To the US Ambassador’s residence then, where my presence has been requested at a reception celebrating ‘fabulous female leaders’. My thoughts turn to what to wear — the dress code says ‘business’, but Americans and Brits famously have wildly different approaches to formal wear. Some frantic googling ensues (‘has bad outfit ever sparked diplomatic incident?’) — but remembering that events like these are about fostering cross-cultural relationships, about soft power (I’m warming to this whole diplomat thing), I borrow Michelle Obama’s ‘fashion diplomacy’ playbook. I settle on an ensemble by The Row — a US brand — thereby doing my bit for Anglo-American relations.
At Winfield House, the Ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park, I arrive on a May evening to a gathering of dignitaries, charity execs and a smattering of artists. Given the setting, I can’t help but wonder: what is the current state of the UK-US ‘special relationship’ (probably not a question Carrie Bradshaw ever contemplated)? President Joe Biden has recently been accused of ‘hating the UK’, something his aides deny — although he didn’t attend King Charles’ Coronation, a choice that prompted grumbling from certain establishment figures.
But who can blame him? Recently, a friend and I realised that whenever we meet people who’ve recently moved to London, we respond with a horrified ‘Why?’ before reeling off a list of reasons not to. There is the weather, obviously, and of course the crushing expense; the lack of decent, affordable housing; and the managed decline of public services — all of which have given rise to a constitutional misery that seems to permeate every aspect of London life. Ambassadors for this great city, we are not — but it wasn’t always thus.
President Joe Biden’s aides denied that he hates the UK — but he didn’t attend King Charles’ Coronation
Lately it feels like Britain, and London especially, has lost some of its cultural cachet. Post-Brexit we are no longer perceived as a cosmopolitan, desirable nation worthy of cultivating relationships with. No more breezing through passport control on our way to a Spanish beach — indeed whenever I travel, others tut sympathetically upon hearing my accent. I’ve become an emissary from a nation hoist by its own petard.
So what’s the solution? Glad you asked — I have some thoughts. First, we need some actual proper nightlife, and more latenight venues. It is laughable that virtually everything shuts by 11pm in a major global city, so please, no more 10.30pm last orders. We also need more free public spaces. There are too few places in London where you can meet friends without having to remortgage your home to buy an overpriced latte. Parks only work a few months of the year, and pubs are not for everyone. And speaking of mortgages, or rather housing, we need subsidised artist living. Writers, poets, musicians; creative folk should be able to apply for (really) cheap housing. It would foster a more diverse creative industry, one of London’s greatest exports.
Finally, I propose some sort of foreign exchange system, like Erasmus for adults, though with fewer of those frankly unconscionable rat-tail hairdos. This city needs — thrives on — new influences. Job swaps, travel stipends, I don’t know — someone else can figure out the details, I’m really more of an ideas guy. London has always been a city of immigrants and the recent exodus of foreign workers has been disastrous. Without them we are in danger of losing our lifeblood and the soul of this city, its essential id.
So that’s my electoral ticket: cheaper housing and better nights out. Where do I apply to be Ambassador of Fun?