Have you ever wondered who’d play you in a film? I had, occasionally, until the day I got the answer. In spring 2018, a message pinged on to my phone via Facebook from a journalist friend. “So this is a bit weird,” it read. “A sister of a friend is playing you in a movie, apparently. You aware of this?” I wasn’t.
“Hanako Footman is playing you in the film Official Secrets. She wants to meet you, like actors do. She saw we were pals and asked if I’d ask you. What did you do in that story?”
“That story” concerns British whistleblower Katharine Gun, played by Keira Knightley in a film that premiered at Sundance festival in January. Fluent in Mandarin, the 28-year-old Gun was employed as a translator at GCHQ in Cheltenham. In 2003, she leaked a top-secret memo to the Observer about an illegal spying operation ordered by the US National Security Agency. It intended to bug the phones and emails of six United Nations delegates, from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan – nations that could determine whether the UN approved the invasion of Iraq.
The memo, which outraged Gun, ordered staff to increase surveillance operations “particularly directed at… UN Security Council members (minus US and GBR, of course)” to provide real-time intelligence for Bush officials on voting intentions.
The film dramatises a monumental mess-up on my behalf – the biggest mistake of my career
I was working at the Observer at the time. And, although I was just a bit-player in the story, the film dramatises a monumental mess-up on my behalf – the biggest mistake of my career.