ROEHAMPTON, LONDON – Guy Hewitt is likely the most googled Barbadian of the past two years, second only to international pop star Rihanna. The outgoing Barbados High Commissioner to the UK is so generous with interviews that it is hard to find out anything he hasn’t already said publicly.
But there are a few.
In his final exit interview on British soil before demitting office today, in a well-appointed sitting room in the High Commissioner’s official residence in London’s plush Roehampton suburb, the Anglican priest reflected and looked to the future as movers hurriedly pack taped boxes.
A fundraising charity event for Barbadian cricketer Jeshua Ferdinand merrily went on in the background. His conversation with our UK correspondent Katrina Marshall is the story of a man who took a decidedly undiplomatic approach which ultimately changed the course of history.
On his role in the Democratic Labour Party:
GH: I have only been a member of the Democratic Labour Party for about four weeks.
I am not a long card-carrying member. I have been a supporter of the party; I have been offering and willing to do all that I could. I have no predatory political aspirations.
I have never aspired to go up and turn left at the top of the stairs of the House of Assembly. When people ask me about me and the Democratic Labour Party I have admired Errol Barrow my entire life. I admired all that he represented and it was not just as a Prime Minister. This is not a party of Freundel Stuart or David Thompson or Erskine Sandiford; this is a party of Errol Barrow and I draw my strength from that.
They were decimated at the polls and they have got to not just rebuild in internally but they have to convince the people of Barbados that they deserve their support again. I think it will come because …this is the party of Errol Barrow and there is a wonderful opportunity which is the centenary of his birth in 2020 and the Democratic Labour Party, I’m hoping, they will use that as an opportunity to project an image to young Barbadians of what Barrow stood for.
On Barrow’s legacy among a younger electorate:
GH: I did what I did in ‘Windrush’ because I felt Bajans are capable of these tasks. So the actions of our forefathers live on through us who are willing to continue to be courageous and to continue to be bold in the face of what seems to be certain defeat; certain failure.
But we do it not because we can but because we must or we should and that is something that will never be passé, that is something that will never lose its relevance. And what we have to be able to do is build… you cannot build your house upon the sand. We have got to build it on a strong foundation and there is no stronger foundation than the legacy left by people like Adams, like Barrow and all of those leaders who acted with strength and integrity.
On his immediate plans:
GH: I want to get home… I am twelve days away from going… I want to get back to my family…Despite the distance we’ve always been there for one another and that mattered to me as well. Because these things you can’t do on your own. You have got to have somebody there with you. For me that has been my faith. For me that has been my family. For me that has been even in this country a small circle of friends.
On his ministry:
GH: I haven’t left it [the pulpit] I’ve advised the diocese of my return and I wait to see where I get assigned. And whichever community there’s an opportunity for me to serve I will happily serve with them.
GH: Worthing beach. [I’m] going down by Carib Beach bar that has just reopened. I was there at the launch. A good friend of mine runs it …. Good team. It is an old haunt for the South Coasters. Driving down to the West Coast don’t make sense! And, yeah man, I will happily just go…
On truth & reconciliation ‘post-Windrush’:
GH: I have been encouraging … the religious leaders in this country: the leaders of the Church of England, the Church of Ireland the Church of Scotland, Catholics, Methodists, leaders of the Jewish community whatever, to encourage the government to do this because there has to be a healing. I am appreciative … when people talk about reparations. But the injustices that West Indians and other people have suffered historically cannot be compensated in cash. Others have disagreed and others have been pushing for a cash settlement but that is not what you want because if somebody says to me here is a million dollars … or a billion dollars but there’s no apology, there’s no recognition of the inhumanity and the odious injustices I would not want that money. Because that to me is equivalent to the 30 pieces of silver. Because I would not want to sell out our heritage and our suffering, for any pottage of money.
On Personal Triumphs:
GH: Moira Stuart who was the first black female [television] presenter on primetime. I found out that her father was Barbadian, her mother was from Bermuda and when I wrote her she phoned me and she said to me, ‘Look I need to be honest with you -I’ve never been to Barbados.
