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Christopher Prentice

Former British Ambassador to Italy

Part of UK in Italy

4th April 2014

The Queen meets Pres. Napolitano in Rome

Relationships matter. Yesterday I had the honour of welcoming HM The Queen to Rome for private meetings with the President of Italy Giorgio Napolitano and Pope Francis (on which Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker accompanied). I had the privilege of accompanying Her Majesty on the flight over for her fourth visit to Italy after previous trips in 1961, in 1980 and 2000. How much has changed and how much closer we have grown as nations since that first visit 53 years ago! The tree which The Queen planted then in the residence garden is now five stories high.

HM The Queen in Rome

It is The Queen’s first foreign trip since she went to Australia in 2011. I can’t underline enough how big a positive signal it is that she chose to come to Italy. To illustrate how rare these visits are, in my 35-year diplomatic career it is the first time I have hosted The Queen. It is especially poignant because she was supposed to come in March last year. Unfortunately the trip was cancelled, but a quirk of election fate meant that President Napolitano was re-elected for an unprecedented second term in April and we were able to re-arrange.

The visit highlights the close personal relationships between these two Heads of State. They have known each other for many years. Since he became President in 2006 they have met 4 times (all in London). When I first met him I was surprised to discover that in his office he has only three photographs; one of his family, one of the Pope and one of The Queen. Their most recent meeting was at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. On that occasion, President Napolitano was the only visitor who was given the privilege to arrive at the ceremony by individual transport after the reception at Buckingham Palace. Yesterday in Rome The Queen arrived by car, not by parachute!

The meeting was based around a private lunch for 10 guests. We had risotto followed by lamb and a chocolate and amaretti dessert called a Bonet, from the north of Italy. The lunch was held in the Torrino tower, the highest point of the Quirinale palace, with magnificent 360 degree views of Rome. As we climbed the stairs to the tower room, with perfect timing the sun came out.

The lunch was a microcosm of the wider relationship between Italy and the UK. Our two countries have many close ties; Italy is our eighth biggest export market. Our high streets are full of pizza and pasta restaurants. There are more than 200,000 people in the UK who count Italian as their first language. I could go on. Italy continues to have an enormous influence on our culture (art, history, fashion, fast cars…). Earlier this week in London, I attended the opening of the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition on 70 years of Italian fashion with Matteo Renzi, as part of his visit to London.

The level of press interest on the visit is clear evidence of the immense public impact a visit by The Queen can have – even when it involves no public engagements. It has provided an excellent context for deepening our relationship with Italy at a key moment as the Italians prepare to take on the Presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2014.

1 comment on “The Queen meets Pres. Napolitano in Rome

  1. Christopher you are a credit to your family and to our country we have lost touch with your Mother we use to look after your Grandmother Mrs B in Merstham

    Please if possible would you let us know if all is well Allan and Doreen Stevens .

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