HAVING grown up in quiet West Somerset, Tom Rayner has gone on to become one of Britain’s most prominent TV reporters.

His outstanding A level results saw him land a place at Oxford University where he studied History, becoming heavily involved in one of the student papers, and decided journalism was where his passion lay.

After landing a scholarship with News International, Tom undertook intern placements at the Sunday Times, Channel 4 News and his eventual long-term home, Sky News.

He undertook a Television Journalism course at City University and followed that up with freelance work on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, before landing a permanent job at Sky News in 2007.

“Initially I was a producer on the evening news bulletins, before becoming specialist Home Affairs producer, responsible for coordinating our coverage of major terrorism court cases, immigration, policing and crime,” Tom says.

“I worked in that role for around four years, and then started to work in a number of other areas - producing documentaries on the benefits system in Wales, the Greek economic crisis from Athens, and cuts to the army budget from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.”

In 2011 when the Arab uprisings occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya Tom became a field news producer.

He was in Cairo when the Tahrir Square demonstrations led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, in Benghazi shortly after Gaddafi’s forces were forced out of the city and in Tripoli during the NATO airstrikes.

Tom continued to cover the unfolding situation in Libya for several months and was in Gaddafi’s compound on the day the rebels finally forced him from the capital.

In the following years he became South East Asia correspondent and has recently returned to Westminster as one of Sky News’s political correspondents.

So how does one go about covering a region like the Middle East where you have to overcome language barriers and culture differences to produce reports?

“The whole point is to leave your life in the UK behind and immerse yourself in that new place,” Tom explains.

“The job is to make sure you understand the region you are covering and get under its skin, so you have to be in listening mode and absorb as much as you can - that’s the only way you can start offering insight and value to viewers back home.

“I learnt a little colloquial Arabic in Jerusalem, but I was never particularly good at it. I’m afraid to say my grasp of the Thai language never really extended beyond what was needed for general pleasantries.

“Ultimately, when you are based abroad and covering foreign news you are very dependent on the local producers, translators and fixers that work alongside you - they are the unsung heroes of news, and we owe them a lot for their bravery and commitment.”

Sadly, Tom has experienced at first hand the dangers of reporting from unstable and violent environments.

“Mick Deane, television news veteran who had worked around the globe for decades, was the cameraman with me in Jerusalem. He was shot and killed by an Egyptian army sniper while we were covering the Rabaa massacre in Cairo on August 14, 2013,” Tom said.

“Mick’s death was impossibly hard to take personally, and utterly devastating for his family and everyone who knew him.

“There’s no doubt moments like that make you question whether it can ever be worth taking those risks.

“In the end, no story is worth dying for. But that day the Egyptian authorities slaughtered around a thousand of their own citizens.

“The world needed to know what happened.

“That’s why journalists have to take calculated risks but they are never taken lightly, and from my experience Sky News takes the safety of its teams extremely seriously.

“Even when you take all the steps you can to minimise risks, some things are out of your control.

“I’ve been in a number of situations that were too close for comfort. From being in a building that was hit by an Israeli airstrike during the 2012 war in Gaza, to being caught in crossfire and scarred by shrapnel in Libya, or being in Aleppo in Syria when the kidnap threat posed by ISIS was at its height, there have been many instances that when you look back could easily have ended very differently.”

Tom’s career has meant he has spoken to political heavyweights and world leaders, but he says one of his most memorable interviews was with an interviewee who said very little.

“It was in 2014, and Abu Qatada, the radical cleric sometimes referred to as ‘Osama Bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe’, had just been released from prison in Jordan,” he says.

“A year earlier he had been deported from the UK after a long running legal battle with the Government.

“We went to try and speak to him the night of his release at his family home on the outskirts of Amman.

“It was a humid September evening during Ramadan, and he was breaking the fast in his small garden with family and a number of other people who had gathered to celebrate his release.

“Against all my expectations, we were welcomed in and treated graciously.

“We were not allowed to bring our camera with us, so all we could do was snatch a photo with an iphone and jot down whatever he said.

“This was the man who the UK government had deemed one of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous radical preachers. And yet there he was, eating dates and sipping sweet tea, and we were in his garden.

“I had a flood of questions I had wanted to ask. In the end he simply said ‘I have forgotten all about Britain’, and turned to speak to a family member.

“It was disappointing he didn’t say more, and it barely generated more than a brief headline, but I’ll never forget it.”