Bringing a personal touch to the profession
Getting to know the people and the country is the priority of new British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Peter Hayes and his wife Kirsty
|Breath of fresh air at Westminster House: Peter and Kirsty Hayes with their young family. Pic by J. Weerasekera
Not only does Sri Lanka have a new British High Commissioner, but for the first time, Westminster House will have young children in it. Dr. Peter Hayes, his wife Kirsty Hayes, and their children Libby and Jasper are only just settling into the sprawling house that will be their home for the next three or four years. They seem pleased to be here, not least because Sri Lanka's attraction for them extends well beyond the professional and into the personal.
Dr. Hayes brings to his new posting a wealth of experience and an unusual perspective. With a background as a physicist, specializing in particle physics, his choice of profession may come as a surprise. Explaining, he says, "I wanted to do something more connected to the real world, and physics can seem a bit remote sometimes…I was looking at a way that I could use my technical background but not be a scientist." And the British Civil Service afforded him that very opportunity. Not surprising when you consider that increasingly the civil service is recruiting people from backgrounds other than international relations or politics, he says, because many of the issues that propel politics today require one to be able to take and use scientific advice.
In the next few years, Dr. Hayes would work with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Cabinet Office, (where under the government's chief scientist, he was "right at the heart of how government uses science.") Eventually, after having spent some time in Washington D.C, he would return to London where over a span of time, he served as principal private secretary to three Foreign Secretaries. And this, his latest posting, couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
"Sri Lanka is a country that a lot of British people have a very strong affection for, not only for our historical links but also for cricket, our shared passion for tea, and of course for a lot of family connections…" he says, counting amongst these his own family's ties with the island. "My grandfather was actually born in Sri Lanka, in Nuwara Eliya and he came from a family of lawyers there," reveals Mrs. Hayes. She adds that her own parents were in the country 18 months ago, and that while tracing their family lineage through the local churches, they actually found the family graves.
"My parents loved the island, and they travelled around quite extensively with my aunt, who was posted here to the British Council about 15 years ago," she said. Mrs. Hayes intends taking a leaf out of their book. However, as she is an archaeologist, there will be the added pleasure of discovering the wonders of the Cultural Triangle and the many historic ruins, monuments and architecture that Sri Lanka boasts. So, as the Commissioner himself puts it, the Hayes are finding "it's a job that's a real challenge but also a job with some real attractions both personally and professionally."
Determined to put their time in the country to good use, the family says they are not in a hurry, but that their focus is on getting to know the people, and the issues. Certainly, there are some that Dr. Hayes considers of particular relevance, among which he counts the environment. He appears to be a passionate spokesperson for conservation, but balances it with a pragmatic approach.
Aside from the matters of state, Dr. Hayes says that he is looking forward to exploring avenues that will take education and language teaching forward. In addition, he hopes to forge strong links not only with the local business community, but with NGOs and charities as well.
His focus is on people, and in that context Dr. Hayes is looking forward to interaction with Sri Lankans of every calling. The family has already begun reading local literature, and Dr. Hayes hopes that arrangements can be made for him to sit down and talk with groups of students.
In the meantime, his family is settling down just fine. "The children (daughter Libby is 3 years old and son Jasper is 2) are having a wonderful time here," says Mrs. Hayes, adding that they love the big sprawling garden that adjoins the residence. It doesn't take long before it becomes apparent that Westminster House has already begun to have an air of being lived in. On the gleaming wooden lid of Mrs. Hayes' piano are photographs, and it only adds to the appeal that next to framed photos of Libby and Jasper are portraits of their parents with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US President George W. Bush, and of course, the Queen.