19 Things you Didn’t Know about Ian Skellern: James Bond, Austin Powers, or Walter Mitty? Tall Tales or True? A Christmas Conundrum

At Dubai Watch Week 2023, I was passing Time & Tide founder Andrew McUtchen and he dropped a quick remark that stuck with me, “I was talking to somebody who said you had an interesting life.”

James Bond or Austin Powers?

While I can neither confirm nor deny that the information below can now be shared publically due to the expiration of Official Secrets Act restrictions, I can confirm that I may have just said that as a cunning ruse.

May you live in interesting times

The 19 statements below are either All True or All False.

I’ve tried to include a bit of detail here and there to make the stories seem more realistic, but whether that detail comes from my memory, or my imagination, is for you to decide.

Remember: These statements are either All True or All False.

1. I have never worked for any government or private enterprise related to security, espionage, or military affairs.

2. I have never had any training (formal or otherwise) in weapons and/or explosives.

3. I have made and implemented explosives wired to car ignitions and they have successfully gone off. ‘Successfully’ for me anyway, the recipients of my gifts might have used different terminology (assuming they could).

4. While driving a Russian Lada crossing the border from France to Geneva during the 1985 Geneva Summit between then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, I was stopped and searched by customs officials who were surprised to find a concealed sawn-off shotgun in the car. Unsurprisingly, they took me off for a chat.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps

5. I was detained and interrogated in Western Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards during the country’s war with Iraq (1980-1988) as a suspected spy.

After many hours of questioning, which I thought had gone well under the circumstances, one of my interrogators thought that he had caught me out in a lie . . . and then things got a bit tricky.



6. On another visit to Iran, I was making a camp in the desert in Eastern Iran, not far from the Pakistan border, if what I thought was a concealed location, when a truckload of soldiers in a truck swooped down from the hills and surrounded my campsite.

A discussion with the commanding officer got heated when he insisted that I accompany the soldiers to their base, and I refused.

I remonstrated with him that unless his adjunct planned to shoot me with his assault weapon just because I was arguing with him, I’d appreciate it if he stopped aiming his gun at me in a threatening manner.

The officer smiled, told the soldier to lower his weapon, and said to me dryly, “If I wanted to kill you, I’d do it myself.” And to drive home his point, he calmly unholstered his pistol, put it to my forehead, and pulled the trigger.

7. I was about to board a plane at Belgrade (then Yugoslavia) airport when I was detained by guards when their baggage scanner revealed a pistol in my carry-on luggage.

8. On another occasion, I was detained by customs officials at Gatwick airport when their baggage scanner revealed an explosive device in my carry-on luggage. I refused to open the container the explosive device was packed in and was released with all my baggage (including the explosive device).

It’s not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the end!

9. While skydiving out of a plane in the USA, I was a little disappointed when my main parachute did not open correctly, but quickly became a tad more concerned when my reserve parachute also did not open.

At the speed I was falling, I had around 8 seconds before ‘bouncing’ (the skydiver’s term for fatally hitting the ground.)

10. After crossing the border from the Central African Republic to then Zaire (now the DRC/Democratic Republic of the Congo) on a small barge over the Ubangui River, I was doing some shopping at a supermarket in the town of Gbadolite. Gbadolite was the ancestral home and residence (he had two palaces there) of the then-Zairian dictator (1965 -1997) Mobutu.

I was surprised when a jeep full of soldiers pulled up outside the supermarket, came in and asked around for me by name, and then invited me to a dinner and party at the palace that night that the kleptocratic dictator was hosting for family and friends. I declined the invitation with the excuse that I had nothing suitable to wear, but that wasn’t the real reason I did not wish to attend.



11. I have 11 passports, but only regularly use two of them.

12. While driving a Swiss bus along a rough dirt track in an Administered Tribal Area of North West Pakistan with little government control or judicial system (a Taliban hotspot), I was chased and shot at for many hours by two men with a rifle on a motorcycle.  As they couldn’t catch me, they stopped and radioed ahead. I was then detained by a barrier across the road (set up especially for me) in a remote village.

When the two men caught up a couple of hours later, the head of the village held a trial and acted as judge and jury. While the ‘judge’ seemed fair, he made it clear that as an infidel, my testimony would not count if/where it differed from my two Muslim accusers who told him that I’d tried to kill them.

In my defense, I said that if I’d really tried to kill them then they would be dead, and the ‘judge’ appeared to agree with me. However, the ‘trial’ then took an unexpected turn for the worse when one of my accusers told the ‘judge’ that the young blonde woman who was with me was doing something she shouldn’t be doing  – shame on you, it wasn’t what you might be thinking, but in my situation, it was much worse. Especially as nothing I said in my defence would be believed.

