26th November 2013 Washington DC, USA
For me, the transatlantic relationship is personal. 16 years ago on Sunday, my family and I (and our dog Matty) emigrated from Huntingdon, near Cambridge, to Chico, California. Of course, there are more extreme contrasts than the UK and California, but as a twelve year-old, everything was so different. When we moved in November 1997, a number of things took a while to adjust to. First, my new friends were unexposed to the Spice Girls. Needless to say, I proudly educated them. I also spoke differently. The words I used were slightly different. My English teacher beat the U’s out of my spelling of words like flavo(u)r and colo(u)r, and forbade me from using “whilst”. On the plus side, I was met by applause when I read aloud in Mr. Battaglia’s history class.
Over time, I assimilated into American life. My family adjusted to a new way of living. However, as I graduated from Pleasant Valley High School (cue the American cliché) and entered university, I began to question what I was – American? Or English? I sounded English, and while ‘English’ wasn’t my middle name, it was my last name. I understood British humour and personalities more, but identified more with American history and its identity. When I returned to the United Kingdom for my postgraduate degree, I tried to nail down where I belonged. Yet I returned to the United States more confused than before! I was fluent in British culture, yet comfortable with American institutions.
It wasn’t until I began working at the British Embassy that slowly, it started to come together. The Embassy workforce is made up of a mixture of UK-based and locally-hired staff who work on varying levels to uphold arguably the most important relationship in the world. As I was exposed to new departments, I slowly recognized that this relationship is strong because it is made up of numerous strands of engagement that few countries can replicate. On a cultural level, we exchange music and television, often adopting ideas from each other (Modern Family, the Office, House of Cards, to name a few). On security, our defence partnership is composed of exchanges, engagement abroad (such as through NATO) and collaborating to address a multitude of common threats and concerns. On a political level, the friendships between Reagan and Thatcher, FDR and Churchill, and Obama and Cameron are unlike many others. These connections bind us in unique and enduring way.
So I am truly a citizen of both countries, not just on my passports, but on a very personal level. There are differences between the place I was born and the country I have lived in for the past 16 years, but in the grand scheme of things they are insignificant.
This was made quite clear to me a couple of months ago on Capitol Hill—where I spend a lot of my time—I was asked why I care so much about the UK-US relationship. Interestingly, this was during the unveiling of the Churchill Bust at US Capitol, where Secretary Kerry and a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders highlighted the numerous ways that Churchill had impacted their own lives, notwithstanding the bilateral relationship.
Like myself, Churchill also had a unique tie to the United States; his mother was an American, and he was one of very few people to receive an honorary passport to the United States. Although he was a British citizen, his loyalty and commitment to the bilateral relationship was unwavering and deeply personal. He realized that we are better together. His parting words from 10 Downing Street were: “Never be separated from the Americans.”
And so, almost 50 years after his passing, many people remain allegiant to the UK-US relationship and committed to efforts – small and large – to maintain its strength. Although I’m unsure whether Mr. Churchill would have endorsed my efforts of promoting the musical genius of the Spice Girls, he was certainly someone who understood that the links which bonded our two nations are vast and varied. But most importantly, they require work. It’s not effortless, but my commitment to this relationship is built around a strong belief that the bilateral relationship benefits our nations and the world when we are united. In Churchill’s words, “There is nothing we could not do if we were together.”