21. Gifts from The Queen, the End of a Diplomatic Career

By Harry J. Mace (@harryjmace)

The British Embassy in Stockholm, 1956: Jane Holliday was considering her resignation from the Diplomatic Service. Precipitated by her anger at the treatment of women and a burgeoning romantic relationship with a senior diplomat, Holliday felt it was time to work elsewhere. Having spent some time in Sweden as a secretary and mastering the language, she came back to Stockholm after joining the Foreign Office. She arrived as the Personal Assistant to the Air Attaché and then worked for the Counsellor (No. 2 in the Embassy hierarchy). That very Counsellor ended up, as Holliday recalled ‘my future husband (though I didn’t know it at the time)’. The Embassy was a space of mixed emotions.[1]

Despite her linguistic talents, Holliday was often asked to venture beyond her job description. The Counsellor in question – who had been married twice with a son – felt the burden of being a bachelor and asked Holliday on numerous occasions to serve as his hostess at formal dinners. Yet the Foreign Office soon sent him to Laos. The Queen was due to make a State Visit to Sweden and Holliday suspected the ‘squeaky clean’ Embassy removed the Counsellor as he was filing for divorce. Holliday decided that she would resign after the Royal Visit. She was responsible for preparing the ‘Ceremonial’; the lengthy programme of The Queen’s trip. The visit marked a personal accolade in Holliday’s career, prior to becoming a diplomatic wife. Granted an audience with The Queen, ‘who was charming’, Holliday was presented with ‘a signed photo and a solid silver powder compact’ for her services. Male colleagues would not have received gifts. Both objects were reminders of Holliday’s short but exceptional work in the Diplomatic Service. Only seventeen years later could talented women, like Holliday, serve Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service as wives and mothers.

Image: Signed photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 by Cecil Beaton (permission received from Nate D. Sanders Auctions). Click here to see the solid silver compact.


[1] Jane Holliday, Cocktails and Cockroaches: A Diplomatic Memoir (Milton Keynes: Author House Ltd, 2009).

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