13. After crossing the border from Peru into Southern Colombia, I went to the tourist office in Ipiales to get local maps. The woman behind the counter asked if I was Ian Skellern, which surprised me. She then told me that the general in charge of a large military base on the outskirts of town wanted to see me and would send a car (it was a military jeep.)

The general asked me to drive a truck with 20 tourists along a remote mountain road to act as bait for a group of terrorists (thought to be FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) who had recently held up a local bus on the same route and shot and killed all of the tourists onboard.

My advice to visitors to Colombia is to avoid being ambushed by FARC rebels

I (naturally) agreed to drive the bait truck  – what could possibly go wrong? – and while the first half of the drive was uneventful, it looked as though things would take a turn for the worse when I rounded a tight corner and saw what looked like a textbook ambush trap: a truck with a covered back and its engine cover open stopped across the track on a hairpin bend.

Scotty beam me up!

14. Shortly after arriving in Burundi, east Africa in 1987, I received a message that the British Foreign Office wanted a situation update of the military coup taking place in the country. I suspect my concise eight-word report disappointed them.

15. When in a truck entering (then) West Germany from (then) Czechoslovakia, German customs officers scanned both the truck and me with Geiger counters The readings registered far above normal, but luckily not dangerous, levels of radiation.

I’d recommend a longer fuse

16. While in the Bolivian city of Potosi, I took the opportunity to visit a rough-and-ready, no-questions-asked market specializing in supplies for artisanal silver miners (no easy job at the best of times, but even worse at over 4,000 meters/13,000 feet). There I filled a box with sticks of dynamite, fuses, and detonators, and left town.

And I had no intention of doing any mining with my haul.



17. Whenever visiting the USA I have to lie on my visa application form. I’m not obliged to lie, but I suspect I’d have a lot more problems in getting my visa approved if I was entirely truthful. And for any US Homeland Security officers reading this, I’m only joking.

18. After entering Russia (then the USSR) from Finland, I arrived in then Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) around lunchtime. After ditching my government-appointed minder, I drove around town in a large bus, methodically committing three crimes.

I thought all had gone well, but later that evening, two armed Russian policemen came asking for me and escorted me to the back of their car that was parked in a very dark area. They then opened the boot/truck and nudged me towards it.

I considered running to the nearby forest, on the (perhaps naïve) assumption that it would be difficult to hit a desperately running man in the dark, but decided against it as I had no local contacts or any equipment suppliers to evade capture for long.

Who wouldn’t be curious to learn what could be done with all of this technology?

19. After boarding an operational US battleship on a tour of the Pacific Ocean, I was apprehended and interrogated after being caught operating a computer system that controlled the security system in an off-limits secure communications room. They were particularly upset as the room also contained computers with the positions of all the American ballistic missile submarines worldwide.

– – – – – – – – – –

So are the stories above True or False? Either way, whether fact or fiction, I hope you find these anecdotes interesting.

Your Christmas Conundrum – Should you choose to accept it

Remember the conundrum though: if you think all the statements are true, then that means both that
1. I have never worked for any government or private enterprise related to security, espionage, or military affairs.
2. I have never had any training (formal or otherwise) in weapons or explosives.

How do you square that with what I’ve purported to have done?

If you think all the statements are false, then that implies that 1. I did work for a government or private enterprise related to security, espionage, or military affairs, and 2. I had training (formal or otherwise) in weapons and/or explosives.

If I did both of those, then surely my statements would be more likely to be true rather than false. How do you square that circle?

I told you it was a conundrum.

Of course, it’s also possible that all the statements are true and that there’s a perfectly banal explanation for everything. Unlikely perhaps, but certainly possible.

I wish you all a very Merry (and safe) Christmas. I highly recommend staying out of trouble, that’s always worked for me 😉

You might also enjoy:

10 Things You Don’t Know About Tim Mosso

Watch Goes Up Must Come Down: An Industry Insider’s Top Secret Report . . . Or Is It? Warning: You May Laugh Out Loud

So, You Want to Buy a Rolex? Well, Daddy-O, I’m here to Talk you Out of It!

2 replies
  1. Carol Galiano-Iten
    Carol Galiano-Iten says:

    As I have heard several of these stories from you first hand, I would venture to say that they are all true! I would like to know, however, how you saved your own life in 8 seconds (no. 9) and what happened on that hairpin turn (no. 13).

    • Ian Skellern
      Ian Skellern says:

      If we assume the stories are true, then:
      9. I had an epiphany and did a chicken dance (will happily show you next time we meet in case you ever need the moves)
      13. It was truely a broken down truck. The two men trying to fix it had a bigger scare than I did when 30 armed soldiers jumped out of the army truck following me and made it clear they were just itching for an excuse to shoot.
      Regards, Ian


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