Introducing: British ambassador Fleur Thomas

Fleur Thomas poses in the embassy residence with a model of a Meteor air-to-air missile on the mantlepiece. The new UK ambassador has a wealth of experience in defence and trade posts and is a keen champion of equality. Matic Zorman

Fleur Thomas poses in the embassy residence with a model of a Meteor air-to-air missile on the mantlepiece. The new UK ambassador has a wealth of experience in defence and trade posts and is a keen champion of equality. Matic Zorman

The new top diplomat at the British embassy in Luxembourg brings a wealth of experience in trade, defence and promotion to the role, and describes herself as a bit of a foraging geek.

Just over a week after she arrived in the grand duchy, and the day after presenting her credentials to Grand Duke Henri, British ambassador Fleur Thomas is doing a stream of press interviews more akin to a strictly scheduled press junket for a new movie. We are sandwiched between fellow English-language journalists Josh Oudendijk of RTL Today and Jazmin Campbell of Chronicle, and word is passed between us that the new ambassador has some delicious cakes on offer--the chef at the residence has made them according to Thomas’ own recipe.

Despite the conveyer belt of interviews, the ambassador is welcoming and energetic and answers questions with the aplomb of someone who, in her own words, is used to dealing with the media. She drove over to Luxembourg using the Eurotunnel with her cat, Millie, who has already been introduced to followers of the embassy and the ambassador on social media. As has Thomas’ shoe collection after a photo of the choices she was considering wearing for her presentation to the grand duke caused an unnecessary stir.

Thomas’ career is perhaps not that of a typical UK diplomat. She studied land management for her bachelor’s degree, but says she realised fairly soon that that was not a career she wanted to pursue. She went on to do an MBA and an MSc in development management at the Open University, where she also went on to lecture part time. Her distance learning MBA was obtained while she worked as cabin crew and then as a trainer across various departments at British Airways.

Broad experience

She is also a fellow of the Westminster Abbey Institute, which is available to up to only 20 public servants a year who are moving into senior roles to look at public service issues. Thomas had only been at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office for less than a year before she was appointed ambassador. Before that, she spent two years as head of exports at the ministry of defence. But she has also had experience at the department for international trade and as a director of engagement at the defence relationship management, which connects the ministry of defence and the armed forces to UK employers.

“My experiences in defence and trade involved quite a lot of diplomatic type work, negotiations on UK exports, for example. So, I may not have a classic diplomatic background, but I've certainly travelled to embassies around the world on behalf of the British government in previous jobs.”

Thomas sees plenty of opportunity for promotional activity as the next chapter of the UK’s exit from the EU develops. She points out several areas in which Luxembourg and the UK are pretty much on the same page, particularly in the climate change challenge ahead of the COP26 summit that the UK will host in Glasgow in November. “It’s great to see Luxembourg doing so much already in terms of public transport,” she says. "Boris Johnson today has announced some new measures for the UK by 2035, with a 78% reduction in carbon emissions based on 1990s levels.”

The ambassador declares herself an LGBT ally and says that, post-covid, “we should be celebrating that anyone can bring their real selves to work. I think that's really important.” Indeed, she stresses the importance of equality in all its forms. “You might describe me as a feminist,” she says indicating several books by female authors on the coffee table. Thomas at one stage of her career had a small business in the Middle East that taught English to women using technologies. “Empowering women and wanting women to have equality is important to me.” But issues of race equality are equally important. “We’re all about enhancing our understanding of race issues through education.”

As well as the books, the lounge in the ambassador’s residence is dotted with cushions Thomas has designed herself (a portable hobby, as she calls it), and several models of fighter jets and even a Meteor air-to-air missile. She has also brought over some 200 cookbooks and she enjoys walking in the countryside. “I’m very keen, and this is going to sound a bit geeky, but I'm quite keen on foraging in the autumn…I’ve really enjoyed exploring for wild mushrooms and berries, and then making jams…so I understand there's some really good places for that here.”