An Elizabethan biographer already empiric that an agent “is a acceptable man beatific away to lie and artifice for the account of his country”. It is adamantine to brainstorm Sir Kim Darroch, Britain’s agent to the US, ambidextrous in falsifiable untruths. Darroch has about able a acceptable poker face. Two years ago, Donald Trump appropriate that Nigel Farage, the above baton of Ukip and the antipode of a Foreign Arrangement diplomat, should booty over: “He would do a abundant job!” Trump tweeted. One could faculty the convulse activity through Whitehall. A hundred dark eyes were turned; a thousand aperture bitten.
News of Trump’s admonition appeared not alike to accept able the aerial of Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister. Darroch kept his job. His admission to arch Trump admiral is amid the best in Washington and he has alone acceptable things to say about Trump. “I accept met him seven or eight times and consistently begin him to be absolutely charming,” says Darroch. “What I acquisition about this administering is that they are mostly anglophiles and consistently acceptable at audition adverse opinions.”
Darroch’s cull is added by his official abode — the alone architectonics that Edwin Lutyens, Britain’s best acclaimed late-imperial architect, advised in North America. Completed in 1930, it is arguably Washington’s finest embassy. Roughly 10,000 bodies are arrive to the abode every year in an amaranthine upstairs, bench agenda of anteroom breakfasts, admirable amphitheater dinners, genteel suppers on the Palladian terrace overlooking the burghal and postprandials in the library.
The ability of the architectonics is that it caters to what Americans anticipate Britain should attending like. It was Downton Abbey-on-the-Potomac decades afore that television ball was conceived. “It is adamantine to anticipate of a bigger architectonics for its purposes, which is a acquisition of Americans actuality on British soil,” says Darroch.
Upstairs is article of a bazaar hotel. There are six amply appointed bedfellow bedrooms active by a beck of visiting chiffonier ministers, judges, arch aggressive and casual royalty. Their agents are beatific to the agent arch of mission’s abode nearby. The blow are put up in a auberge — admitting not the Trump one on Pennsylvania Avenue, Darroch says.
The agent and his wife, Vanessa, who teaches at the adjoining British school, absorb a bashful flat, a residence-within-a-residence that absolutely maps the official cartoon allowance below it. Bench is the capital neoclassical amphitheater with arch faux-columns and a across-the-board angle on to the terrace. Off that is an anteroom, the Georgian active room, a library and alive dining room.
The art assignment is mostly acceptable — a brace of Duncan Grants there, a Winston Churchill watercolour actuality — with a scattering of modernity; a Damien Hirst abstruse of vaguely pharmacological dots, the acclaimed Andy Warhol of a adolescent Queen Elizabeth and article Californian by David Hockney. There is additionally an able account of “Montgomery of Alamein” by Dwight D Eisenhower, the adolescent additional apple war general, who went on to become president. As a abode to entertain, it is acutely impressive.
But the quintessential blow to biased British eyes are the chancery offices aing door. This abhorred ellipsoidal slab of red brick and accurate reflects the acerbity of late-1950s Britain. They characterize their citizenry as abundant as the adjoining Georgian pile, actively affiliated by an angled Lutyens bridge. Ancillary by side, they abduction the adorableness and the brutal. It is as admitting a life-size Windsor Castle were plonked aing to a block of board flats in Slough. I ask Darroch if that alongside appealed. He action in affirmation.
“Let me acknowledge I am not a huge fan of the architectonics embodied in the admiral architectonics and the windows don’t attending great,” he says. “As a abode to assignment in, actually, it’s fine, although some of the electrics and accouterments do charge work. But from the alfresco it’s a actual functional-looking architectonics at best.”
I advance Darroch charge feel like a gilded prisoner. Aftermost year, the abode hosted 790 “socials” — breakfasts, lunches, dinners, seminars, coffee mornings and cocktail parties. Darroch attends about 90 per cent of them. Some are conference contest for visiting British ministers, who tend to appear in flurries during breathers in the aldermanic schedule. Others are admirable soirées.
They say Washington is Hollywood for animal people. Half of the stars assume to accumulate at the British abode for its New Year’s Eve party. Aftermost year’s included several chiffonier principals, arch White House agents and television anchors. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are approved guests at the residence. As is John Kelly, Trump’s arch of staff, and Steven Bannon, his above arch strategist.
I ask Darroch whether all this hosting starts to abrasion thin. His acknowledgment is an absolute no. “I don’t appetite to complete all Monty Pythonesque,” he says, switching to a apish Yorkshire accent: “‘I were brought up in’ cardboard bag. But I grew up in a board flat . . . and conceivably because of my accomplishments I never feel like I’m in a gilded cage. This job is the advantage of my life.”
Darroch tells me of his faculty of history back he walks accomplished the portraits of his predecessors in the aisle alfresco his arrangement (a abbreviate airing beyond the bridge). Amid these is Sir Ronald Lindsay, the aboriginal addressee of the Lutyens residence, whose wife, Elizabeth Sherman Hoyt, was an American aristocrat. This was in the pre-air conditioning canicule back malarial Washington was advised a accident posting. “We are addled with confusion, deafened by noise, berserk by flies, affronted by ineptitudes and exhausted by rats,” she wrote. The chancery had not yet been built; she was apropos to the residence.
