UK Ambassador to Spain Simon Manley is leaving his post later this year. He spoke to Dilip Kuner about his six years in Madrid…
“THE best job of my life!” This is how Simon Manley describes the past few years in his post as the UK’s ‘Man in Spain’.
“To be an ambassador is a massive honour, but to do it in Spain is an even higher honour and a huge privilege”, added the Oxford graduate reflecting on his six years leading the UK’s biggest diplomatic network in Europe.
Not only does the Madrid mission look after the interests of 300,000 British expats living here but it also is in charge of the consular help and advice centre that assists UK citizens way beyond Spain’s borders.
As ambassador Mr Manley is the public face of the UK in Spain, a role he has accepted with the grace, charm and intelligence one would expect from someone in his position.
He has fulfilled his duties with the highest professionalism and diligence, having the best interests of the UK and its citizens in mind, but there has always been time to enjoy the moment.
The 51-year-old’s personal highlight was the State Visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to the UK. Mr Manley smiled as he recalled the event, saying: “That was the first time I have or will ever have ridden down The Mall with thousands of people lined up on either side.
“Sitting in the Houses of Parliament with the Speaker saying ‘viva el rey’, and it seems the entire House joining in perfect unison, was a special moment.”
Mr Manley’s time in Spain has been, politically, challenging and historically interesting. He has witnessed the abdication of King Juan Carlos I and the coronation of a new king.
The political landscape – a scene he has to be intimately acquainted with – has altered radically with the traditionally strongest parties (the right wing PP and leftist PSOE) challenged by upstarts.
Mr Manley, who is married to Spanish international lawyer Maria Isabel Fernandez Utgès and has three daughters, said: “Podemos appeared overnight – no one was expecting them at all.” But he was not so surprised when Ciudadanos arrived on the scene, saying: “I had met their leader, Albert Rivera, when I was at an event in Malaga, so at least I had some knowledge of him!”
And of course he has had to deal with the challenges of Brexit (see Brexit Brief for more on this) with informing British expats one of his main goals.
In fact it is in the field of communications where Mr Manley feels his greatest achievement as ambassador lies.
A noticeable enthusiasm came into his voice as he said: “I feel one of my biggest achievements was how I led our team into becoming a more digital network. Social media gives us the tools to engage with so many more people.
“Our outreach meetings (more than 200) let us engage tens of thousands of people, but one social media video on the Royal Decree regarding Brexit had 100,000 views. Social media is a hugely important part of communicating with people.
As his time as ambassador draws to a close, what does the future hold for Mr Manley? With an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, he said: “It is a challenge to find anything as good as this job!”