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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

5th June 2012

Sixty Years of Service

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Chelsea Pier during the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant on the River Thames in London, 3 June 2012. © Press Association

This is a week of celebration in the United Kingdom and across the 15 independent realms of which The Queen is Head of State (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica). We are celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And in so doing, we are also celebrating the stability and evolution of the British constitution.

In my speech at the Service of Thanksgiving held at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Rome on 5 June, I emphasised the importance of “service”. It is a concept too often neglected in modern society. But it is a word on which both The Queen and Pope Benedict XVI place great emphasis. The Pope is “the Servant of the Servants of God”. The Queen, even before taking up the Throne in 1952, declared on her 21st birthday in 1947 to the peoples of the then Empire her dedication “to your service”. Both are in their eighties, both in positions that have no retirement age, both great servants of their communities.

As I told Vatican Radio, The Queen’s reign has seen extraordinary change. The Queen is no longer head of an Empire, but Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, a freely constituted body of 54 independent countries. As Supreme Governor of The Church of England she is still “Defender of the Faith”, but in her words and actions she has also developed a role of defender of all faiths, “speaking across all ethnic and religious divides” in the words of Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. All nine of the major faith communities in Britain feel recognised and respected. The same could not have been said 60 years ago.

In terms of Catholicism, for example, it is fair to say that in 1952 there were, still, echoes of anti-Catholic feeling in parts of the United Kingdom dating back to the Reformation. But as the Catholic Peer Lord Alton reminded the House of Lords a few days ago, Catholic faith-based activity has flourished under a Queen “whose life embodies religious tolerance and the principle of duty”. During her reign, full diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See were re-established (in 1982). The first ever visits of a Pope to Britain took place (Bl. John Paul II in 1982, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010). The numbers of her Catholic subjects rose from 4.4 million to 6.4 million. There are 2,278 Catholic schools educating 800,000 children, and 1,000 independent Catholic charities engaged in the sort of faith-based work of help for the poor, sick, and others in need that underpins social unity.

Heads of State across the world, even those representing very different constitutional systems, could do worse than model themselves on Queen Elizabeth II. For Britain, that is definitely something to celebrate.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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