"I joined the Foreign Office to see the world, but when they called me in and said, “We’re posting you to Paris!” I was really quite cross as it was the only place I’d been to before on a foreign exchange aged 14. I didn’t get that it was an honour to be given the Paris embassy!
Paris was the start of many lovely trips abroad. I was there for less than two years before I married another diplomat who had been posted to Cuba, and the only way we could be together was if I resigned from the Foreign Office as they didn’t have married women diplomats in those days. So I left and we went out to Cuba for a year, coming back to London, before being sent to the U.S where we spent over four years in New York. Both our children were born there, and you really do get to know a country very well when you have children there. We did road trips across the States, including ‘Dude Ranching’, which is where you go to a ranch and are allowed to join in like a cowboy, riding around and rounding up the cattle.
After our marriage sadly broke apart in Washington, I went back into the Foreign Office where after a few years I was posted as ambassador to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
When I was out there I got quite involved with Raleigh International, an amazing organisation that gives people the chance to go to a country and help a local community. I would take the opportunity to go and open whatever they had built or to draw attention to all the good work they had done. Sometimes we had to go by canoe or walk for hours to get to the areas where they were operating. One of the last ones I remember was a little village schoolhouse they built for the Guarani Indians right on the border between Costa Rica and Panama. The only way to get there was to sneak into Panama via the road as far as it would go, where we were met and went on horseback into the back and beyond to find this village. Another time, Raleigh International were working on a project in a park building an artificial reef to try and attract more fish and therefore encourage more people to visit. We decided that I would open the project underwater. So they created a plaque and I put on all my diving kit and we went down with the television cameras, cut the ribbon and opened the project underwater. It made Sport Diver magazine in England!
One of the great privileges of being in the Foreign Office is that you are not just in a country on a holiday, you’re there to live for a few years, so you can get under the skin of the place and understand what makes the people tick, and that was the great joy of the job.
I’m going to Albania tonight and I’m planning a trip to Brazil next year. I’d say I’ve been to 70 or 80 countries but I still get itchy feet!"