Today is my first day as Britain’s Deputy Ambassador to the United States. It’s a real privilege to be starting my new role. Partly that’s because it’s simply a terrific job. I’m in charge of making sure that the Embassy and the UK’s ten other posts in the US work together smoothly, which will be no mean feat as we have almost 800 staff in the country, representing 18 government departments and all three branches of our armed forces. I’ll also be providing advice to Peter Westmacott, our Ambassador, on the full range of matters on which the US and the UK cooperate. And when Peter is out of the country, I’ll be in charge temporarily as “chargé d’affaires” (the fancy title is a holdover from the days when French was the universal language of diplomacy).
Being back in the US is a particular pleasure for me because I have had so many formative experiences here. Growing up in the village of Mobberley in Cheshire, a beautiful place that has been around since before even the Domesday Book of 1086, my exposure to American culture was limited to Top Gun and pop music. My dad worked in the same factory for 40 years, and my mum worked at a local travel agent. I attended the local comprehensive—what Americans would call a public school. My family was fond of the great outdoors: at the weekends, we’d take our travel trailer up to the nearby Pennine Hills and go hiking. That meant I missed weekend TV, so I wasn’t exposed to as many American shows as my classmates.
Then, in my late teens, I won a scholarship from the English Speaking Union to study at a high school in Pebble Beach. It could not have been more different. As well as English and math (or ‘maths’ as we Brits call it), I studied American history and even ceramics. I became a DJ at the school’s FM radio station, and proudly played British alternative music at a time when the charts were dominated by Madonna and Whitney Houston.
My new schoolmates were an eclectic bunch, reflecting California’s extraordinary variety and dynamism. They included the children of rock stars, 1960s pop icons, one of IBM’s lead programmers, and the actor Clint Eastwood, then Mayor of nearby Carmel. This made for some rather interesting experiences, including a private tour of the Jelly Belly factory and a ride along the stunning Malibu coast in a well-known rocker’s Ferrari.
After finishing school, I went on a grand Trailways bus tour of the US, visiting Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, the Rocky Mountains, Denver, Chicago, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and of course Washington, DC. I did all the touristy things, like taking the Universal Studios tour and climbing the Sears Tower and the World Trade Center. I got lost in DC and sunburned in Cape Cod. I liked it so much that a couple of summers later I came back and again travelled coast to coast, starting in San Francisco and visiting, again by bus, Oregon, El Paso, the Alamo, New Orleans, the Florida Keys and Charleston, SC. All told, I must have visited about 25 states.
Later, as part of my job with the Foreign Office, I returned annually for meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York. One of these was just after the 9/11 attacks; in fact the recovery operation at Ground Zero was still underway. I was impressed and moved—but by no means surprised—by the compassion and determination I saw from New Yorkers and from all Americans in the aftermath of the attacks. Over the years I’ve worked with my US colleagues on many occasions, and have been consistently impressed with their professionalism and willingness to work with allies, especially the UK. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of them, and to making new connections here.
Ever since my early experiences in Pebble Beach, I’ve wanted to come back and live in the US again. To be able to do so and at the same time promote the indispensible UK-US relationship is an honour and a privilege. This is an amazing country, and it’s wonderful to be back.
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