Diplomacy at work in promoting UK and UAE ties

The British ambassador to the UAE spends a large portion of his day networking with other dignitaries in the Emirates.

Philip Parham, the British ambassador, says the UAE is a key partner and player in this region, and more widely. Delores Johnson / The National
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The British ambassador, Philip Parham, 54, has been in the diplomatic service for the past 21 years with postings in Washington, Riyadh, London and Tanzania. Before being appointed to his post in the UAE in July, Mr Parham, a father of seven, was the UK’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.


I catch up with emails on my BlackBerry and read what is in the media over breakfast, which is normally yogurt, banana, granola, toast and tea. Breakfast is prepared by my wife Kasia, who is a special needs teacher at the British School of Al Khubairat. Quite often there is an official breakfast meeting. We frequently have ministers out here.


I walk to the office and go through correspondence, paperwork, sorting out programmes and discussing what needs to be done that day.


On Sundays, I meet the heads of all the Embassy sections – political, defence, trade and investment, corporate services, visas, consular, and British Council, so we can review what is happening. We are the biggest British Embassy in the Middle East, mainly because of the big visa section here in Abu Dhabi which processes applications not only from the UAE but from other regional countries, including Pakistan and Egypt.


I make an introductory call on a Sheikh and member of the Federal National Council at his home. I enjoy my job as I get to meet an incredibly wide range of people and deal with a host of issues, many of which are very important to UK interests in terms of our security and prosperity. The UAE is a key partner and player in this region, and more widely.


The launch of the UAE government’s report on its foreign aid programme is held at a big ceremony at Emirates Palace with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. The UAE are providing a higher proportion of their gross national income in overseas aid than any other country.


Often, lunch means grabbing a sandwich at my desk anywhere between 12.30pm and 4pm. The people working in the different Embassy sections often do not have cause to connect with each other. So I have a custom of inviting, on one day each month, everyone whose birthdays fall during that month to have lunch together at the residence.


On Mondays, I go to the Crown Prince’s Majlis. It is still early days for me because I have only been able to start going recently. It is an opportunity to network.


I have a meeting at the residence with a British businessman on a particular visa business. We are lucky to have the compound with the space it provides and the lovely setting – no question. We are getting progressively more surrounded by big high-rise buildings, but that is the nature of the place.


Most evenings, an embassy holds a national day reception or dinner. Sometimes events clash so I cannot always go. But I try to go to most of them because it shows respect for the country in question. Sometimes, my wife joins me.


I have supper with my wife. After 10 years at British boarding schools, I am not fussy about my food. We might watch television. I like University Challenge and now I am watching Wolf Hall, about the reign of Henry VIII. My wife's sister, Mel Giedroyc, presents the UK's Great British Bake-off. She has another show just starting called The Gift.


I normally find myself reading more work stuff before bed. Or I Skype our seven children – five sons and two daughters. The eldest is 28 and the youngest 19. The youngest came out for a week in January – he is the only one who has visited so far. Our eldest son is a writer on a sitcom called Siblings on BBC 3. One son has just started working for a law firm, another works at the Treasury in London and another is an aspiring theatre director. Our eldest daughter has Down syndrome and lives in a residential community. The youngest two are at university in the United Kingdom. We are only all together at the same time at Christmas.


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