THE Man in the White Suit - former MP and BBC war correspondent Martin Bell - will tell theatre-goers in Newport about his life and new book later this month.

After gaining a first class degree from King's College, Cambridge, Bell's TV career began in 1962.

"I'd just left university and was looking for a job," says Bell. "Reluctantly, the BBC had to expand because of the threat from ITV, so I spent two years on Look East."

From there a chance assignment as a war reporter took his career in a new direction.

He says: "Being a war reporter is just the person who is nearest to Heathrow when the war breaks out, and provided you survive it, you don't argue with the crew or the foreign editor, they'll ask you to do it again." His career on the front line saw him awarded the title of Royal Television Society reporter of the year in 1977 and again in 1993.

He reported on 11 wars including Angola and Vietnam, and was awarded the OBE in 1992.

While delivering a bulletin from Sarajevo, Bell was seriously wounded by shrapnel. Bell's political involvement seemed to come as a surprise to many.

In 1997, he became an independent MP for Tatton, unseating Fleur de Lys-born Tory Neil Hamilton - and many people were surprised at the BBC man making the jump from journalism to politics.

He says: "We don't have much of a tradition for that in this country. In the States it happens all the time, you find former weather men who are now Senators."

His success led to his book An Accidental MP, his white suit also becoming a trademark of his time in politics. And he's expecting questions about it from his audience in Newport. He says: "There's always a white suit question.

"It's not to do with morality but superstition. I had a white suit during the Croatian civil war that happened in the summer of 1991, which is probably the most dangerous war I've ever been in, and I ascribed my survival to the wearing of a white suit.

"We had no body armour, and I wore it again in Bosnia which was almost as dangerous. It keeps me alive in dangerous places.

"The last time I didn't wear one was at Diana's funeral in 1997."

Bell and the Princess spent some time together on an anti-land mine campaign three months before her death. He says: "I was a complete fan of Diana, spoke up for her in the House of Commons when she needed a couple of friends."

After failing to win a parliamentary seat in Essex in 2001, Bell was appointed UNICEF UK ambassador for humanitarian emergencies, travelling to the Afghan border to monitor the refugee situation, and Malawi and Basra in 2003 to report on the post-war reconstruction for the charity. His work for UNICEF has also taken him to Darfur in the Sudan and the tsunami-hit island of Sri Lanka.

And despite failing to win a place in the European parliament last year, he's not done with politics yet.

At the general election, Bell says he is supporting another non-politician - anti-war campaigner Reg Keys - who is standing against Tony Blair in his Sedgefield constituency.

He says: "No one can accuse Reg Keys of being ambitious or a professional politician. He lost one of two sons to a war which Kofi Annan UN general secretary had said was illegal. This is the great thing about democracy; that those who rule us are held to account." Bell says many people are

disillusioned with party politics and believes the war has a lot to do with it. His verdict on the reporting of the Iraq conflict is also none too flattering. He says: "You're not getting any authentic reporting at all from Western journalism. It's so dangerous that the journalists live in a guarded compound in Baghdad. And all they can do is report on pictures from Iraqi television shot by Iraqi cameramen and stand

on a rooftop with a palm tree behind them." His new book is Through Gates of Fire: A Journey into World Disorder. The title is taken from a quote by Kofi Annan who said that we have entered the 21st century "through the gates of fire". l Martin Bell will be at the Riverfront, Newport, on April 22. Tickets are £13.50/£11.50 concessions from the box office on 01633 656 757.