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Lives Less Ordinary


Have you ever locked eyes with a stranger and wondered, "What’s their story?" Step into someone else’s life and expect the unexpected. Extraordinary stories from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Have you ever locked eyes with a stranger and wondered, "What’s their story?" Step into someone else’s life and expect the unexpected. Extraordinary stories from around the world.






BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH


Scams and poetry in Moscow’s underbelly

Eric Ngalle is now a poet and academic in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, but it's his experiences as a people-trafficked teenager that inspire much of his work. When he was 17, he found himself broke and alone in Moscow, freezing cold and unable to speak a word of Russian. To survive, he relied on charity, girlfriends, and a brief stripping career. None of this was enough to buy him a ticket home to Cameroon, so he got involved in a high-risk scam, which targeted some very dangerous people. If you’ve been affected by anything you heard in this interview, support is available through the BBC Action Line website or via Befrienders Worldwide. Presenter: Asya Fouks Producer: Harry Graham Get in touch: WhatsApp +44 330 678 2707


Introducing Amazing Sport Stories

Sport but not as you know it. A brand new sports storytelling podcast. Imagine being stranded in the “death zone” on one of the world’s highest mountains. How about running 200 miles in a dark tunnel? We’ve been searching the world for the most amazing sport stories. Other podcasts bring you the scores and team news. This one tells the stories you’ll wish you’d known about and now probably won’t forget. You don’t need to be obsessed with sport to find yourself immersed in our mini-seasons and short stories. Search for Amazing Sport Stories wherever you get your BBC podcasts. Or find it here:


Unmasking my best friend

Reality TV producer Johnathan Walton found himself in a plot he couldn't have dreamt up. It all started when a woman helped him when he was locked out of his building's swimming pool. She was magnetic and full of fun and soon they became inseparable. But things weren't quite as rosy as they seemed. Four years into their friendship Johnathan started pulling at the edges of her story, it all began to unravel and he'd have to start playing detective in a bid to bring her down. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Edgar Maddicott Editor: Munazza Khan


Becoming Gamal, part 2: Behind the badge

Gamal Turawa has lived many lives - but never fitted in. First as a black British boy adopted into a white family, then hoodwinked by his father and eventually begging on the streets of Lagos - he was always on the margins. As an adult he joined London's Metropolitan Police, but instead of finding a home there, his differences were used to tear him down and humilate him. When Gamal finally hit rock bottom he decided to stop hiding and stand out. Details of organisations offering information and support on a wide range of issues are available at Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producers: Charlie Towler and Harry Graham Editor: Laura Thomas


Becoming Gamal, part 1: Magic and misadventure

Gamal Turawa has lived many lives - but never fitted in As the first openly gay black officer in London's Metropolitan Police, he struggled to find his way while reckoning with his past. Adopted into a white family as a baby, Gamal was hoodwinked by his father as a boy and ended up living as a teenage beggar on the streets of Lagos, until a chance encounter saw him find work as a magician's assistant, hyping up crowds across West Africa. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producers: Charlie Towler and Harry Graham Editor: Laura Thomas


The fisherman and the 'spy whale'

Joar Hesten's mission to save a whale rumoured to have escaped from the Russian navy. Norwegian Joar Hesten was fishing for cod in the Arctic when he came across a beluga whale wearing a harness. He helped to free the animal, but when he took a closer look at the harness he saw that it was labelled ‘Equipment of St Petersburg’. Theories started swirling that this whale had once belonged to the Russian military, and it was nicknamed Hvaldimir, the 'Russian spy whale'. As Hvaldimir's fame grew, Joar became determined to protect him from human contact. Presenter: Emily Webb Producer: Saskia Edwards Photo: Joar with Hvaldimir Credit: Aleksander Nordahl, DN/D2


Brazil's loneliest fan and his footballing fairytale

Tiago Rech went viral when he was the only supporter in the stands at his club's game. In 2012 Tiago Rech was the only fan at a big away match for his beloved football team Santa Cruz FC. When they scored, his timid, lone celebration was caught by TV cameras and went viral. All this attention earned him a role with the club, where full of ideas and enthusiasm, he made his way to the very top, to his dream job of club President. But there would be a sting in this fairytale. Produced and presented by Andrea Kennedy Editor: Munazza Khan Clips courtesy of Federação Gaúcha de Futebol and Canal Duda Garbi.


Love, Loss and 'Project 22'

Fleur Pierets and Julian Boom wanted to wed in every country that allowed gay marriage. After falling in love at first sight, the artist couple planned to make a statement to the world. So in 2017, they embarked on ‘Project 22’ - a performance art piece in which they would marry in all 22 countries where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. But four weddings later, their trip would be tragically cut short. Fleur has written a memoir about her experience, called Julian. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producers: Olivia Lynch-Kelly and Zoe Gelber Editor: Munazza Khan


38 days: a family adrift in the Pacific

The Robertsons' boat was attacked by killer whales and started to sink fast Douglas was 16 years old when his parents sold the family farm in England and took him and his three siblings on a sailing trip around the world. It was the adventure of a lifetime. But in 1972 while en route to New Zealand, their yacht was hit by a pod of orcas and they started to sink fast. Weeks from safety and with no way to send for help, Douglas and his family would have to try and find a way to survive. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: May Cameron Editor: Andrea Kennedy Sound design: Joel Cox


"My friends were arrested, or simply disappeared"

Tahir Izgil is one of the most highly respected living Uyghur poets. Tahir was born near Kashgar, in Xinjiang province, and from an early age he was immersed in the poetry of his culture. When the Chinese state clamped down on the Uyghur community, he lived under constant threat of arrest, and says he couldn’t even perform his poems. So he decided to try and escape his homeland. Tahir has a memoir out about his experiences called Waiting to Be Arrested at Night, translated by Joshua Freeman. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Harry Graham Editor: Andrea Kennedy


