The Malta Independent 5 June 2023, Monday
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Getting to know… Emanuel Psaila – the man who wanted to be pope

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 23 January 2022, 10:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

The director general of the Civil Protection Department, Emanuel Psaila, is often seen in the thick of things when some accident takes place or a rescue operation is needed.

But what is his favourite food? And does he like sport?

He remembers his childhood fondly and speaks warmly about his days by the sea or playing with toy soldiers. As a child he also wanted to become a pope.


What was the last book you read?

Unfortunately I do not have much time to read. On my last birthday I was given Vassalli’s dictionary (Lexicon) and at present I’m reading the intro by Mgr Lawrenz Cachia. I know Vassalli’s story well but I am enjoying myself refreshing my memory.

Who is your favourite author?

Ġużè Ellul Mercer. He did not write much but what he wrote all made sense.

What was the last film you watched?

The Irishman.

Which film have you seen multiple times and enjoyed every time you saw it?

The Godfather/ Braveheart/ Shawshank Redemption / Gladiator / The Mask of Zorro.

Who is your favourite actor/actress?

Robert De Niro / Catherine Zeta Jones.

What is your favourite TV series?

Money Heist / The Queen’s Gambit / Peaky Blinders.

What is your favourite game or sport to watch and play?

Football, but I like all sports. When the Olympic Games are on I do my best to follow what’s happening, particularly waterpolo, volleyball, track & field and fencing.

Which team do you support?

Żejtun Corinthians and Inter

Which song would you sing at a karaoke night?

Nothing, I don’t have a singing voice. Once I was part of a choir and the maestro realised how much I was in confusion, and he politely told me to leave. If I had stayed on, no CD would have ever been issued.

Who is your favourite singer/band?

Bob Marley remains the best but there are others that I like.

Which show/event would you like to attend/have attended? 

More than one, like Live Aid Concert at Wembley. I wish I was present for the Eucharistic Congress of 1913 and the Sette Giugno 1919 riots.

What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?

Survival knife, fire starters and a high quality camp tent.

Which of the five senses would you say is your strongest?

My sixth sense.

What's the most unusual thing you've ever eaten?

I am not adventurous when it comes to food, but when I was young I had eaten a turtle. At the time they were not protected.

What is that one thing you could not go a day without?


Which fictional character do you relate to most?

Zorro or Robin Hood

Do you check your horoscope?

When I was young I did. But then I realised that over time you start reading the same thing again and again, so I lost interest.

What age would you choose if you could be one age forever?

35, because by then one would have matured, gained experience and is strong.

What invention would you erase from history?

Computer and modern technology. I am old school, pen and paper are sacrosanct. The smell of books remains fascinating.

Would you like to know the day when you will die?

No, because I would lose my serenity.

What's your favourite animal?

German shepherd or rottweiler.

What's your favourite type of foreign food?

I am very basic in the food I eat, but I would choose Italian.

What is your favourite hobby?

I had many, but now I do not have much time. I like to read and build motorbike and fire engine models, but it’s been more than two decades since I did something.

What's your favourite season?

All seasons are lovely as they form part of the cycle of life. I would choose spring because of longer days, the blossoming of nature and milder clothing.

What's your favourite ice cream topping?


What's your favourite board game?

Draughts and Pictionary.

What is your favourite pizza?

Just tuna and olives.

What is your favourite colour?

Yellow, the colour of the sun which gives us energy.

What is your favourite pasta dish?

Penne with corned beef sauce

What is your favourite cartoon show?

Goldrake / Tom & Jerry

What did you like to do most during the summer holidays?

I used to enjoy swimming and playing football in the street. We had open spaces, fewer cars and stronger friendships. We use to go biking around the coast between Qajjenza (Birzebbuga) and Wied Ghammieq (Kalkara). I also used to accompany my father to work at Kalafrana (today the Freeport) and in summer swimming was my favourite thing to do. My father used to take me to Munxar and Delimara. It was a simple way of life.

What career did you see yourself in when you were young?

Pilot or Pope. I told my mum I wanted to be pope when I was seven. She told me that first I had to become an altar boy, then become a priest, a parish priest, archpriest, a bishop, archbishop and cardinal before aiming to become a pope. I had replied, “but I want to be pope first”. I started helping out at Mass at San Girgor and the Ġużè Nazzarenu Institute, but I never become an altar boy.

What is your best childhood memory?

