Nick Hewer: Countdown to Freetown



Countdown host and seasoned

businessman Nick Hewer

is a man on an unusual mission.

It's a bloody Dakar Rally, this is,

with a trailer!

You've sheared the bolt off.

He's driving nearly 5,000 miles

from England to Africa...

Oh, Christ.

..towing a half-tonne circular saw.

What have I forgot?

Did I pack my passport?

Do I have enough wet wipes?

Where most of us pick up credit

cards when we want to give money to


he's doing something more direct.

I'm going to select one person

and make a difference.

Of course I could have sent a cheque!

Nick's giving the saw to a street

kid in Sierra Leone who

he met for just ten

minutes two years ago.

Only involved in one crime.

Nick saw potential in young

carpenter James and wants

to set him up in business,

employing others.

It's better for me to be a person on

my own.

But James doesn't even know

he's coming.

He may run away in terror.

I don't know.

And the war-ravaged country presents

a unique business environment.

In England, this is the way we do it.

Nick doesn't understand

business in Sierra Leone.

I think we've been

taken for a fabulous ride.

The capital city, Freetown...

What are you doing?

Can you believe it?

..can be overwhelming.

It's impossible!

This guy has no brakes on his lorry.

Are you OK, James?

I'm not so OK.

So, will Nick's

way of doing charity work?

That will fall off.

Can Nick and his saw turn

a street kid into a businessman...

Are you in charge? Go. one of the toughest

places on earth?

We brought you a little present.

Incredible. Just crazy!

Nick is starting his adventure

by seeking some advice.

As he heads to work in Freetown,

James has no idea of Nick's plan.

He's been taught some carpentry

skills by a charity,

of which Nick is a patron,

but scrapes by on 1 a day.

Nick hopes to change that.

With departure imminent,

he meets a friend at his club,

ex-High Commissioner

and old Africa hand Peter Longworth.

The thing is, Peter,

you know the story.

I was down in Sierra Leone two years

ago for the charity

Hope and Homes for Children,

making some little films there,

and I met when I was down there

this young kid called James.

We trained him as a carpenter

but he also had his own little

workshop round the back.

I thought, "This is

an entrepreneurial sort of kid."

He said he really wanted to

start his own thing.

So I thought what I'll do is

drive down to Sierra Leone,

but I thought it'd be good, actually,

to drag down a big industrial saw

about the size of this table

and a big generator.

What's going to make Africa rich

isn't so much the minerals,

but it's the sort of entrepreneurial

genius of the people.

These are the people

who are going to create jobs.

And where you're going, Freetown,

they desperately need jobs.

What are you actually visually

going to look like

when you're on the roads?

Some gigantic diabolical

machine on the trailer which will

inevitably look interesting to

the guys on the road.

It's a juicy ten-metre load.

That's what it is.

Are you actually going to get

something of this size

along the roads that you propose to

travel on?

Of course, it all looks

marvellous on a map, doesn't it?

Nick is using his holiday time to

drive nearly 5,000 miles...

..from England down the length

of France, then over to Morocco by

sea and across the sands of Western

Sahara - if conditions permit.

Then, he'll continue south through

Mauritania, tropical Senegal

and the red dust roads of Guinea.

Finally, Sierra Leone

and its capital, Freetown.

I don't know

whether I've done the right thing.

I suddenly think, "Blimey, it's one

thing to drive through Europe,

"it's quite another thing to actually

cross into sub-Saharan Africa."

First stop, to gather supplies -

Nick's house in southern France

where his cousin, Stephen,

is a neighbour.

What's all this stuff here, Nick?

That's a generator,

a 26 kVA generator,

and that's a bit beaten up,

but it works, it's been tested...

But does it work?

Along with the giant generator

to provide power,

Nick has managed to source

the Rolls-Royce of circular saws.

It's perfect for ripping through

tough African hardwood.

This weighs just over half a tonne.

And he doesn't know at all

that you're coming?

No, he has no idea and I think that's

part of the joy of it.

That'll be fantastic.

Give him a shock.

Brilliant, brilliant.

Nick has also been given a new

Land Cruiser that he will leave

with the charity.

I like these long-distance journeys.

I thought if I could get somebody

to stump up for a big 4x4,

I'll drag a big wood saw down,

so it's taken two years

and then I bought the trailer

and I bought the generator.

I checked up on the kid,

I wanted to make sure that before

I embarked on this little adventure,

he wasn't banged up in some

prison in Freetown or had been

hit on the head with a hammer or

something and I discovered that

he was trudging around looking for

work with his stuff on his head.

There he was, knocking on doors

and, um... I'm going to tap him

on the shoulder

and say, "Cooey! Remember me?

"Look what I've got for you."

He may run away with terror,

I don't know.

Be careful and don't get kidnapped.

- Don't worry, people are

nice wherever you go.

- I know that.

- That's the great lesson, Stephen.

- I know, I agree with you -

they can be nice, as they cut your

tongue out.


Now, I wonder whether we've

bitten off more than we can chew.

Let's hope not, anyway,

it's a bold enterprise.

For about half an hour,

I've been thinking,

"Now, what have I forgotten?

"What have I left behind?

"Where's my wallet?

"Did I pack my passport?

"Do I have enough wet wipes?"

Without any fuss from any customs,

we have entered Spain.

A 24-hour crossing puts

Nick on the African continent.

With few tourists

in Sierra Leone, James will need

to make what the locals buy.

Nick wants to research

what that could be en route.

I have a young carpenter.

I need to take something to him

and say, "Is possible for you

"to make something like this?"

Yes, of course, yes. Here,

to the right side, two minutes.

A Moroccan two minutes?!

Here is the wood.

Is very beautiful,

but very intricate.

I'm looking for something that is

very simple.

Very simple.

Nick wants more basic items that

James could actually copy.

I feel a bit queasy.

I'm with meat quarter.

At nearly 70, and his African

adventure barely begun,

Nick keeps regular contact

with his family.

I like to ring home

and see what's going on

and speak to the beloved.

Got to keep in touch with

the beloved.

You've only got a short

span of time on this planet.

Anybody with an ounce of curiosity

should be out seeing what

the world's got to offer.

A lot of people would say, of course,

"What on earth are you doing?

"Why can't you cut the grass

just like every normal person?"

In Marrakesh, Nick spots something

more suitable for James.

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Luke Campbell

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "Nick Hewer: Countdown to Freetown" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 12 Jul 2024. <>.

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