Yorkshire farewell to Mandela takes me back two decades

The choir at Leeds Minster set the tone as Yorkshire folk made their farewells to Nelson Mandela with an upbeat anthem delivered in typical South African style.

It took me back 20 years to a very different congregation singing their hearts out in celebration on the edge of Soweto in 1993.

I had been dispatched to film a series of reports for the BBC's Business Breakfast programme on the economic prospects for South Africa under what was expected to be an ANC-led government after the country's first free elections planned for the following year.

We had been told that Nelson Mandela was going to be at an event being held at a miners' welfare centre in the township and if my camera crew turned up we could film his speech and we might manage to get a few words with him.

It was my first trip to South Africa but experienced reporting hands had warned me that most maps of Soweto were really just approximations and the apartheid government had not provided its million or so inhabitants with many luxuries - including street signs.

You can guess the rest.

Embarrassed reporter

My team got hopelessly lost and by the time we literally burst through the back doors of the packed assembly hall the great man uttered the last few words of his speech; the whole audience exploded with cheers and applause and the choir struck up its celebratory anthem to close the event.

As the last notes of the song echoed round the room he stood up. We assumed he was about to leave and I started rehearsing the humiliating telephone call back to my editor: "Yes, I know we came 6,000 miles but the last five were a bit difficult."

In the middle of all this one of Nelson Mandela's aides spotted a red-faced, anxious looking white reporter with an equally worried camera crew struggling to plug in the kit and get at least a few seconds of pictures. Frankly, by that stage, anything would do.

Instead, Nelson Mandela called for silence and my ears could not believe what he then said.

"And another thing comrades..."

With a twinkle in his eye the man who had only recently set the entire world alight with what he was later to call his "long walk to freedom" gave an impromptu extra five minute speech specially for me.

Ten minutes later we were standing by his waiting car surrounded by very suspicious security guards as he walked out of the building and gave me a 10-minute interview.

I have absolutely no idea what I asked.