he was formerly Kazakh, with an Uzbek father and Russian mother), but asked if he could do something better than pick cabbages and do slave-labour building works for 2 years. They offered him the paras and pay, but he’d have to do 3 years and likely fight. He did 5 years in all, but he is still visible traumatised from his 2 tours of Chechnya (which he refuses to talk about). He will talk about Kosovo, and that is harrowing enough.
Fascinating post. Actually, the real danger in all of this is that Blunt played a few shows with a couple of wacky lounge-pop singers named Dicey and Paprika. Talk about loose cannons! Check THIS out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um6q_j40Pl0