John Hooper was born in London, the son of the artist and writer William (‘Bill’) Hooper, who as “Raff” was the wartime cartoonist of the Royal Air Force and co-creator of the cartoon character Pilot Officer Prune.
Hooper was educated at St Benedict’s School in London and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge where he studied history. In his first year at university, at the age of 18, he travelled to the breakaway state of Biafra to help make a television documentary on the Nigerian civil war.
After graduating, Hooper worked for the BBC as a current affairs reporter. In 1973, he became Diplomatic Correspondent of the then newly-established Independent Radio News. Following a spell as a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, he left for Cyprus following the Turkish invasion of the island and became a freelance correspondent for a number of news organisations including the BBC, the Guardian, The Economist and NBC.
In 1976, Hooper was appointed by the Guardian as its correspondent in Madrid. Over the next three years, he reported on the end of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution and covered Spain’s eventful transition to democracy following the death of its dictator, General Franco.
After returning to work on the Guardian’s London staff, Hooper wrote his first book, The Spaniards, which won the 1987 Allen Lane award for a best first work of history or literature. From 1984 to 1988, he was a presenter of the BBC World Service programme, Twenty Four Hours.
He returned to Madrid in 1988 as correspondent for the Guardian, The Economist and The Observer, responsible for Spain, Portugal and the Maghreb. As such, he was an eyewitness to the outbreak of Algeria’s civil war. In 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he was one of the first reporters to enter Saudi Arabia together with Julio Fuentes of the Spanish daily, El Mundo, who was later murdered in Afghanistan.
In 1994, Hooper was posted to Rome as Southern Europe Correspondent for the Guardian and subsequently The Observer. Three years later, he brought to light the so-called ‘Ship of Death’ migrant trafficking disaster and was a member of the award-winning Observer team that investigated its aftermath. In 1998, he was the last reporter to interview Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish guerrilla leader, before Ocalan was seized by Turkish special forces in Kenya. The following year, he covered the Kosovo conflict, reporting from Macedonia, the front line in northern Albania and chaotic post-war Kosovo.
From 1999 to 2003, Hooper was the Guardian and Observer’s Central Europe Correspondent based in Berlin. He investigated the plotting of the 9/11 attacks by Mohammed Atta and his Hamburg cell and reported from Afghanistan later in 2001 on the end of the battle of Tora Bora and the defeat of al-Qaida.
Two years later, Hooper returned to Rome for The Economist and the Guardian. He is currently Italy and Vatican correspondent of The Economist. He lives with his wife, an ex-Sunday and Daily Telegraph journalist, Lucinda Evans.