Behind the Scenes – Diplomatic Protocol

Elements of protocol are at work throughout our daily interactions with others but are usually fairly subtle in nature. Never is protocol more at the forefront though than with state visits by Monarchs and Popes. Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the UK  prompted an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the person responsible for protocol matters upon his arrival, Anita  Newcourt. This article ws originally run on the 16th of September in The Telegraph.

By Iain Hollingshead
Published: 7:00AM BST 16 Sep 2010

The Pope: Anita the Greeter meets the Pope

Iain Hollingshead meets Anita The Greeter, Heathrow’s VIP services manager, who will be the first person to welcome the Pope to England when he lands for his papal visit.

 For most of us, landing at an airport means long queues, surly passport officials, lost baggage and a mad dash for the car park, none of which does much good for the stress levels, or the deep-veined thrombosis.

At 9.15 this evening the Pope will have a very difference experience when his flight from Glasgow lands at Heathrow. The specially chartered Alitalia jet will pull up to Terminal 4’s Royal suite, the red carpet will be rolled out and his Holiness will be ushered into the plush surroundings of suite one, with its David Hockney paintings and Lord Linley folding screen, for a private meeting with Boris Johnson.

 Before he meets the Mayor of London, however, the first person the Pope will see on English soil is Anita Newcourt, a lieutenant colonel in the TA and Heathrow’s VIP Services Manager. Dubbed, inevitably, “Anita the Greeter” by her colleagues, Newcourt’s extraordinary job is to meet every VIP who passes through Britain’s busiest airport. Since she started 15 years ago, Anita has greeted everyone from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama to Princess Margaret (who always expected a bacon sandwich to be ready for her arrival).

If Newcourt were to write a book it would be an instant bestseller. She tells the story of Madeleine Albright hosting peace talks in London in 1998 between Arafat and Netanyahu. When the talks broke down, both the Israeli and the Palestinian delegations were on the phone to Newcourt instantly, both demanding the right to fly away first, so that they could claim that they’d snubbed the other. “We were right in the middle of it, getting shouted at,” she recalls. “But we were very diplomatic, and both delegations left at pretty much the same time, still feeling like VIPs.”

Another middle-eastern former head of state, whom she doesn’t want to name, asked on arrival for a transfer to another terminal so the entourage of 30 could have a McDonald’s.

The details of protocol are also enthralling. The Pope’s people have stipulated that there are to be no handshakes. When the Crown Prince of Thailand held a meeting in suite one, his advisors were all lying on the floor, to show their respect. On another occasion, one person tried to pretend he was a count from Lichtenstein so he could get the VIP treatment. “We soon figured him out,” says Newcourt.

She hasn’t always got the details right, though. A while ago, she was preparing for the visit of the President of Yemen and was introduced to Prince Naseem, the British boxer born to Yemeni parents. Mistaking him for a member of the Yemeni royal family Newcourt called him “your highness” throughout their conversation.

Sadly this charming, stylish 45-year-old, who is fluent in several languages, is far too discreet to spill too many beans. “Some VIPs are a joy to work with,” she says, leaving one, tantalisingly, to speculate on which ones might have been a little less joyous. Saint or sinner, their names are all recorded – accompanied by autographs – in what must be the world’s most eBay-able Visitor’s Book: the Queen (“She doesn’t like flying,” says a slightly less discreet colleague); George Bush (“odd” – ditto), Nicolas Sarkozy (“wearing heels”), Carla Bruni, Neil Kinnock…

Four months of planning have gone into the Pope’s arrival at Heathrow, with Newcourt and her team liaising with the FCO, the Vatican, the police, the press, the drivers. “My job is to make the whole orchestra play together,” she says. “And to ensure that no one is playing out of tune. It’s important to get the details right. The welcome starts at Heathrow. If it goes wrong here, it sets the wrong tone for an entire trip.”

Yesterday lunchtime Anita the Greeter met the Emir of Kuwait and his huge entourage, the only woman in a sea of hundreds of suits. “Sandhurst gave me the confidence,” she says. “And it is often a useful talking point.” Later that day she was due to greet the Crown Prince of Bahrain and the President of Rwanda. Today, it’s the Pope.

“I know it sounds really big-headed,” she says, “but I can’t think of anyone left I’d like to meet. Most of the really interesting people have already died. The job is a huge privilege and I’m looking forward to meeting the Pope. But as a Pole by birth, I’d have been more excited if it had been his predecessor.”


0 Responses to “Behind the Scenes – Diplomatic Protocol”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 12 other followers


%d bloggers like this: