Who are you?
A very ‘British’ (part Yorkshire, part Scottish, part Irish) person of modest but honest family origins who failed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Fast Stream exams at the first attempt but succeeded three years later. I rose through the ranks to senior diplomatic positions in post-communist Europe.
Why did you join the FCO?
No-one else offered me a job when I left University. Had I been smarter I would have pressed on with the law and enjoyed being a prosperous barrister
Some here, including me as a youthful FCO Resident Clerk and the Warsaw flying Mini
Why did you really leave the FCO? You were doing well
After 28 years of diplomacy at the coal-face I had had enough. I left the FCO at the end of 2007 to start a new consultancy-style career
My career had featured unusually long periods overseas. Since 1993 I had lived in the UK for only 20 months, with almost all of the rest of the time spent in former Communist countries, often in arduous conditions. Entertaining over 5,000 people a year for nine years had taken its toll
Another pampered diplomat swilling champagne at public expense?
I did not feel pampered listening to gun battles outside my Moscow flat during the attempted coup against President Yeltsin, or when we lived in Sarajevo with a minefield over the fence. In any case, bringing serious people together in relaxed, discreet surroundings to move complex issues forward is part of how things work in any business, diplomacy included
Didn’t you get into big trouble over that leaked alarm-clock email business back in 2005?
Not really. But it was a bracing week or two. My FCO end-of-year ‘performance bonus’ was cut from ‘Not Much’ to ‘Even Less’
Weren’t you exposed as a British spy in the Balkans?
There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and Balkan conspiracy theories. Any diplomat serving in the Balkans who is not denounced as a spy is not doing anything useful
What is this website about? Why not the usual memoirs?
First and foremost, I want to market my communication skills services. I also want a one-stop shop for my writings. Few people read diplomatic memoirs these days, unless they make noisy ‘revelations’ or divulge tittle-tattle about Ministers’ clothing and sex-lives. Here I share with the public informal but informed thoughts on the diplomatic process, plus offer level-headed insights into events which catch the public eye or should have done
The FCO is vetting everything you write?
There is a long list of UK government requirements binding former officials on how they should behave after they leave public service and what they might do with their ‘officially acquired information’. It’s interpreted sensibly. Since I started this site in early 2008 there has been not a word from the FCO on anything I’ve written here or in the wider media. Basically, what Ministers and the public alike should expect boils down to normal professional courtesy, discretion and good judgement exercised with due respect for the public and national interest. Fine by me
Some ex-Ambassadors bravely attack the system and its hypocrisy?
Courage is not adjusted by volume control. And who gives you more to think about? Someone who loathes you and wails away endlessly but ineffectively, or the honest knowledgeable critic who tells you and the world exactly what he/she thinks?
Your basic political views?
I believe that public money should be spent honestly and intelligently. Having the chance to spend other people’s money on a massive scale induces a cynical state of mind which can slip into corruption. Without sustained steely self-restraint by politicians and senior civil servants alike, things slump towards decadence and decline
Having lived in apartheid South Africa, I do not like ‘ethnic origin’ questionnaires in today’s United Kingdom which use racial categories creepily reminiscent of the apartheid regime’s Population Registration Act. After years working for the British public service and living across communist and post-communist Europe I have views on what the state sector in the UK and anywhere else can and cannot do well
Did you support the Iraq intervention?
Evil dangerous regimes which brutalise whole populations and threaten global order need to be stopped
Good point, but why only Iraq? Double standards?
Better double standards than no standards, as I used to say to bad leaders in former Yugoslavia. The fact that it is not possible to scale back all the world’s dictators does not make action against one of them to free millions of people wrong or hypocritical. Whether the intervention was well done or now looks wise is another matter
Why do you support Tottenham?
Their unending inventiveness in finding new astounding ways to disappoint their fans has to be admired
Did you play Garry Kasparov at chess?
Yes. I set up a charity chess simultaneous event at the British Embassy in Moscow featuring most of the world’s top grandmasters. He began the game by pointing his two knights straight at me. Things on the board then spiralled downhill. But he later gave me a chess board signed “Dear Charles, Good luck in the chess game of diplomacy, G Kasparov“
Why do you write some words in a sentence with Capital Letters?
The wittiest book on diplomatic life is ‘Esprit de Corps’ by Lawrence Durrell, a distant predecessor for me as Information Officer at the British Embassy in Belgrade in the early 1950s. He used this device to marvellous effect. I inelegantly copy his example
Where does that line about the ‘tiny spark of hope in the surrounding impenetrable blackness’ come from?
A scene-setting telegram I sent to London in January 2005 on the eve of ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz