1. Tell us about who you are and what you do.
I have been the British Ambassador to Romania since August 2018. I am on my second posting here, having served in Romania between 1983 and 1986, on my first ever diplomatic mission abroad.
Between 2014 and 2017, I was the British Ambassador in Algeria and have had postings in Germany, Greece, Algeria and South Africa.
2. Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place?
I was really excited when the opportunity emerged of being posted back to Romania. Although I left in 1986, I had visited again in 1994 and 2000 and had seen some of the changes that had taken place but I wanted to witness for myself the massive changes in Romania that had happened since those days.
And I wasn’t at all disappointed when I returned. The road in from Otopeni was a surprise and Pipera was a complete shock as it was pure countryside when I left in 1986! With these exceptions, I found that the cities looked somewhat the same, though with obvious additions, but everything about people and human relations has changed completely. And that is exemplified best by the fact that when I was here in the ‘80s I wasn’t allowed to speak to Romanians, or better they weren’t allowed to speak to me, and now we have a very close working relationship in every field.
So I am delighted that I prioritised returning to Romania where we have a big task to make use of all the potential that is available.
3. What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now?
Our business is the UK-Romania relationship and the priority after the first months of the Covid crisis, of course, is to check, like after any sort of storm, to see whether any damage has been sustained, what we need to repair, and how quickly we can get back to our original priorities, as close as possible to if the storm had not hit us at all. And that’s what we’re doing now, in all parts of our work with the Romanian Government, the private sector and with NGOs.
We are very much focused on the rights of British citizens in Romania and of Romanian citizens in the UK and we’re busy ensuring that they have the rights they need before 31 December.
We are also looking at the trade and economic relationship, and not only how well it is doing for those British companies that are already established here, but also explaining to British investors what advantages Romania has to offer to their businesses, and making sure that we make good use for the British national interest of all those possibilities. We are also talking to the Romanian Government about developing the modern financial services relationships between our countries and the role of capital markets, and how London, as Europe’s financial centre, can play a material role in Romania’s economic development plans.
In addition to that there are the obvious other big priorities such as the Strategic Partnership, our foreign policy coordination, tackling crime and social injustice, education links, culture and indeed all aspects of people-to-people relationships which are very vibrant between the UK and Romania.
4. How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally?
Professionally, a lot of what diplomats do has been more difficult and so I have missed listening to people, travelling around Romania and experiencing the warmth that is the hallmark of our bilateral relationship. Clearly our business changed completely in March, and we spent nearly two months with the sole focus on consular issues and supporting our citizens.
What is really positive is that the Foreign Office is a very modern thinking employer and that we were equipped with the necessary kit to work from home, and to work very effectively. I have appreciated the strength of the relationships with my team in the Embassy, who have carried on being a close team working to our joint objectives, despite the fact that we’ve only seen each other very rarely in a period of four months.
Personally, because of the risks of CV19, I knew I ought to get healthier, so I have focused on my diet and exercise and I am very pleased with the result so far! I am also delighted that most of my family was together under one roof, for all of this period. And that was a real improvement – normally the children are away schooling and at university.
5. What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania? What are the highs and the lows in your opinion?
I am personally very delighted to be in Romania and that is not just a diplomatic phrase. Both professionally and personally I am really delighted to be here, for reasons that I have already expressed.
I thought the best of Bucharest was easy to appreciate when there were no cars on the roads.
I think the potential that Romania has, both in its people and its other resources, is one of the best things. And therefore it follows that one of its worst things is that past governments haven’t made more of it already. But that gives me, my colleagues and the Romanian system fantastic opportunities.
I think that if I was looking for a real negative in Romania, I would say is the number of people that are living in poverty and again that’s something that I and British NGOs want to do all we can to end. We’re talking to the Romanian Government about that big objective.
And the other thing, I guess, is that I am very keen to improve the reputation of Romania internationally, because this country is far, far better than it is usually depicted. We all need to “sell” Romania better internationally.
6. What is your must do/must visit/favourite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large?
In Bucharest itself, I would say it’s the Dacian gold in the National History Museum, because it’s a wonderful collection, but it’s also the biggest challenge to people’s preconceptions about what Romania is.
In Romania as a whole, I think that there are two things I would want any visitor to experience. One is the quality of Romania’s nature, and that could be through experiencing a sunny morning after a thunderstorm on the mountains, or the plains, or the forests, with the bird songs and the large mammals in the forest and the amazing products on the market.
The second thing would be the preservation of European culture in Romania, from so many different sources, that produces a real kaleidoscope of European culture, in just one country.
The combination of those two things, I think, makes Romania an exciting place to spent time in.
7. What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget?
I am going to mention something I have just read, which again challenges my preconceptions and it is John Julius Norwich’s ‘A Short History of Byzantium’. A second book would be Peter Frankopan’s ‘The Silk Roads’. Frankopan’s thesis is that nothing happened in the world west of Rome that was really worth noting before 1500. And the Byzantium book actually shows you the same, but from the perspective of the Black Sea and its civilizations. As a Brit, you never really hear about Byzantium. Neither are books for the beach, but they are perspective shifting books. If anyone wants a book for the beach, even though it’s a serious book, I would recommend ‘The Spy and the Traitor’ by Ben Macintyre. It’s an amazing book, that once you open you won’t want to put down. It’s the real life story of Oleg Gordievski who was a spy for Britain in the KGB. It’s just compelling!
8. If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person?
This is a question diplomats should never answer! But I will. It’s the restaurant of Mogosoaia Place because that’s the first place where I ate something, that I spent my first posting never finding. Between 1983 and 1986 everybody told me how fantastic Papanasi were. And it wasn’t until I went to Mogosoaia in 2018 that I found a restaurant open that actually had them, with ‘dulceață de afine și smântână’. That is a restaurant to which I will always be grateful.
One of the privileges of being a diplomat is that I have met amazing people throughout my career: The Queen, President Mandela, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Angela Merkel and many others. So in a way, I don’t need to wish for amazing company, it comes as part of my job. But actually, having dinner with my wife and all my children together is the real rarity, so that’s what I would most value.
9. Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it.
As an Embassy, we are part of a Government’s overseas toolkit and exist to serve the British people; but we can only do that, in the context of Romania, by also serving the interests of the Romanian people; thus I hope you will engage with us in the UK-Romania community.
10. Describe your Romania in one word.