Fifty years after the thalidomide scandal, Terry Wiles, the subject of an Emmy-winning drama talks to Guyon Espiner about his life and the injustice still experienced by other New Zealanders in this week’s cover story.
Terry Wiles turned 50 this year. Nobody expected him to live this long. But here he is, very much alive, sitting in the sparsely furnished lounge of his modern but modest Papamoa house, where he lives with his wife, Robyn, and Mel the dog.
Wiles doesn’t have a paid job but describes himself as an ambassador. He loves people and he loves technology. He loves his iPad and he loves the internet. Wiles doesn’t have any arms or legs. He has one eye and two flipper-like feet. He also has a big heart, a big brain and, as you soon discover, a rather large mouth.
Mum was 17 when she gave birth to Wiles in Britain in 1962. Like many other mothers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she had been taking the drug thalidomide to relieve morning sickness. Thousands of babies in Britain and around the world were born with severe disabilities as a result of the drug, but the damage done to Wiles was at the extreme end.
The thalidomide scandal has been around as long as Wiles has. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the exposure of its horrors. Wiles received a compensation payment in the UK in 1973. Incredibly, some victims are still waiting, including 10-15 New Zealanders who have joined a class action being taken against the UK distributor, Diageo.
Wiles is urging them on. “Get on with it. Do it. [The company has] a moral obligation to these people.”
It seems unbelievable that justice could be delayed for half a century, but not to Wiles.
“Man is a predator. Man is a devourer of other men. Man is quite good at sidestepping his responsibilities when he wants to.”
Elsewhere, Jane Clifton writes on John Banks, charter schools and a lesson in MMP politics.
Ruth Laugesen talks to Timothy Noah, who has set out to find out why America become the most unequal developed country in the world.
Rebecca Macfie meets an Australian activist who has helped farmer opposition to the exploitation of gas reserves and is coming to NZ to help fight the gas industry’s plans to use fracking.
In the Listener books pages, Craig Sisterton looks at the latest from James Lee Burke, who remains very much the crime writer’s crime writer, 50 years on from his first book.
Reviews of new books from Bianca Zander, Rebecca Stott and Richard Moore, and a children’s and YA roundup by Ann Packer.
Other reviews of The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Cinderella, new music by Frank Ocean, Micachu & the Shapes, and Can, and West End Girls at Circa in Wellington.
Plus an essential appreciation of Chinese artist Ai Wewei by Hamish Keith.
And columns – many columns – and crosswords and recipes and competitions.