'The Ambassador’s Wife’s Tale' by Julia Miles is an intriguing read to say the least

The book is not all serious stuff. There are plenty of light-hearted anecdotes and witty vignettes


Amin Jan Naim October 19, 2017
PHOTO: FILE

The writer of this book, Julia Miles, is the wife of Oliver Miles, a former British Ambassador to Greece. Oliver Miles is not only an Arabist but he and Julia are also well-versed in the Greek language.

Oliver is a diplomatist in the venerable old British tradition. Julia’s book covers their tenures together in Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Greece (twice), Libya and Luxembourg, besides their postings in London in the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Julia Miles describes with accuracy as well as with fine humour the varied, challenging and daunting tasks that wives of diplomats have to manage, often under very difficult circumstances. Contrary to popular perceptions, it is not all glamour but often hard and painstaking work.

Julia displays the courage of her convictions. Her political understanding of the countries she covers is formidable. Her insights into foreign political situations are penetrating. She comes out as a resolute, caring, competent and no-nonsense personality.

The book is not all serious stuff. There are plenty of light hearted anecdotes and witty vignettes. She expresses her views candidly as well as with a delicate flair. She also briefly touches upon certain associated topics, such as intelligence matters, in a forthright yet circumspect manner.

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Julia Miles’ book covers the entire varied spectrum of life that the wife of a diplomat has to undergo, and the many qualities, discretion and talents required of her in such endeavours. She describes with charm her encounters with so many leading personalities and luminaries, and the protocol gaffes which sometimes occurred.

The Miles’ postings in Greece were full of interactions with Greek society, the people and with Greek customs and hospitality. Julia describes with considerable acumen the political events in Greece at that time and earlier.

During their first diplomatic posting together in Cyprus, the Miles encountered conflicts, shootings and terrorism. The historical background of Cyprus described by Julia is interesting. The Miles made friends with both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Julia castigates the inhumane practices, autocracy and misogyny she found in Saudi Arabia. Yet her mention of controversial issues is made in a positive spirit with propriety and tact.

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Julia describes in detail their harrowing and hectic time in Tripoli during the severing of diplomatic relations between Britain and Libya. She then took on an extraordinary role, including press interviews. Some of these were not looked upon very kindly by the FCO, given the usual penchant of relying on a sole official spokesperson. She has some stiff words to say about the FCO attitude at that particular time.

Having graduated from the London School of Economics in the 1960s, Julia was always keen on social work. In 1988 she qualified formally in this field. In 1992 she attained her desire of working as a probation officer, rehabilitating offenders. In 2003 she qualified in psychotherapy, which she now practices. Even now after retirement the Miles visit “our beloved Greece whenever we can”T.

Such an eventful, diverse and fulfilling life as Julia’s can surely be looked back upon with pride and satisfaction. This book is a glimpse into that.

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