The British Embassy in Washington, D.C., held an open house on Saturday, May 14th. The annual event is run in conjunction with other European Union embassies in our nation’s capital. Members of the public can visit the residence, see the grounds, and enjoy many activities focused on U.K. culture. I interviewed Amanda Downes on behalf of Blogcritics prior to the open house to discuss the joyous occasion. She currently serves as the Social Secretary to Sir Kim Darroch, British Ambassador to the United States.
You’ve worked with the British Embassy for over 26 years. What’s a major challenge in doing such a large scale, open invitation event like this one?
I must confess from the beginning that I’m a very small cog in this big wheel we have here, particularly on this event. We have a fantastic team in the Embassy to lead on this one. The one thing we really want people to have is a wonderful experience here, as well as showcasing the United Kingdom. Obviously, the weather plays a huge part and I fear we have rather British weather tomorrow. I think it might be another ‘bring a brolly day.’ We will carry on, rain or shine. We want people to enjoy themselves, be safe and go away with a good feeling about the U.K. and hopefully visit the U.K.
You have a new British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch. How have you enjoyed working with him and your role introducing him to dignitaries and the public through events?
I’m very much enjoying working with Sir Kim! He’s a professional diplomat. He’s been in the diplomatic core for all his working life. He most recently was the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister. He knows a lot of senior people already, although he hasn’t served here. We did a large reception for him on his arrival and he is out and about a lot. He is trying to see many of his consulates across the United States. Recently, he’s just been down in Florida for the opening of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games. [It] closed yesterday and by all accounts, was a resounding success!
He’s certainly keeping you busy.
He is keeping me busy! When he’s away, that’s the time I get work done for the next event coming up.
Tell me more about the big anniversaries that you’re celebrating this year.
It’s a fantastic year. What could be more exciting than her Majesty, the Queen, celebrating her 90th birthday? We’re so lucky to have a sovereign who is been there for so long. We will be marking her birthday and also 400 years of Shakespeare (the Bard). Tomorrow, we have the chance for people to dress up as the Bard. We’ll have some actors from the Washington, D.C., Shakespeare Theatre Company performing around the grounds. We’ll have some actors from the Globe Theatre later on in the year.
It’s also the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, MO. That was where the words “special relationship” was first launched. Winston used to stay at the Embassy. I know he stayed at the White House a lot when he was over here leading up to World War II. Blair House was born on the strength of [his visits].
Do you have a favorite part of the Residence?
You know, I’m not sure I do. I just love the house as a whole, what it represents. The atmosphere of the house – it has history around every corner. So many interesting events have taken place here, probably life changing for some. It’s an elegant house and friendly, as well as being a very important part of what we do here. People still enjoy coming here, I think. I sometimes come in at the dead of night and it’s not remotely spooky. It’s a very friendly house.
What strikes you about the popularity of U.K. television programs and other contributions in the arts when you see the crowds every year at the Open House?
Well, I think we’re very blessed. We have superb actors who love their craft and extremely talented writers and production teams so we’re onto a winner. Also, I think we share a common language, more or less. [As] cousins over the water, we like to tune into each other. We’re so lucky to have world class actors.
I watched something the other day with Dame Helen Mirren. We’ve got very strong girl power at the moment: Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, and Dame Maggie Smith are three I can roll off my tongue at the moment. At the White House Correspondents Dinner, the President gave a shout out to Dame Helen, who was present. I don’t want to be sexist. There are extremely good gentlemen actors as well. They are fantastic!
In previous years, you’ve had different booths at the Open House with Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Downton Abbey. There’s so much for people to look forward to in activities.
Yes, we do. We’re concentrating on the Bard this year. We’ve been lucky enough to have some members of the cast of Downton Abbey here twice. I can assure you, it was a hot ticket in town!
Thank you for your time today.
This article was first published on Blogcritics.org with the same title. I made some minor edits.