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February 18, 2011 10:25 pm
Clive Stafford Smith, 51, founded in 1999 the charity Reprieve, which uses the law to enforce prisoners’ human rights. He oversees the organisation’s casework programme and the direct representation of prisoners on death row. He was awarded an OBE in 2000 and the Gandhi International Peace Award in 2005.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be a journalist. Then I discovered that people on death row had no right to a lawyer, so I thought I’d better go to law school and sink even lower in the public estimation.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Radley College; I disapprove of public schools but I enjoyed it. I went to the University of North Carolina and that was a great experience. I thought it would be by the beach; it was a huge surprise to find I was further from the sea than I’d ever been.
Who is your mentor?
Millard Farmer, the capital defence lawyer who set up Team Defense in Atlanta, Georgia. Millard has spent his life doing the right thing.
How physically fit are you?
Sadly, my days as an opening bowler have passed. I’m now on the long downhill slope to decrepitude.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Passion is all that matters.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Yes. But I’m not saying any more …
How politically committed are you?
Everything is political, even art. The most valuable works are those that help others. The one exception is Abba’s Dancing Queen.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Yes. It’s the obsession of the moment and an important one.
Do you have more than one home?
No. And people shouldn’t. Second homes should be taxed at a phenomenally high rate.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I can’t think of anything.
In what place are you happiest?
At home with my wife and my little boy, writing a rubbish book, which is what I’m doing at the moment.
What ambitions do you still have?
To carry on doing what I’m doing.
What drives you on?
I don’t know why one needs to be driven on. People like me are characterised as do-gooders and I have no qualms about that; it’s better than being a do-badder. But the idea that it’s all sackcloth and ashes is rubbish.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
The most life-affirming experience I’ve ever had was the execution of Larry Lonchar in Georgia in 1996. It’s not an achievement, but I had spent eight years being his friend. At the end, before they killed him, he said I was the only friend he’d ever had. On an entirely different level, having my wife Emily and my little boy, Wilfred.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I have a fantastic inability to remember anything bad, which I inherited from my mother.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
Thank God you finally had a haircut and got rid of those awful shorts. He would also say: “How on earth did you muddle your way along into such a happy life?”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I don’t have any material things so I wouldn’t care.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Only if the person is terminally ill or in constant pain. Otherwise, the desire for suicide is rooted in the failure of the people around you to support you in living a happy life.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I have no idea and no interest in knowing – I’m certainly not going to run my life as a mortgage against a future benefit.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
9.99. I’ve been very fortunate.
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