After weeks of negotiation, we are finally driving into Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, past a sign that reads: “Welcome on the Soil of the Residence of the Steadfast.”
Inside the fortified perimeter, there is no sign of The Leader’s fabled female bodyguards, but the secret police are here, in their jeans and untucked shirts.
Now that Libya has thrown off its delinquent status, The Leader is opening up to the western media, starting with us.
We are ushered into his 150-square-metre library. This, we are told, is where the senior ministers gather: there are a dozen leather seats around a
C-shaped desk, squared off by The Leader’s own, much larger desk, at the centre of which is an ivory-coloured button, set in walnut. Is this the nuclear trigger that never was? Or the switch that sends errant cabinet ministers to their deaths in shark-infested waters below?
Even as I am dismissing thoughts of Bond villainy, the walls part. The Leader appears unexpectedly from behind a false bookcase. His goatee is groomed, his beatnik hair tousled. His narrowed eyes sparkle in an otherwise strangely immobile face. It is almost impossible not to think of Michael Jackson.
Gaddafi sits, and the interview begins. He dodges questions about Lockerbie and Libyan compensation for IRA victims. He seems to advocate a nuclear Palestinian state, and thinks Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was premature. The translator tries to say “sycophantic”, but can’t get the word out.
The Leader expresses regret for the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, but cannot finger the killer. He says trade with Britain was booming even when it was sniffed at by the UN. He is an admirer of Churchill and Tony Blair. He clearly understands English, but answers in Arabic.
Our time up, the man once likened to a “mad dog” poses for photographs with the camera crew. He gives a final wave to nobody in particular, the bookcase swings open again, and, in a scene straight from The Mousetrap or Cluedo, the world’s most famous former pariah disappears.
Colin Brazier is a presenter for Sky News