“It’s feels like Caribbean weather out there,” says Guy Hewitt, the High Commissioner for Barbados, as he opens a window in his office on an unseasonably warm Spring day in London. “It’s nice to be welcomed in town with a bit of sun.”
The High Commissioner’s demeanour is every bit as sunny as the weather. Talking with infectious passion about his island nation, Hewitt is the perfect person to take the lead in Barbados’ 50-year independence celebrations in the UK next year.
“It’s a very exciting time and I feel tremendously privileged to have the honour to lead the planning in the UK for the events we hope to stage,” he says.
“There’s a lot we want to showcase to celebrate this major milestone. Things which have been important to our interaction with the UK – travel, cricket, our culture and music, with Bajan [colloquialism for Barbadian] icons like Sir Garfield Sobers and Rihanna, whom we are hoping will be part of the festivities.
“There is also our food and our rum – Mount Gay being the oldest rum in the world,” he mentions with a sense of pride. “These provide the perfect ingredients to refresh Brand Barbados in the UK.”
While Barbados’ landmark celebration is a good time to underscore the strong ties with the UK, it has stirred up debate over the country’s constitutional status and whether its makes the shift from its Realm status, with the Queen as sovereign, to a republican form of government.
In March this year, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart announced the country would be replacing the Queen with a ceremonial president.
While some UK papers lamented the fact Barbados is “Ditching the Queen” Hewitt stresses that the change is part of the journey of nationhood and not a slight against the monarch.
“The Prime Minister’s comments should be placed in context,” he points out. “We recently established the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal for Barbados and a number of other countries in the region. Prior to that the UK Privy Council was the final court.
“Similarly a number of Commonwealth Caribbean countries have a national as head of state as part of their development as a country. As Barbados travels towards our Golden Jubilee we are seeking to consolidate our independence by having a Barbadian head of state.
“Having said that, Her Majesty has been a warmly regarded sovereign and will remain highly revered by Bajans regardless of her role and the ties between Barbados and the UK, and with the Commonwealth of Nations, will remain of vital importance to us.
Hewitt understands the importance of the Commonwealth having worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1995 – 2003. “I got an appreciation of the critical role the Commonwealth played in the development of Barbados, the Caribbean and, as the voice for small states, many other emerging nations,” he says, adding: “I think it is important that the Commonwealth ‘family of nations’ remains relevant to its members and maintains a strategic position on the global stage.”
Defining period for Commonwealth
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November takes place at a “defining period” suggests Hewitt. “In this the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Heads should look critically at what has been achieved to date and how they can build on those successes to create a future Commonwealth.”
Another passion of Hewitt’s is healthcare. Having served as Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the only tertiary medical facility in Barbados serving patients from many other countries, including UK visitors, Hewitt hopes to feature the hospital’s upgrading in the legacy planning for the anniversary celebrations.
During his term Hewitt is determined to strengthen the considerable relationship between the UK and Barbados when it comes to tourism. “We attract the UK luxury traveller while also catering for middle income tourists and that is something we want to build on,” he says.
“Barbados is one of the few Caribbean destinations where the UK is its primary tourist market,” he continues. “British Airways (through its precursor BOAC) commenced uninterrupted services to Barbados in 1953. When the Concorde operated, it had three scheduled stops from London – Paris, New York and Barbados. The first flight Her Majesty made on Concorde was to Barbados!”
Hewitt also plans to expand Barbados’ commercial focus and position itself within the City of London as an international financial centre. “Behind the US and the UK, Barbados is the third-largest destination for Canadian investment, mostly in financial services, and there is much we can offer the UK market,” he says.
And when he is not focused on Barbados, the High Commissioner uses his spare time to travel within the UK. “I hope to get to know the UK in its entirety,” he says. “Since I’ve been in London I’ve been able to visit the South East, North West and West and East Midlands along with Scotland. I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of the UK.”
It’s long to-do list but thanks to Hewitt’s sunny and positive disposition his term is off to a bright start.