Bringing home the prime minister’s gold tooth

Juliana Lumumba had to fight to reclaim the remains of her father, Patrice Lumumba. He'd been the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo and an anti-colonial hero. He was assassinated in 1961 when Juliana was five years old, and no trace of his body was found. So when it emerged 60 years later that one of his gold teeth was in Belgium, Juliana yearned to bring it home. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Rob Wilson Editor: Munazza Khan


The Godmother of Beirut's nightlife

Under the boot of the Syrian army, Nicole Moudaber brought raves to Lebanon. After sampling the delights of dance music whilst studying abroad in the nineties, Nicole made it her goal to bring this new sound to a divided and conservative society. She faced opposition from her family and the regime, but when scandal hit she decided to turn the tables...herself. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Edgar Maddicott and Harry Graham Editor: Munazza Khan (Photo: Nicole Moudaber. Credit: Stuart Tracte)


Dancing in the womb

A mother, a son, and the discovery of a shared dream. Latifa Khamessi and her son Mohamed Toukabri from Tunisia were inseparable until aged 15 when he left for Europe to study dance. It was gut-wrenching to be apart, but an opportunity he couldn't turn down. It wasn't until years later that Mohamed discovered his mother had had the same dream as a girl, but had been forbidden from pursuing it. Separated by a sea and oceans of time Mohamed then hatched a plan to reunite with his mother, now in her sixties, and unite their dreams. The Power (of) the Fragile was performed at The Shubbak Festival in London. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Helen Fitzhenry Editor: Rebecca Vincent Voice over by Mounira Chaieb


The invisible child who now shines at Eurovision, part 2

From the page to the stage: William turns childhood fantasies into reality. In London, William Lee Adams is feeling disillusioned with his job, when a Romanian singer on a horse appears on his computer screen and he's inspired to start writing about the Eurovision Song Contest. Wiwibloggs is born, and grows to be the world's most-followed independent blog and video channel about Eurovision. In the process, he gets to visit some of the far-flung places he escaped to as a child in the US reading encyclopaedias. William has written a memoir called Wild Dances: My Queer and Curious Journey to Eurovision. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Rob Wilson


The invisible child who now shines at Eurovision, part 1

A bond between brothers, a coming-out story, and an international song contest. William Lee Adams is one of the leading voices covering the Eurovision Song Contest, criss-crossing the continent to interview stars and live-stream shows. But as a child growing up in small-town America, he was made to feel invisible; encouraged to suppress his Vietnamese heritage and questions about his sexuality. He found solace in caring for his brother, John, who had severe physical disabilities due to a brain condition. Even so, he needed an escape route. William has written a memoir called Wild Dances: My Queer and Curious Journey to Eurovision. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Rob Wilson


Miracle on the ocean floor

Harrison Okene spent three days trapped in an air pocket in a sunken ship. Harrison was the ship's cook, and he'd been in the bathroom when the tugboat he worked on had suddenly capsized in bad weather. The vessel sank 30 metres to the seabed, upside down, and Harrison was trapped inside. Days passed, and up on the surface a mission was launched to recover the bodies of the tugboat's crew. Divers descended, but they never expected to find anyone alive. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Eric Mugaju and Harry Graham Editor: Munazza Khan Sound design: Joel Cox Archive was courtesy of DNC Diving


Indiana Jones: The kids who remade a blockbuster

In 1982, two Mississippi boys recreated a $22m film, shot-for-shot, on their pocket money. Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala were aged 10 and 11. Their mission would take them seven years to complete, and it would push their friendship to the edge. There’d be amateur stunts, fires, visits to the emergency ward, production shut down by angry parents and many fallouts. It would swallow them whole. But decades later a lost tape would be unearthed, bringing Eric and Chris back together for their final scene and face-to-face with one of their heroes. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Edgar Maddicott Editor: Munazza Khan


The woman who fell from the sky, part 2

How a jump changed daring parachutist Tony Osornio's life forever. Tony was Mexico's best precision skydiver and the first woman to join her country's army. She says she "belonged to the skies", and became a member of an elite team of performance skydivers called the Crazy Birds. She was prepared to sacrifice everything for her love of parachuting - until a jump went badly wrong. If you need support relating to any of the issues we've covered in this interview, you can find more information on the BBC Action line website or at Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Louise Morris


The woman who fell from the sky, part 1

Tony Osornio would go to dangerous extremes to keep skydiving. She was born into a conservative family, and decided to marry the first man who asked in order to escape the restrictions of home. Her husband was a Mexican military officer with access to the planes used by elite paratroopers. With his help, Tony would sneak on board too, parachute strapped to her back. In love with jumping, she decided she needed to join the Mexican army herself, something no woman had done before. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Louise Morris The audio has been updated since first published for technical reasons


Bradford 12: The Asian youth who took on the racists, part 2

By 1981, Pakistani-born immigrant Tariq Mehmood had endured years of violent racism in Britain. When he heard that gangs of white skinheads – with a history of attacking Asians – were coming to his home in Bradford, Tariq and his neighbours took desperate measures to defend their community. Underpinning their actions was the principle, “self-defence is no offence.” Tariq would end up being arrested, charged with conspiracy to make explosives, and facing life imprisonment. What followed was the landmark legal case of the Bradford 12. Hand on the Sun, the novel that Tariq wrote in prison over 40 years ago, has been re-released with a new update. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producers: Maryam Maruf and Lina Chang Editor: Munazza Khan