Naked diplomacy – digital in Beirut

fletcherastonmartinI was lucky to visit Beirut recently to make a documentary for BBC World Service radio about the remarkable outgoing British Ambassador, Tom Fletcher.

You can listen to it here, or alternatively, download it as an MP3 podcast here (or via iTunes here). I wrote an accompanying piece for the BBC News website – click here to read it.

Full credit to Jo Meek of Sparklab Productions, who saw the potential of what was exceptional access straight away. She backed the idea, secured the commission with BBC World Service, and then turned more than ten hours of recordings into a brilliant half-hour for broadcast.

Inevitably, there was much that didn’t make it. Had there been more than 26 and a half minutes to play with, we could have perhaps dwelt a little longer on how Fletcher isn’t universally admired – how (and why) his approach annoyed some Lebanese, passed others completely by, and also got up some Foreign Office noses. We didn’t really touch on the issue of privilege – how Fletcher’s contacts in (and out of) Number 10, and, perhaps, his own personal background, helped add another layer of Teflon to high achievement and apparently unerring self-belief.

Despite a bit of script that looked past Fletcher’s image to point to concrete changes his PR-boosted diplomatic initiatives have brought to Lebanon, in the fields of defence, business and education, those lines very regrettably didn’t make it into the final mix, for reasons beyond our control.

And then, over four days in Beirut – far from any front lines of conflict – I also burst into tears in public twice. So much for professionalism. That, perhaps thankfully, also didn’t make it into the final mix.

But what a privilege. What a story. What a country.