...according to Simon Smits, 62.
Free housing in Zone 1 is a big win
‘One of the perks of being the Dutch ambassador is that the office is right opposite Kensington Gardens, with my government-supplied residence – we always call it “the shop” – round the corner. I do my morning jog round the Serpentine and I don’t need to commute.’
A good ambassador gets out of the embassy
‘It’s extremely important not to be in a bubble, to get out there and talk to people. A while ago I wanted to see for myself what free trade was all about, so I hitched a ride overnight with a Dutch freight haulier bringing over aeroplane parts from Schiphol to Scotland. We took the ferry and I bedded down in the cab of the lorry. It was a real eye-opener – and much more comfortable than I had imagined.’
Local politics can be nearly as tricky as international relations
‘In my first week here, I was invited to cut the ribbon of a “mini-Holland” cycling programme in Waltham Forest that the embassy had helped to get off the ground. When I arrived, I was met with angry protesters. Some were even carrying a coffin upon which was inscribed “RIP Walthamstow Village”! It was a bit of a shock. Luckily, a couple of years on, the benefits of the scheme are starting to be felt.’
Ambassadors are always moving, but London is the best place to be posted
‘You uproot every three or four years. I’ve been based in Yugoslavia, Bangladesh, Brussels, Geneva, South Africa, Zagreb and at our HQ in The Hague. But I never would have imagined, when I was pulling pints in Oxford as a student, that I would come back as an ambassador to London. It is a dream come true.’
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