Tue, 02 April 2019
In a departure from our normal interviews, for this years UK in Bahrain feature we give an insight into the day of British Ambassador, HE Simon Martin.
“I’m not a very early riser, if it can be avoided,” His Excellency confesses, adding that exercise – he is a keen runner – happens in the evening, if there’s time. “I’m very lucky to live in this residence, the run around the grounds is a half kilometre.”
Most days, breakfast is an outside affair shared with wife, Sophie, at which the couple check and coordinate their diaries, since they often attend events together. However, on our example day, the ambassador begins with a working breakfast with the Defence Security Advisor Middle East (DSAME), Sir John Lorimer, the Head of UK Maritime Component Command, and Defence Attaché, Cdr Paul Windsar. DSAME is a regular visitor to the Kingdom and will be updated on any developments since his last visit before heading off to meetings with senior BDF personnel.
The ambassador would then continue with his day by running through his upcoming schedule with executive assistant, Christine, and making time for embassy staff to discuss and update him on their different areas of responsibility. One of the subjects of discussion is consular cases. There are nearly 10,000 British people living in Bahrain and the embassy’s consular role is to provide assistance to those British nationals overseas that need help most. His Excellency says: “When you look at the work of the British Foreign Office, through its embassies, it focuses on three areas: promotion of national security, not just through defence but also political relations; advancement of prosperity; and protection of our people.
“We have a number of British nationals in Bahrain who are unable to leave because of travel bans. These are mandated through the courts for disputes and debts. My vice consul keeps me updated on current cases and we will discuss how the embassy can be of assistance.”
Getting ready to head out to his next meeting, the ambassador encounters his head of press and public relations, Cheryl, who wants him to sign off on a new project, about which he is very excited. “It’s to launch the Ambassador for a Day initiative to coincide with International Women’s Day [in which the student winner of a competition will shadow HE]. It’s not just a gimmick, there are two main purposes,” he explains.
“The first is that I’m always trying to find ways to make Britain and the embassy accessible, explaining to different groups of Bahrainis why we need each other. The competition requires young Bahrainis to produce a short video explaining how they would influence change, which will be fun for them and give them a chance to practise their language skills.
His Excellency also gets to have some fun with Chelsea Pensioners at the Poppy Ball and, below, with Sophie at the Rugby Club for the West Asia Cup Final
“The second aspect, and this is something that is an FCO global priority, is about promoting women’s empowerment through supporting women in public life, politics and positions of influence. In Bahrain, this is already happening. There are lots of women in very senior positions in public life, who are great role models. The competition is open to female students, aged 16-21. We will announce the winner at the birthday party for Her Majesty the Queen, in April.”
For his first official engagement of the day, the ambassador dashes across town as he has been invited to visit a British nursery school’s 10th anniversary celebration, where, he says with glee, he has been promised “flowers, songs and cake”. Though that would probably be reason enough to head classroom-wards, His Excellency says: “It’s one of many British educational institutions and it’s a point of pride that parents want to send their children not just to English-speaking schools, but to those that follow the British curriculum. I think it reinforces the bond between nations and creates a familiarity that helps us in many ways.”
His next port of call sees him rejoining DSAME for a call on Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, who is also Deputy Supreme Commander of the Bahrain Defence Force. “He [the CP] has a huge role in the defence of Bahrain,” says His Excellency. “Defence is also an important plank of our role and relationship. HRH the Duke of York opened the British Naval Support Facility, the first of its kind east of Suez since the former HMS Jufair closed in 1971. This is a very important example of the UK’s commitment to the Gulf and the wider region. In its first year of operation, it’s already proved its worth, not just for UK sailors but also for joint training. There will shortly be a Type 23 frigate permanently stationed there.”
Then it’s back to the embassy to meet with the Australian Ambassador visiting from Riyadh, Ridwaan Jadwat, who is also accredited to Bahrain, Oman and Yemen. When countries do not have their own embassies in Bahrain, they rely on their diplomatic colleagues to keep them updated on issues such as changes in government, recent elections, local action plans and the like.
It is now lunchtime, and, while still working, His Excellency is joined by his wife, Sophie, at a Bahrain British Business Forum (BBBF) meeting where he listens to a speaker from the Economic Development Board (EDB). He says: “The BBBF is the most vibrant, busy and effective networking platform that I’ve worked with at any time in my career. It brings together Bahraini and British businesses and is great for developing contacts; it also has a number of special interest groups. The EDB also has a special focus on the UK, so I’m happy to support the event.”
Later in the afternoon there is a planning meeting for a joint working group which will involve ministers from Bahrain and Britain getting together in the coming weeks to discuss collaboration mechanisms in areas such as education, sports, research, environment, commerce and trade and investment.
For most of us, that would be the end of the working day but the Ambassador frequently attends evening events – his record is four in one night!
This evening, he and Sophie are off to an art exhibition in Muharraq, which is being launched by HE Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, president of Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, along with Shaikha Halla. “This is something we want to support because the whole regeneration of Muharraq is a source of great pride and interest, particularly because the Prince of Wales-founded Prince’s Fund has been working with the Ministry of Housing for the last six years advising on how to build in sustainability and the most effective new building design for Askar; they are now helping to formulate a master plan for Muharraq.”
Smiling, he adds: “I don’t think I’m expected to speak – but I always have something up my sleeve.”
Then, it’s back to the embassy for 6.30pm to host a drinks reception for British fintech start-up Adsertor, which launched in Bahrain Bay about a year ago. It is making an impact with its data integration software products and is talking to Bahrain University about setting up a centre of excellence for young Bahrainis to develop data skills.
“I’m happy and feel it’s useful to host an event like this,” says the ambassador. “I expect this to build around the Gulf and have invited 70 or 80 potential collaborators – the main purpose is to raise awareness of this exciting new development.”
With the reception done, it’s time for Facetime with family and friends back in the UK and around the world, many of whom will be visiting during Formula One. And, after a long day, the ambassadorial head can finally hit the pillow for a well-deserved sleep.