11:48 Mar. 20, 2016
Judith Gough describes what life is like in Ukraine for her, her partner, and their children
Everyone is tense and pretending not to be. Judith Gough, the British ambassador to Ukraine, appears from nowhere in a corridor at the Foreign Office, tall, striding, hand outstretched. She has the mannered air of a BBC newsreader – breezy, graceful, with immaculate deportment – which almost conceals the sense that she is paddling furiously beneath the surface.
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The Foreign Office press officer, meanwhile, is paddling furiously on the surface. This, it seems initially, is due to a sincere desire to ensure the interview unfolds without a hitch, but rapidly escalates on account of the fact that hitches start befalling us at every turn.
The lift will not take us to the third floor where our designated room awaits. Or the next lift. Or the next. The staircase is blocked off. And the next one. The entire floor, unbeknown to anyone, has been closed. Then a door handle comes off in BuzzFeed News' hand. The press officer looks mortified. He apologises.
When we try to get a coffee from the internal café, the queue is too long for us to wait. He apologises again. We walk and walk and cannot find a room anywhere. Finally, BuzzFeed News jokes that perhaps this is all down to a Russian plot to STOP GAYS TALKING. There is polite, awkward laughter.
No one mentions the underlying reason for the tension: Never before has a British ambassador given an interview about being lesbian or gay. There is a small clutch of out British LGBT envoys, and one, David Quarrey – the ambassador to Israel – has mentioned being gay in an Israeli newspaper. But this is the first full discussion with a member of the press about life as an out-and-proud ambassador.
It has taken 25 years for this to even be conceivable – and it isn't until the end of the interview that the real reason for Gough's anxiousness emerges.