The heroic man who shielded his fiancee and told her to run during the Tunisian massacre has spoken for the first time..Matthew James, whose courage made headlines around the world, tells how he was initially convinced he was going to die after being hit by three bullets as he flung himself around Saera Wilson to protect her.
When the shots were fired at the German couple it simply didn’t register with Saera,’ said Matthew. ‘At least not for a few seconds. She said later she thought it was a joke, some kind of game. But I just kind of acted instinctively, and pulled her out
of the way.’
He flung himself in front of her and ‘twisted her around and pulled her down to the ground’ just as Rezgui unleashed his second burst of fire. One bullet sliced open his lower stomach; another lodged in his chest, just above his heart; a third went clean through his upper left arm. Saera lay in the sand, terrified but unscathed.
‘I wouldn’t say I was a hero, it all just happened so fast. All I know is I’m the luckiest man alive.’
In the minutes after the shooting, as he lay in the sand fearing the ‘gunman would come back to finish me off’, he felt sure ‘it was curtains for me’. He pleaded with Saera to run for her life.
‘I said, “I love you babe, tell the kids I love them, but go now because they need one of us to look after them and I’m going to die.”‘I was lying in between our two sunbeds, unable to move, and Saera was underneath mine, hidden from view by a towel. I could clearly see the gunman.
‘He was going from sunbed to sunbed, lifting each one up with his foot and firing at the people hiding. I could see his face. He wasn’t angry, but he looked purposeful, like a postman on his rounds, calmly going about his business.’
Eventually, Rezgui disappeared over a sandbank towards the couple’s hotel, the Imperial Marhaba, where the slaughter continued.At first Saera refused her fiance’s entreaties to flee, saying:
‘I can’t leave you, we can fix this, babe. You’re not going to die.’
But then he shouted, ‘Go now!’ and Saera ran towards two Tunisians from the neighbouring Bellevue Hotel who were calling out to her.
‘On the day of the shooting we were late down to the beach because Matthew had to make a work call. He was on the phone for an hour. Another ten minutes and we would have missed it all.
’As Matthew was putting the sun lotion on me, I was sitting on my lounger facing out to sea diagonally. I remember seeing this jet ski come in about 50 yards away, and park up.
Two minutes later he reappeared in front of them, having opened fire on the German couple.
‘It was a three-round burst and that’s when I spun round and grabbed Saera,’ said Matthew. ‘And that’s when he shot me. I blacked out for a second or so. I remember being on the floor and rolling and thinking, “Bloody hell, what was that?” because it didn’t hurt for a few seconds. I thought I’d been hit with a firecracker or something.’ ‘I thought, “Is this for real – is this a joke?” I thought it might be one of the hotel entertainment workers messing around.’
But moving his hand to his stomach Matthew felt blood, and saw that it soaked his polo shirt.
‘I said, “I’ve been shot” and rolled on to my front so I was facing Saera, who was sobbing and shaking.’
It was the elderly German man, dying a few feet away, that convinced him however that he might have a slim chance of survival.
‘I could see his face, just blank, and he was making these terrible sounds – like he was desperately snorting in air and then grunting out. Listening to the noises he was making made me realise I wasn’t as bad as him. I thought, “Hang on a minute I can still feel everything.”
‘Some people were shouting at me to get up and run to them. I first got on my side but as I tried to stand up my left leg gave way, it wouldn’t work, and I fell back down.
‘So I crawled to them on my hands and knees and after I got a third of the way they came to me and lifted me up, and I put an arm round each of them. I was in such a bad state that I didn’t notice anything but I did hear the gunshots and two explosions, presumably grenades.’‘I remember thinking that I’d had it. I accepted I was going to die and that I’d never see Saera and the kids again. I was rapidly fading.’