Nick Pyle, 56, who is married to Ros Day, has two sons and one daughter. Nick was awarded the MBE in 1999 and the OBE in 2004. The Deputy Governor no longer lives in Mount Road but has moved to the more central Queensway Quay. His wife Ros also worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 25 years and was awarded the MBE in 2005.
Nick was born in Bishop Auckland, a market town twelve miles southwest of Durham. He went to the local primary school and then went aged nine to Durham Chorister School. This despite not being able to sing. The school went co-educational in 1994 and today, there are 20 female and 20 male choristers but the majority of pupils do not sing. Famous old boys include Tony Blair, Rowan Atkinson and Sir John Laws.
When Nick was ten years old, his father, Captain in the Merchant Navy, died in a shipping accident in the port of Huelva. He was offered a place as a foundation scholar with full scholarship in the Royal Merchant Navy School near Wokingham which in the mid-sixties opened its doors to fee paying boys and was renamed Bearwood College.
Originally, he was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Merchant Navy. Unfortunately, this plan was aborted when he realised the extent of his colour-blindness. Nick then went to Leeds University to read Business studies and after one year, fate intervened. In a national newspaper, he read an advertisement inviting applications to join the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He hoped to transfer the remaining two years of his degree down to London. After tests and interviews, he was offered a position and it was inferred that he would be able to continue his studies. This never came to pass much to his relief but later regret. He was enjoying the London life too much to wish to sacrifice pleasure for study. He describes London as his first overseas posting.
Nick joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1981. Three years later, he was sent to the United Kingdom mission at the United Nations in Geneva working on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Swiftly, he learned that in order to maximise the benefit from a posting, it is necessary to look at the wider environment. Nick made a point of getting off the diplomatic bandwagon and joined a local football team, for the social life rather than the playing. This forced him to learn French and to appreciate what life was really like in Geneva. He has kept up this searching for life outside the Embassy or High Commission throughout his career.
1986 to 1988 was spent in Kabul, Afghanistan doing a variety of roles including as Pro Consul which meant looking after the few British subjects who remained. Nick managed to be arrested by Soviets (the USSR did not cease to exist until 1991). This was because he was in his Embassy car when he saw a BBC television crew with Brian Hanrahan about to be taken into custody. Brian and the crew were filming the Russians fishing in a local lake which basically meant throwing hand grenades into the lake; an image Russian military did not want transmitted round the world. During his time in the military headquarters, Nick debated the theory of political conflict resolution and learned one of his most important lessons – that the art of diplomacy is to influence, not impose.
Life in Kabul was enjoyable but hard with no modern benefits of internet, TV etc. There was a permanent curfew imposed by the Soviet military and the Afghan government. Nick lived on a small compound which was adjacent to the large office site. Although the distance between the two was a mere 20 yards, he was forbidden, even as a diplomat, to cross from one to the other.
The next posting was to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as Vice-Consul (1988-91) which was the time of the build up to the first Gulf War (1990-91). Nick found that this posting was his most vivid exposure to political and social hypocrisy. He found that laws were being enforced by people who did not obey them. He found that in order to work with the Saudis, things had to be accepted that may be morally questionable. This did not stop him from working towards making things better.
The next four years were spent in Whitehall (1992-96) in the personnel department. The last year was on the Trades Union side of the FCO which involved a major review of the terms and conditions led by Sir Derek Hornby. As half the staff thought he was a plant from Human Resources, his views tended to be shot down and disregarded in meetings. This is where he learnt about the power of persuasion and persuasive argument. Reasoned argument must be placed before the opposition even if they are not expected to agree. Today, anyone from Ambassador downwards can join a Trade Union; today, in the Civil Service, there is one union rather than the variety of unions of the past.
1996 saw him posted to Sri Lanka as Consul where his main responsibility was looking after British National and Immigration. This was at a time when the Tamils had started their second phase of the Civil War which was to continue until 2009. The Consulate was in Colombo, the commercial capital and largest city on the island. Despite the city being ringed by security posts, bombs went off and there was shooting in the street resulting in fatalities including some British subjects. This was compounded by Sri Lankans who had moved to the United Kingdom and taken out British nationality and returned on holiday to see their relatives. His most relaxing moments were while playing for the High Commission cricket team. He travelled widely and met many different Sri Lankans in what, despite the civil war, was a multi-cultural society. Nick was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his work in Sri Lanka.
From 2000 to the middle of 2004, he went to Barbados and halfway through the tour was promoted to deputy High Commissioner. He was also non-resident High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Nick spent eleven years (2005-2016) working in Africa. For the first five years, he was in Nairobi (Kenya) as Political Counsellor working on Somalia. He spent the last year there on secondment to the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, working on a broad range of security, conflict, governance and development issues. His role was Special Advisor to the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General (UNSRSG). The situation within Somalia was so dire and dangerous that the transitional Federal Government of Somalia was based in Nairobi. A great deal of work went into the Djibouti Peace Process and his work and experience in Colombo was of considerable help. He was awarded an OBE for his work in Somalia. The next three years, he was deputy head of Africa Department – Central and Southern – once again, in Whitehall.
In February 2013, he was accredited as British High Commissioner to the Republic of Botswana and United Kingdom Representative to the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Throughout their diplomatic career, Nick and his wife have always sought to give something back to the local community by getting closely involved with local charities. They have always been conscious of the privileged lifestyle that diplomats lead. On the back of this, Nick introduced Botswana to the Duke of Edinburgh Golf Cup which is an annual series of golf events played throughout the world which raise money for local children and youth charities. There is a process of elimination and the winning teams play the final at the Royal Household Golf Club in Windsor with the cup being usually presented by Prince Edward after a dinner in Windsor Castle. Nick was asked to be a trustee of the charity and has been one for two years.
Nick intends to set up the Duke of Edinburgh Golf Charity in Gibraltar despite there being no golf course on the Rock.
Nick is an advocate of Trauma Risk Management (TRIM) and after training to qualify for an external degree, he became Africa TRIM coordination lead. This was put to full use during the aftermath of the Westgate shopping centre bombings in Nairobi in September 2013. He also spent a week in Istanbul dealing with another terrorist attack.
Nick’s posting as High Commissioner came to an end in February 2016 and applied for the position of Deputy Governor of Gibraltar. He was delighted to be appointed and arrived on the Rock in September last year. This gave ample time for briefings and reading into the history of and current problems facing Gibraltar. During this time, he joined the University Round Show to encourage undergraduates from diverse backgrounds to join the Foreign Office. His was a classic example of diversity as he joined at the lowest grade without university degree and yet has received an MBE and an OBE as well as been appointed a High Commissioner.
He and Ros have quickly learned to love Gibraltar but he feels as he has only lived here for a few months and is still on a learning curve, it would not be right to comment on life on the Rock until a few months have passed. The main lesson he has learned as a diplomat is to always shake off the trappings and get out and meet the people to find out how a country works.
Whilst in Botswana, he became an avid blogger and some of his blogs about this country can be found on the internet. So far, there has not been a blog about Gibraltar but after a year in post, he might be tempted.
words | Mike Brufal