This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Nadire Latifi

Chevening scholar from Macedonia 2016/2017

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of Chevening Conversations UK in North Macedonia

23rd October 2017 Skopje, North Macedonia

The 10 Downing Street impressions of a Chevening scholar from Macedonia

The Chevening programme does not only help its scholars complete their dreams – it offers them the possibility to experience the undreamed. More than financial support, this scholarship gave me a prestigious identity along with many privileges and opportunities. One of them was definitely the exclusive chance to visit 10 Downing Street, the residence and the office of the UK Prime Ministers since 1735.

The traditional monthly “Scholargram” e-mail of March came with an unusual piece of information: the competition “10 Seconds with the Prime Minister”. Namely, only one question that I would have asked PM Theresa May, if I had the chance to meet her, was the sole barrier to open the famous black door of this marvellous building, given that it succeeded to be selected among many insightful questions submitted by the Chevening scholars of this academic year. Fortunately, my curiosity about how the PM manages to deal with all the challenges that emerge when drastic political changes, such as Brexit, occur enabled me to secure a place in the remarkable tour inside this house of power.

We sat around the table of the Cabinet Room, where the government ministers sit and meet weekly to discuss the current issues within the country and beyond. That same room has witnessed many of the crucial historical decisions that have shaped the world’s destiny. In an era full with sophisticated facilities, I was surprised to see that ministers in this space use nothing but a sharp wooden pencil, which remains always there in front of their sit. Does this imply that a sharp pencil is all a sharp mind needs?

Later, we climbed the popular Grand Staircase. Our way to the next floor looked like a journey in the rich history of the building, for the chronologically ordered portraits of the last 47 prime ministers of the country followed us until the end. Interestingly, the portraits of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were more eye-catching. What makes these two figures stand out among the others? Is their distinguishable leadership the answer?

White Drawing Room was our next destination. What had once been the bedroom of Churchill, today is the reception venue for world leaders. It was amusing to sit on the chairs where Barrack Obama and David Cameron have posed for the “handshake” photograph and to act as if we were them. Coming to know that two old green chairs were insured worth 400,000 pounds, left many of us open-mouthed. Seemingly, it is the rich history, which sets this peculiar value. Just in front of this room, I was also amazed to see the lunar dust from the Apollo 11 space mission, scooped from the moon’s surface during their ‘great leap for mankind’.

Terracotta Room was home of a chuckle-some story with Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership, she has firstly redecorated and renamed it from Blue to Green Room, and then has asked for the official consent to do so. It looks like even English order can be enriched with creative escape from the order – in this case legal permissions.

Our memorable tour ended at the State Dining Room, where journalists are hosted during press conferences. It was oddly to hear that David Cameron had found another unusual use of this space—tennis court—in order to play a match against Andy Murray, the famous British tennis star.

Among everything else, two civil servants, who were there under the queen’s authorisation, were definitely icing on the cake. They constantly shared colourful stories, facts and anecdotes from their more than 30 years’ experience under this roof. All of us kept asking questions about the everyday routine activities of the different prime ministers they have served; about the way they treated civil servants; the differences between them in front of and behind the cameras and alike. It was touching to hear how much they appreciated words like “thank you”, “good morning” or any other small gestures that make them feel valued by the occupants.

The cherry, yet, was the cat, Larry, who welcomed us sleeping and said goodbye to us in the same way! Is this how a Chief Mouser should behave, or simply he did not like casual guests as we were?

Full with exiting impressions, we took several pictures in front of the door of 10 Downing Street and went to have a lunch together in order to continue discussing and sharing our personal views on the visit.