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Turns Out the British Ambassador Is a Pretty Cool Dude

He's got a knighthood, a Bentley, and a Led Zeppelin ringtone. How is Sir Kim Darroch dealing with the Trump era?
Photograph of Sir Kim Darroch by Jeff Elkins

Sir Kim Darroch keeps his phone in a Union Jack case, and it plays Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” when it rings. Those comforts must be important to Britain’s ambassador to the United States at a bizarre time for our countries: In the last year, President Trump has picked a fight with London’s mayor, yelled at prime minister Theresa May on Twitter, and canceled a visit to the UK after criticizing the location of London’s new US embassy. Meanwhile, Darroch’s own country is trying (some might say flailing) to find a way out of the European Union. And Prince Harry’s getting married to an American!

Good thing Darroch has so much experience being diplomatic. Before assuming his current post in early 2016, he was former prime minister David Cameron’s national-security adviser and held a variety of other diplomatic posts, including representing the UK at the European Union.

We caught up with the ambassador in front of a lively fire at his Downton Abbey–ish Massachusetts Avenue residence, where his cats, Piquette and Monty, stroll underfoot and waiters in long jackets will bring you tea if you only ask.

What a boring time to be ambassador of Britain to the United States. Nothing really happening in either of our countries . . . .

I think all of my predecessors have lived through excitements and chunks of history. But there is no doubt that with the Brexit vote in mid-2016, the election process culminating in November 2016, the first year of the new administration, and our election the middle of this year, it’s been quite a ride.

I’ve seen you on television speaking very diplomatically about many of these events. That seems like a skill the Trump administration doesn’t prize too highly.

I’ve had 40-odd years now in the Foreign Service, so plenty of practice. But I don’t feel that I have to be any different, particularly, or any more or less diplomatic in the way I answer questions now. Back in my mid-career, I was press spokesperson for the then foreign secretary, so I was up before the media every day.

British reporters are tough!

Well, there is this tradition of the really tough British radio and TV interviews. I don’t see people in the US media who interrogate quite in the same style, but I watch a lot of US media, and I think the American media is pretty good. The tone may be a little less aggressive, but the questions are still tough. They ask the questions that need to be asked.

Do you have sympathy for Sarah Huckabee Sanders when you see her at the lectern?

I feel a sense of solidarity with all press spokesmen, just because it’s a tough job. There’s a relentlessness to it. The toughest questions you could imagine, someone would ask them. I think she does a brilliant job, actually.

When you meet people here, what do they ask you about besides Brexit and the Trump administration?

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A lot of people tell you about the history of their own personal links with England, with the UK. And you know, people ask about how the royal family are.

Well, we’re all watching The Crown. What do you think the queen would make of the Netflix show’s fans obsessing about her personal life?

To be honest, I’m not sure she would be thinking very much about that. She has more than enough on her plate. I’ve only myself seen the first season and two or three episodes of the second. I’ve got a bit to catch up on.

Sir It Up: Darroch gets knighted by the queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008. Photograph by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images.
Sir It Up: Darroch gets knighted by the queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008. Photograph by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images.

What do people in Britain want to know about the US right now?

People are fascinated by American politics and by what happens in America. American culture’s very big in the UK. American films are huge, and we get quite a lot of your TV over there, you know. Netflix is very big.

You were ambassador during Obama’s last year and Trump’s first. How has Washington changed in that time?

There’s obviously a different flavor between the administrations. There are things we do now that we didn’t do quite so much, like checking the Twitter account every morning. But you know, the basics of the job are the same.

Do you get out around town?

Yeah, I go to the Hill once or twice every week. I get to [the State Department] most weeks, and I go to the Pentagon occasionally. I do go to the White House. I try to get outside the Beltway because, as you know better than I do, Washington is not America. But this is a wonderful convening place.

I read in the British media that you have a chauffeur-driven armored Bentley.

It’s not armored! But you’re right, I do have a Bentley. It’s very nice.

Do you just drive that thing around DC yourself? Off to CVS in the Bentley?

Noooo. I have a much more modest Volkswagen Tiguan.

You’re a Chelsea FC fan. They really turned their club around. Do you have any advice for the highly dysfunctional American football team we have in this city?

I quite like American football, actually, and I like to think I understand it. I’ve been to see the Redskins a couple of times. One of the things you learn here if you follow sport at all is the extraordinary frustrations of being a Washington sports fan.

Yes.

When I was posted to Japan in the early ’80s, those were the years of the San Francisco 49ers and that amazing quarterback they had . . . .

Joe Montana.

Joe Montana. [Around that time] the Redskins were very good, and they had this amazing fullback called . . . John Riggins?

Yes. He’s still in the area. You should have him over!

I should, you know. So that was the period when the Redskins won a couple of Super Bowls. But they’ve been mediocre for a while now. It’s unlike baseball, where the teams with big TV audiences and lots of money can buy up the best players. It’s kind of evened out in American football. They should be better.

Ringo Starr and Barry Gibb recently made the knighthood cut. Which other musicians do you think should get the nod?

Ooh, now that’s a controversial question. There are a lot of very, very talented British musicians. Mark Knopfler—I’ve got pretty much everything he’s ever done. He’s a quite marvelous musician and a brilliant songwriter. And what about Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Winwood?

As a knight yourself, will you get to go to Prince Harry’s wedding?

Well, you know, they’ve not decided yet, apparently, who they’re going to invite. But I’m not holding my breath.

This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.