I remember being on a pavement in Marsaxlokk, looking at a road full of white dust with the blue sea in the distance. At Zejtun I used to spend time at home playing with toy soldiers or paper airplanes. I used to play subbuteo or organise the feast of St Catherine. I used to plan everything in detail, written down, create competitions and keep records, attempting always to be just in my judgements.

Did you learn how to ride a bike?

Yes, when I was seven

Who was your super hero?

Actarus from Goldrake.

Which toy do you wish to have kept?

My toy soldiers. I had 12 sets. I used to line them up according to their group, and throw a marble from one side to the other. I used to spend hours like this. But, mostly, a miniature statue of St Catherine. I made a mistake when I gave it away. It was a toy, but today I look at it in a different way.

What subject did you excel in at school?

Maths and general knowledge, which I still like, although I did not keep up with the developments as much as I would have liked to.

What subject did you dislike the most in school?

Science. I never liked physics, chemisty and biology. Ironically physics and chemistry are needed in my work, so I had to start appreciating their value.

Was there some family tradition that was never missed?

Like all people of Zejtun, the feast and the Good Friday procession are sacrosanct. You wouldn’t be a true “Zejtuni” if you do not attend. On the eve of the feast we used to go to the town square to follow the band concert. The traditions of these two celebrations are strong in this locality, although the interest is declining and the cancelling of the events because of the circumstances we are going through do not help. But I believe that these traditions of our ancestors should be maintained. We also used to celebrate the Madonna ta’ Pompeii feast in Marsaxlokk, where I was born.

What are the best values you owe to your parents?

Honesty, integrity, altruism, discipline and fighting spirit.


What would you change about yourself if you could?

My colleagues tell me I need to calm down. But every person is unique so I would not change anything.

What really makes you angry?

Liars. Whoever twists the facts. And who acts stupidly.

Is your glass half full or half empty?

Always positive, I always see it full. How to see the glass is another argument. Seeing it half full pushes me to fill it up again. Young people today use the expression: “It-Top il-Full”.

Are you a sore loser?

No, but I persevere. If I believe in something, I go for it in full. I do not like it when I lose, but I have been taught to get up, and this never makes me a loser.

What is your biggest regret?

That I did not publish a book written by my father that was completed 14 years ago. The book is a collection of anecdotes written and recorded in dialect. I’m dismayed it has not been published yet.

What’s the first thing you look for in a partner and/or friend?

Values, integrity, cards on the table and loyalty.

What is your greatest fear?

Death, in all its forms. I know one day I have to face it, and I know there are dangers which are being faced by people whose job is to risk their life to save others. This bothers me. My workers are exposed to danger each and every moment.

What is your life motto?

The motto I like most is not mine, but Leanne Ellul’s. “Never lose heart, even when you’re out of breath.” Mine would be: “Do good things and be happy”.

If you had a warning label, what would yours say?  

You know where you stand with me, where do I stand with you?

What's one thing that can instantly make your day better?

When someone turns up to say thank you for what you did. It’s not because I want to be shown gratitude, but when somebody shows appreciation it is something I treasure.


If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you do or buy?

I would settle the house loan and that of my daughter. If I can do this, it would mean that I can help others.

If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

Dom Mintoff, Ġużè Ellul Mercer, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. I would like to add Karl Marx and Che Guevara too.

If you could bring one person back from the dead who’d it be?

My dad

If you could time travel, when and where would you go?

The years of Malta’s transition from being under the Knights of Malta, to the occupation of the French and then the arrival of the British. I think there were times of uncertainty, times of revolutionary transformation. They were also exciting times at a time when the people living in the villages did not know much about what was happening.

If you could relive one moment in your life, which would it be?

My second wedding, which happened last November. I want to continue living that dream.

If you could live anywhere outside Malta, where would it be?

If I’m still working, in Singapore. If on retirement, in the fields of Sicily.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Any pasta with corned beef sauce.

If you could know the truth behind a secret or mystery, which would it be?

If Pope John Paul I was killed or if he died a natural death.

If you could eliminate one of the seven deadly sins, which one would it be?

These are the guidelines for anyone. The line should not be crossed at any time. These should make us reflect on the basic principles of life, day after day. We should not be selfish. We should help others and at least do one good thing every day. The world would be a better place, for sure.

If you had to be given a superpower, what would you choose?

The power to fly.

Coffee or tea?


Walk or swim?


Summer or winter?

Neither, spring

Italy or England?

The 2021 European champions

Restaurant or delivery?


Early bird or night owl?

Night owl

Fish or meat?

Fresh fish

Mobile phone or TV?

Mobile phone

Black or white?

Those are the Juventus colours, so I choose sepia.

Film or TV series?




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