Whitby UN chief who took Princess Diana through the minefields of Angola speaks of new landmine documentary

Princess Diana and Paul Heslop in the minefields of Angola in 1997.
Princess Diana and Paul Heslop in the minefields of Angola in 1997.

A “local lad” who happens to be the boss of a major humanitarian programme has taken part in a documentary to promote the work currently carried out to clear explosive hazards in Iraq.

Paul Heslop, originally from Goathland, is the Chief of Programmes at the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).

Paul Heslop during a trip to Lebanon in 2018.

Paul Heslop during a trip to Lebanon in 2018.

The 49-year-old, who went to Eskdale and Whitby schools, has spent the past 25 years clearing landmines from war-torn countries.

“I was in Mozambique when the peace deal was signed in 1994, Angola when the peace deal broke down in 97, I was in Kosovo just after the bombing,” he recalled.

"I've been to some incredible places and seen the most amazing things working with incredibly brave people."

However, what he defines as his “claim to fame” was taking Princess Diana through the minefields of Angola in 1997 as part of his work for The HALO Trust.

The Iraqi city of Mosul in 2018.

The Iraqi city of Mosul in 2018.

“There I was with the most famous woman in the world,” he said, “and if something had gone wrong I would have been the most famous person in the world for the wrong reason.

“She was very engaged, very interested and for us it was a great way to highlight and raise the profile of the work we were doing.

"Diana’s picture with the HALO body amour is iconic of the 20th century and the publicity that we got from it has been amazing.”

Since the day he met Diana more than 20 years ago, Paul recognises that a lot of good work has been done.

The Ottawa treaty, banning the use and production of landmines, was signed just months after the Princess’ visit and the number of casualties from landmines has since significantly dropped. However, the campaign to make war-torn countries safer is far from over.

“Landmines are still an important issue,” he added, “but perhaps what’s even a bigger issue now are improvised explosive devices.

“I’ve been to Mosul [in Iraq] just after it’d been liberated from ISIS and the devastation that I saw was unbelievable.

“They were using explosive devices, human shields with suicide vests on, they were fighting to the death and the teams that are there now are having to clear booby trapped buildings, explosive remains and bodies that have been booby trapped.

"It's all really horrible and in countries like Yemen and Syria there's still being blown up every day."

The UN’s documentary, released for International Mine Awareness Day (April 4), gives an insight into the clearance operation designed to allow millions of dispersed families to return to their homes.

It can be seen HERE