In this entertaining and engaging memoir, former ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles lifts the lid on embassy life throughout the world. For over 30 years Sherard Cowper-Coles was on the diplomatic front line in a distinguished Foreign Office career that took him from the corridors of power in Whitehall to a string of high-profile posts across the globe. Entering the Foreign Office fresh from Oxford in 1977, he enjoyed a meteoric rise with postings in Beirut, Alexandria and Cairo, Washington, and Paris, and working on Hong Kong, punctuated with spells in London, where the young diplomat had a baptism of fire writing foreign affairs speeches for Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher.
In 1999, he was made Principal Private Secretary to the irascible Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, providing the book with some of its most hilarious sequences, and his glittering career culminated in a succession of ambassadorial posts as Our Man in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and finally Afghanistan. Ever the Diplomat is his revealing, passionate, and witty account of half a lifetime in diplomacy, which is set to become a classic of the genre.
This is a tellingly different account of modern diplomatic life than the name-dropping and rather self-satisfied account rendered by Christopher Meyer, former UK ambassador to the USA (1997-2003), in his book "DC Confidential" - also available on audiobook at this site. In spite of his off-putting double-barreled name (why do the Brits insist on doing this?) Cowper-Coles, or CC as from now on I will call him, comes across as a decent bloke with an open mind. He started off in the cauldron of Northern Ireland (Norn Iron in localspeak) in the 1970s and his reading list before taking up his post was impressive if slightly risible. At least he was taking the job seriously and not just waltzing in and waltzing out as so many of our diplo/ politico neighbours from Across the Water do. Yes, I am Irish, and judge these performances with a gimlet eye. I was impressed by the fact that he made solid and lasting contacts with his opposite numbers in the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs. That is not always easy to do since these fellows (I know them) tend to be impatient with ignorant Brits. CC is never ignorant and he stands up for his own side as indeed he should. He moves on to various other postings throughout the world and shows a delightful willingness to get in touch with people from all walks of life. In fact he chooses to take up one of his first distant posts by driving across Europe in a banger of a car with a few friends. It's a wonder they ever made it! He has an adventurous and questing spirit which makes the listener gradually warm to him. This is no pompous mannikin glaring at the locals from under a ridiculous hat topped with ostrich feathers as the Royal Marine Band plays "God Save the Queen". This is a guy who goes out and tries to solve problems wherever he happens to be. And he has courage. He drives through the night to reach the site of a bombing in Saudi Arabia in which British civilians have been killed and immediately plunges in although the security people want to get him the hell away. CC doesn't blow a trumpet. He just tells his story: this - this - and this happened. So what I decided to do was this - that - and the other. He comes across as a very attractive personality, a chap who is actually pretty good at his job, and who believes in the real value of representing the UK abroad. I came away from this reading with a feeling of respect for CC ... if not for the Foreign Office or HMG as a whole! CC? Definitely one of the good guys.
The author reads this audio book - I am often a bit hesitant to buy downloads when the author reads their own book; so many are really bad. This one is OK. I would have preferred a professional reader but he has a nice if rather soporific voice. He doesn't ruin it.
There is no 'story'. It is just an autobiographical account of some of his career as a senior diplomat. The times through which he served are part of my own history so his accounts are interesting. They shed some extra light, albeit that diplomats are rarely 'makers' or doers, they are facilitators or just scribes, really. Still, I most enjoyed the bits about Hong Kong and his time working for Robin Cook.
I suppose I was expecting more humour and perhaps a bit more indiscretion. But it was often very grim, and he is evidently far too diplomatic to gossip, so that may have been my fault. Mostly it is an easy-going, easy-paced tour of duty.
If you interested in modern diplomacy and history that's unfolded in our lifetime I think look no further. It's easy listening, engaging and you may find yourself wanting more at the end of it.
Just as a good diplomat should be, the author delivers his observations, anecdotes and facts in a well modulated, perfectly enunciated voice. Persuasive and engaging, he tells us the tale of his recruitment into and passage through the Foreign and Commonwealth cadre of ambassadorial staff with wit and charm. Where he has failed to agree with his political masters or foreign hosts he informs us both suavely and directly. He leaves any criticism to emerge from our own assessments of the scenes and actions he describes.
Top class. In every sense. I only wish the book had been longer, but I suppose there is only so much that can happen in even the most varied diplomatic career; and for a true diplomat there is only a fraction that can be told.