I don’t have a connection with Barbados.’ Her father left [her] and her mother when she was an infant and she said she has only known her Bermudan parentage. And I said, ‘Moira I would be honoured if you see this as opportunity for Barbados to reach out to you and show you that not all Bajans are like your father.’ She was very moved by that and she came to the [50th anniversary of Barbados’ Independence awards] gala [at London’s Savoy Hotel], she received the award [for being one of 50 outstanding Barbadians] and she really felt like she had found a part of her ancestry that she did not know before. I came here for Barbados and every opportunity, like with Moira Stuart, to represent Barbados and just to show her that there was a side of her, a Bajan side of her that she never knew? The opportunity to just do that for her meant so much to me. That is where I think I have got the greatest joy, where we have been able to really show how strong the Barbados brand is here.
On His “Aha” Moment [Windrush Scandal]
GH: On the fourth of April at Westminster Abbey there was the Martin Luther King memorial service. And if I had any uncertainty what I was to do [in] that service, the Lord said, “Boss, this is it.”
Because the exhortation from the Bishop of Woolwich was to say, each one of us has to ensure that we work against any injustices around us. I said ‘alright’. Because up to that point, I was ambivalent between me following a diplomatic line and waiting on my government to give me guidance, or whether I
should be fully autonomous on this matter. And I said ‘here we go’. I went straight from Westminster Abbey and did my first interview with Channel 4.
On his greatest ally:
GH: The High Commissioner for St. Kitts Nevis [Kevin Isaac]. If it was not for him…. We make the joke that we function [as] good cop/bad cop, I won’t tell you who is which role…. He’s always pointed out to them [fellow diplomats] they can work together with him in a very reasonable manner or [laughter]…. But where I get the opportunity to build friendships within the job, it’s to me, the bonus. And I will take away from here some friendships that really mattered when it was crucial at the time.
On his detractors:
GH:When you become a public figure, you have got to be thick-skinned. You have got to be able to take the rough and the smooth together. This is not a popularity contest, it’s about doing what’s right. There are those who would, understandably, some that I work closely with, who resented what they thought was over exposure of me.
On his relationship with the media:
GH: I’m probably still learning about good communications and good public relations. But … I like to interact and I interact with everyone. And going back to that agility [one of the three-A’s author Daryl Copeland said was essential for modern diplomats in his book Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations which HC Hewitt studied intensely before taking up his post], if you are going to work you have got to be able [to be] in all of those spaces. And with Windrush this was going to be a battle that was fought in the court of public opinion.
KM: You knew that from early?
GH: No. No, because to have known that would be to suggest that – which I have denied this was structured and managed. It was organic and I like to think that the hands of providence brought this together. That a perfect storm emerged, rather than was created.
I reassured the government of that; that mine was but a fortuitous role. I was not the mastermind behind this by any stretch of the imagination.
On his low points and regrets:
GH: When the health care agreement we had with the UK was coming to an end, I made the mistake of deferring to capital and in absence of a response from them, I didn’t act.
The [absence of a] Reciprocal Health Care Agreement is what led Jeshua Ferdinand into the problem that was is in. it’s not just about the Bajans that come here. Four hundred thousand Brits go to Barbados every year and we say, ‘if you get sick in Barbados you don’t need healthcare, we would have looked after you.’ So, I would have dealt with that differently.
In those [dark] moments I have my God and that has always been enough. And that’s what sees me through. “Yea, though I walk through the valley [of the shadow of death] I will fear no evil.”
His current relationship with the UK Government:
GH: Because local government elections were going on, we did not become political. We were not trying to take seats from anybody or cause anybody to lose their job. I have been subsequently in touch with Amber Rudd [Home Secretary during the Windrush scandal and MP for Hastings and Rye, East Sussex] and I have assured her, that as the MP for Brighton, I have encouraged her to visit a wonderful [Bajan] restaurant called ‘The Bus Stop’ and she promises to do that when she has time and we have stayed in contact because it was never about seeking scalps. I am a diplomat.