Henry Wotton, a diplomat and statesman who sat in the House of Commons in the early 17th century, asserted: “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” But take a close look at the antics of those whose vocational calling is to represent their nations in foreign climes and you’ll find plenty of men and women who dabble in far more iniquitous deeds than a spot of tactical fibbing. While archaeologists from Cairo University stumbled across the 3,100-year-old tomb of Paser, the world’s first royal emissary to foreign nations, diplomacy is not, by some stretch, the oldest profession in the world, yet the moral code by which it seems to be governed is not a million miles away from that overseeing the profession that famously is.
The legions of global viewers of Downton Abbey were alerted to diplomacy’s shady underbelly a few years ago, when its writer, Julian Fellowes, revealed that Kemal Pamuk — the Turkish house guest who panted and puffed his ecstatic farewell to the world during a steamy bout between the sheets with Lady Mary — was based on a real-life Turkish diplomat about whose exploits Fellowes learned when he was shown the diary of one of the protagonists. Readers of the famously understated New York Post, in 2011, were given a far more hyperbolic awakening to the fruity realities of ambassadorial endeavour with a piece that bemoaned official foreign visitors — “egotistical scum unfit to lick one’s shoe; people who have no respect for decent American values” — apparently getting away with all sorts of misdemeanours before hiding behind diplomatic immunity. (“The decadent. The depraved. The malodorous, greedy, drunk and demented,” began one pugnaciously punctuated passage. “They are scofflaws and alleged rapists. Petty criminals... ”)
Like concupiscent students driven to rabid libidinal release by being away from home, ambassadors and envoys the world over seem to get caught up in salacious real-life monkeyshines that give all-new resonance to the expression ‘chargé d’affaires’. The Russian city of Yekaterinburg was confronted with this reality in 2009, when a British deputy consul was forced to resign after being secretly filmed having sex with two prostitutes. In the same year in the same country, Russian media thought they’d died and gone to heaven when video clips were released claiming to show Brendan Kyle Hatcher — an American diplomat whose job was to liaise with religious and human rights groups in the country — contacting three prostitutes and then allegedly being filmed with one of them on a bed in a darkened hotel room. (Hatcher denied any encounter with a prostitute to his superiors at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, CNN reported at the time, and State Department officials said Hatcher had been the victim of a smear campaign.) Not long after, further to the east, 10 current and former South Korean diplomats were disciplined at the country’s consulate in Shanghai, China, in connection with a sex scandal involving a Chinese woman (after her husband, understandably enough, put in a rather peeved tip-off).