One week last Monday I was in a Farringdon pub for their weekly quiz. A friend brought along a companion of his, a Liverpudlian called Anthony Teasdale.
When Teasdale learned that I was working in Brazil as a foreign correspondent, he asked me, “Do you know a guy named Dom Phillips?”
Of course, I say, he’s a good friend of mine; we work together and often dine and drink in São Paulo.
I took a photo and sent it to Dom and seconds later he replied, clearly tickled by the chance of Scot and Scouser meeting in a London pub and realizing they had a friend in common at the other end of the world.
The response was typical Dom: a smile followed by questions. I could almost see his furrowed brow and bright blue eyes, eager to know every detail: how the hell did we meet? How did we spot the connection? How was his old friend from the London music scene?
“Send her a big warm hug from me,” he wrote.
Their connection was at Mixmag, where Dom served as editor for most of the 1990s. Rave culture was taking the world by storm and when it died down a decade later he wrote a glorious book that captured the madness of the electronic music boom. Dom was friends with Brazilian DJs and came to São Paulo in 2007 to finish writing Superstar DJs Here We Go!
He thought he would find peace in South America but instead found an impressive second act, as a foreign correspondent. He spent much of the 2010s writing about Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and in the years since has focused on the environment. Dom loves nature; he rose before dawn to go stand-up paddling and always gathered friends for weekend hikes in the mountains around Rio de Janeiro, where he moved in 2012.
He was working on a book on the Amazon whose central question was: “what type of development works and what does not work?”
As we continued our WhatsApp conversation later that night, he updated me. He had been researching for over a year and was about to return to the jungle for one of his last reporting trips.
“I’m traveling again tonight on an awful 3am flight for 15 hours,” he wrote on WhatsApp. “Second trip in a month, there are still more to do, money is pretty tight, it’s working.”
He was now leaving Salvador, where he moved with his wife, Alessandra, in March 2020. He met Ale in Rio and it was love at first sight. A designer with an infectious smile, she liked to tell how she couldn’t keep her hands off him the first night they met. They were perfectly matched.
Times were tough, however, and they moved to Salvador to be closer to Alessandra’s family, due to the outdoor life, lower cost of living, and the prospect of adopting children. Everyone knew Dom as selfless — he taught English in a Rio favela and volunteered with youth in a public health program in Salvador — and he was desperate to be a father, to focus this love on a family he could call his own.
He also loved his job and he did it well. In a galaxy of correspondents in booming 2010s Brazil, he was one of the most stylish writers. The book project was an extension of that, and its elegant presentation impressed the judges at the Alicia Patterson Foundation, where it applied for a grant. Hundreds of entries came in, and the three judges put Dom’s idea at the top of their list. It was, he told me proudly, only the second time in 30 years that this had happened.
The manuscript was due by the end of the year and he needed – he wrote with what I imagined to be a wry grimace – “to write faster”.
“Book at the end of the year…at least one more trip possibly two after this one, but they are all shorter.”
A few hours after the cursor stopped blinking on our cat, he was in the air, jumping from the far east of Brazil to the far west, through dry brush, verdant farmland and hours of endless jungle. end, leaving to do what he loved.