Philip ParhamHer Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates
By Shereen Shabnam
The role of a diplomat is to promote the interests of his or her country – most importantly, the security of the country and its citizens at home and overseas, and its prosperity. And according to Philip Parham, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, that does not mean a narrow, short-term focus on national interests; nor a zero-sum game against other countries. We get to know more about Philip and his current diplomatic work.
Philip was born in Nairobi, Kenya and is 57 years old. His mother’s family, and many of her ancestors remained Catholic despite the Protestant reformation in Britain. He is a thirteen-times-great-grandchild of Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England who was executed on the orders of Henry VIII because he refused to accept Henry’s separation of England from the Catholic Church. His parents, John Parham and Christian Parham both died this year.
Philip is also descended from the Plantagenet family, which ruled England in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Through them, he descended from the mediaeval ruling families of Castile and Portugal and, through them, from a daughter of one of the Ummayad Caliphs of Cordoba. That line takes his ancestry back through Damascus to the Quresh and the family of the Prophet (PBUH).
He has four sisters, two teachers, one writer and one archivist. He married in 1985 to Kasia Giedroyc, who is half Polish. Kasia has been a freelance journalist and currently a teacher of children with special needs like dyslexia and dyspraxia. For the last three years, she taught at the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.
Philip has seven children, two girls and five boys. Mary, 31 years old has Down’s Syndrome, lives near Eastbourne in southern England and loves swimming, dancing and jigsaw puzzles. Joe, aged 29, studied English literature at Oxford, and writes comedy for television and film with his first full-length film in production for release next year. Francis, aged 28, studied Classics and Russian at Oxford, and is now a lawyer but works mostly on theatrical productions. Anthony, aged 26, studied Spanish and Italian at Oxford, and works at the Treasury while Charlie, aged 25, studied English literature at Cambridge and is a theatre director. Elizabeth (Lily), aged 22, studied Classics at Cambridge, and studying for a post-graduate nursing degree. Jack, aged 21, studies Spanish and Portuguese at Cambridge and is keen on designing theatre sets.
Philip’s parents, his four sisters, his wife, his wife’s brother, and three of his children are Oxford University graduates. He went to an English “prep school” called Farleigh House, as a boarder from the age of 8 to 13 and then to Eton College for 5 years, before studying Classical Literature, Ancient History and Philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford for four years.
Philip joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1993 after working for ten years as an investment banker with Morgan Grenfell and then Barclays de Zoete Wedd. He spent six of those ten years in Japan as a Director of Barclays de Zoete Wedd Limited before switching careers.
His first FCO job was Head of Pakistan/Afghanistan Section from 1993 to 1994. In 1995, he was Private Secretary to the FCO Minister covering Americas, South and South-East Asia, Public Diplomacy, Consular & Visa work and (in the House of Commons) Africa and International Development. He served for a short period in the FCO Policy Planning Staff before serving in the British Embassy in Washington covering UN, Africa and Asia business from 1996 to 2000. At the start of the posting in Washington, he was seconded for 3 months to the US State Department’s East Asia & Pacific Bureau.
From 2000 to 2003, he served in Riyadh as Director Trade & Investment for Saudi Arabia. On return to London, Philip became Head of the Iraq Operations Unit 2003 to 2004, then Head of Counter-Terrorism Policy Department 2004 to 2006. He served as British High Commissioner to Tanzania 2006 to 2009. Philip was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in July 2014. Previously, he was the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
According to Philip, the UK exports more to the Gulf than to China, and more than twice as much to the Gulf as to India. The UAE alone imports more from the UK than any other country outside Europe except the US, Japan and China. The UK has been the largest source of investment into the UAE over the last 5 years. Philip mentions that both countries have critically important shared security interests. Over 100,000 British people live and work in the UAE, and over a million more visit the UAE each year. There are over 400 direct flights between the UAE and UK every week. Several UK universities have campuses or other activity in the UAE. Some 3,000 students from the UAE are studying in the UK.
The security and prosperity of other countries contribute to the security and prosperity of the UK according to Philip. That is particularly true of the Gulf and the UAE this means that his work on the UK-UAE relationship is fascinating and important.