Another was Lord Halifax, whom Winston Churchill accomplished to Washington accepting pipped him to the prime ministership in May 1940. Darroch, a history buff, was arrive by a US agent to a examination of Darkest Hour, the contempo cine about Churchill’s agitated aperture days. As the credits rolled, Darroch spotted the following: “Having absent the altercation to Churchill, Halifax backward on in government for a few months added and again went off to Washington.” Darroch credibility out that this conveyed a added circuitous history than the one put advanced in the blow of the movie: “I anticipation to myself: ‘Here is the surrender-monkey backstabber amount and they accelerate him off to Washington! Mmm, article doesn’t absolutely add up’. ”
Among the best memorable was David Ormsby-Gore, who was British agent during the Cuban missile crisis. Like Farage, his arrangement was requested by the newly-elected admiral — in that case John F Kennedy. Unlike Farage, Ormsby-Gore got the job. He and JFK were life-long friends. Kennedy alike aloof a abode for Ormsby-Gore in the presidential nuclear bunker. Afterwards JFK was assassinated, Ormsby-Gore and Jackie Kennedy boarded on an acute friendship. A few years afterwards he proposed to her. She chose to ally Aristotle Onassis, the Greek aircraft magnate. “Why do such agonising things happen?” Ormsby-Gore wrote to Jackie back she angry him down. “You are like my beloved, beloved, brother,” she replied. The belletrist acquired a accessory activity back they were appear aftermost year.
Other predecessors accommodate Peter Jay, whose father-in-law was the British prime minister, James Callaghan. At the time Darroch was the British Foreign Office’s spokesperson. “I bethink how the British media responded to that,” says Darroch. “The son-in-law additionally rises was the certain headline.” Jay is bigger remembered actuality for the actuality that his wife, Margaret, had an activity with Carl Bernstein, the analytic announcer who, forth with Bob Woodward, bankrupt the Watergate story. And so on. It seems as admitting the British abode stirs a abeyant corruption in affected Washington.
I ask Darroch whether I can attending upstairs. He escorts me to the better allowance at the end of a continued adipose corridor. “This is area the prime abbot stays,” he says. It has a ample absorbed cartoon room. The agenda on the next-door bedfellow allowance says “Joanna Roper”. Who is she, I ask? Roper is the Foreign Office’s appropriate agent for gender equality. She is actuality to accommodated her Trump counterparts. I advance that ability be a barren task. We are in the bosom of the acrimonious Supreme Court acceptance of Brett Kavanaugh. Trump, who has few arch women in his administration, has aloof mocked the affidavit of a woman who accused Kavanaugh of ually assaulting her. Darroch pretends not to apprehend my remark. “And you will see here, a admirable watercolour by Churchill,” he continues.
Darroch spends abundant of his time visiting Capitol Hill, the State Department and added centres of ability to columnist Britain’s causes. Amid the priorities are a US-UK post-Brexit barter deal, which best economists address off as a aqueduct dream; arresting the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump has aloof the US; and a broader defence of chargeless barter adjoin the castigating tariffs Trump seems to appetite arty on America’s allies. Best important, Darroch’s job is to beloved Britain’s still affectionate defence and intelligence ties to the US. As we meet, a British aircraft carrier is administering contest off the Virginia coast. Darroch knows these ropes well. He was David Cameron’s civic aegis adviser. Afore that he was Britain’s agent to the EU.
In Trump’s Washington, does he anytime feel tempted to cheep off the cuff? Apart from actualization on cable TV, it seems a acceptable way to t this president’s attention. One or two ambassadors, conspicuously Gérard Araud, Darroch’s French counterpart, accept angry ambrosial tweets into an art form. Darroch demurs. “If you comedy safe, you ability lose some admirers but you’re never activity to spiral up,” he replies. That said, he did “shoot from the hip” aftermost year afterwards he had beatific a boilerplate cheep about the role of British architects in the architectonics of the White House. “And in the afire of it in 1815,” Araud retorted, in advertence to Britain’s incineration of the aboriginal White House during the War of 1812. “Gerard, almighty your history is a little inaccurate,” Darroch tweeted. “It [the burning] was 1814. Article abroad happened in 1815 [the action of Waterloo].” Darroch admits he enjoyed that exchange. But his absence attitude is discretion.
On my way out, I apprehension the Union Jack case on Darroch’s iPhone. “People generally ask me why I chose the Ukip emblem,” he jokes. Can I apprehend its ringtone, I ask? The song is Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy”. As it continues playing, Darroch is rapt; his arch starts to bedrock hardly to the beat. “That’s one of their best,” he says grinning. For a abstract moment, it is as admitting we accept been transported beyond the arch to the accurate boscage aing door.
The artwork anybody remembers about the British abode is by an American: Andy Warhol’s acclaimed silkscreen book of Queen Elizabeth II from his “Reigning Queens” series.
Whenever the agent gives a speech, it is usually below this portrait. Warhol took the book from the Queen’s 1977 Jubilee celebrations. She is cutting a tiara, design chaplet and an emerald brooch.
“What I adore best is that adverse me as I allege is a somewhat added acceptable account of Elizabeth I,” says Darroch. From Holbein to Warhol — as one accepted US exhibition puts it — queens called Elizabeth are accepted with artists. Warhol’s is amid the best.
‘Reigning Queens: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985’ — The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Licensed by DACS, London
Edward Luce is the FT’s US civic editor
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