Great Britain's Princess Anne makes her much-heralded arrival to Chile Monday January 22 and as the country prepares to offer its eminent guest the proverbial royal treatment, no single person shoulders quite as much of that responsibility as the United Kingdom's number-one representative in Chile: British Ambassador Howard Drake.
A first-time ambassador, Drake will also have his first opportunity to host a member of British Royal Family. Though he is no doubt feeling the pressure, Ambassador Drake, as he told the Santiago Timesin an exclusive interview, is also very much honoured by the occasion. For me as ambassador it's very exciting. And it's all happening next week," he said. "It's a privilege for me to be ambassador here. And one of the reasons for that is I'm privileged to be able to welcome a member of the Royal Family who wants to come and promote U.K. interests here." Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, arrives Monday, Jan. 22 by way of British Antarctica. Although she plans to spend just three days in Chile, the Princess will be covering a great deal of ground. Her scheduled whirlwind tour includes stops in Punta Arenas, the twin coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, and Santiago. The 56-year-old Princess Royal, as she is officially called, has a number of reasons for visiting Chile, according to Drake. For starters, she is coming to promote continued good relations between the two countries and to highlight ways in which the United Kingdom is engaged here. "The relationship between the U.K. and Chile is excellent," said Drake. "We work together with the Chilean government, with NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and with Chilean business on a whole range of areas, in defence, education, environment. There's a great deal going on. For example, in the last couple of months or so of 2006 there were various Chilean cabinet ministers who went to the U.K.: Sergio Espejo (Transport), Karen Poniachik (Mining and Energy), Eduardo Bitrán (Public Works), and others. In all of those areas, there's a huge amount of dialogue and real exchange of ideas and information that the world doesn't really know about". Last month Chile hosted Lord Treisman, the U.K. Foreign Office's minister for Latin America. Chile is now one of only three countries in the region ÃÂ¢€" the others are Brazil and Mexico ÃÂ¢€" with which Britain has regular, high-level political talks. "That's because Chile sees a lot of things in the world the same way we do," said the ambassador. "Chile is a reliable partner for the U.K. As you know, Tony Blair knew President (Ricardo) Lagos very well. They got on very well, in particular with progressive governmental issues, similarly with President (Michelle) Bachelet." And, Drake added, in 2006 the heads of the British Navy, Air Force and Army all came to Chile. "There aren't many countries that can say that," he said. The ambassador adds that Princess Anne is visiting Chile for personal interests, too. Since 1970 the Princess Royal has presided over the international organization Save the Children. It's no coincidence, therefore, that while in Chile she plans to visit two different child-oriented projects. In Valparaíso, for example, she will check in with an NGO called Paicabí, which works directly with abused children and receives substantial support from the British Embassy. "It's incredibly commendable work that they do, in helping children who've been exploited, who are on the streets. This includes child prostitution," said Drake. "They're trying to help these kids take a hold of their lives. So we're taking her to see that." The Princess also has a strong interest in the environment, one she shares with the British government as a whole, the ambassador explained. "For the British government, the issue of climate change is a huge global issue. Our government has given it the highest priority." The U.K. government recently commissioned economist Sir Nicolas Stern to research the effect of global warming on the world economy. The 700-page Stern Review, published this past October, concluded, among other things, that climate change, if unchecked, threatens to cause the biggest market collapse ever known. "We're not saying we have all the wisdom. But what Tony Blair was saying, and Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer), was that if we, the world, don't stand back and address some of these issues, then the cost to the world is going to be huge," the ambassador said. "One of the striking things about the Stern Review, something I think about every time I get into my 4X4, is that the last ice age happened when the mean global temperature was only five degrees centigrade lower than it is now. And now we keep pushing up the global temperature. Go figure that out!" Drake began his functions as British ambassador to Chile in October 2005. It was not, however, his first time in the country. Drake ÃÂ¢€" who has also lived and worked in Los Angeles, Singapore and more recently New York ÃÂ¢€" spent three years in Santiago during the mid-1980s. From 1985 to 1988 he held the Embassy position of second secretary political. "Obviously, the 1980s was a different Chile from the one now," he said. "A big part of my role was involved with the human rights issues of that time. And indeed, working very closely with the then opposition. I loved it here. I loved it because I have a huge admiration for the Chilean people. And I really mean that." "I got to know a lot of people at the Vicaría (de la Solidaridad) and at other organizations," Drake went on to say. "I felt a real attachment to the country. As it happened I met my wife here too. And when I left I had a real lump in my throat. It had been a marvellous experience." Lucky for Drake, more than 15 years later he had the opportunity to return. "As the boss," he joked. And, within just a few months of assuming the ambassadorship, he had an opportunity to witnesses something quite extraordinary. "For me to be in the Congress on the 11th of March last year when Bachelet took office was a very ... for me as an outsider, it seemed to me a very moving occasion. The transition (from dictatorship to democracy) was finished at that point as far as I can see. And everyone's now looking forward in a way which, as a mere foreigner here, I personally think is truly remarkable." By Benjamin Witte The Santiago Times.