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News > Alumni News > David Ward, History-making British Diplomat, returns to Dame Allan's Schools

David Ward, History-making British Diplomat, returns to Dame Allan's Schools

21 Jun 2023
Alumni News
Diplomat David Ward with Head Girl and founder of Dame Allan's UN club, Imogen Golding-Douglass
Diplomat David Ward with Head Girl and founder of Dame Allan's UN club, Imogen Golding-Douglass

French, German, Japanese and Nepalese are just some of the languages that are spoken by Diplomat David Ward, the first resident British High Commissioner to Samoa. A proud Allanian, he recently returned to Dame Allan’s Schools to speak to young people from the North East who have a passion for politics. 

David attended Dame Allan’s Boys’ School from 1979 - 1986 and now works in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCO). He has travelled extensively for his work, including postings in Tokyo, Afghanistan, and Libya. A multi talented linguist, his passion for languages began at Dame Allan’s - where he studied French and German - before being honed in his many international postings. 

David remembers that it was snowing when he took his entrance exam, a day when he was also surprised to bump into two other pupils from his Primary School. When it came time for his interview, he recalls that his Primary School - along with most state schools - was closed for several weeks by a Caretakers' strike - this was during the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’, when many public services were disrupted by strikes.  

Speaking about his interview, David remembers, “one of the questions I was asked was where I would emigrate to, and why, and I answered Australia, because people spoke English there. It was an answer which did foreshadow my life in one way - I have primarily worked on the other side of the world - but in another way did not, in that not knowing the language has not held me back from living in countries such as Japan, China or Eritrea where the language is very different. The teacher who asked that question would have been either Mr Curran, or Mr Moses, two of the older teachers, who were among a handful of teachers who were just about old enough to have fought in the Second World War, though I am not sure if any of them ever had done.” 

Reminiscing fondly about the teaching staff at Dame Allan’s, David recalls  “...their dedication. Not just to the task of teaching, but to a full and rounded education, devoting hours every week and weeks every year to sports, cultural activities, and trips during the holidays (though they were a little closer to home than today's - canal-boating in Yorkshire or hiking on the Isle of Arran).”

It was also at Dame Allan’s that David first began to consider a career as a diplomat, after a visit from an Allanian at Speech Day captured his imagination - the guest had formerly been High Commissioner to Pakistan. This was further cemented by the comment of a supportive teacher, Mrs Hutt, who remarked that she “could see [David] doing that" as a job. 

After leaving Dame Allan’s  in 1986, David took up a place at Cambridge University to read French and German. This pivotal choice was inspired by one of his former teachers, Mr Moodie, who David hails as probably his “greatest influence”, adding: “He taught me French and German, and gave an enormous amount of time to the school, to the Birdwatching Society, to music activities and to others.  In the end, the fact that I went to his old university to study his old subjects probably speaks to his impact.”

Following his time at Cambridge, David joined the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCO) in 1992. It was there that he added another language to his impressive list, studying for a year to learn Japanese ahead of a posting in Tokyo, where he remained between 1995 and 1998. David has held posts across the globe since then, and he was also an integral part of the FCO team during the London 2012 Olympics. 

In a particularly challenging phase of his career, David was posted into conflict zones, including Libya in 2011 and 2012, as well as Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 

“The first thing is to know why you are there, what you are trying to achieve, and to believe that it is the right thing.” said David, of his time working in these very difficult environments. “You need to be able to take decisions - do we visit this village, do we build this school, deploy our staff, is the risk to them acceptable? - rationally and carefully, even though sometimes you might not have all the facts you would like. You need to trust those around you, especially those whose job is to look after you, and show that you do… You must be able and willing to listen and to learn about the culture you are working in, the people you are working with, and their needs and hopes.  You have to be resilient, to know how to maintain your own well-being, whether that is through exercise, reading Dickens, or watching videos on Youtube of Bob Mortimer on "Would I Lie to You?"  In other words, you need to know yourself.  That is true in all walks of life, but if you don't, it's perhaps more rapidly exposed in a conflict zone.”

A true highlight of David’s career came in 2019, when he was appointed as the first ever resident British High Commissioner to Samoa. Previously, this role had been represented by the High Commissioner of New Zealand. David is passionate about this role and the “collective action” that is needed worldwide: “The United Kingdom is one of a few countries with a global foreign service and global interests and responsibilities.  We know that the well-being of our own people depends on events all around the world, and that a safe, peaceful and prosperous world is the best guarantee of our own security and prosperity.  We are one of the few countries with the means to help deliver that world, whether it is through tackling threats to our collective security, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or problems such as climate change and novel pandemics which can hurt us all but can only be tackled by collective action.”

After more than three successful years in-post, David has recently stepped down from his role in Samoa and will be returning to the UK to take up a position closer to home: “I have been overseas continuously now for more than ten years, and for both professional and personal reasons, it's probably time I came back for a while.  Living in the tropics might sound attractive, but it is possible even to grow to miss British weather!”

During his return visit to the school, David chatted with students in a Sixth Form Politics lesson and visited the school’s new Modern Foreign Languages department - an addition to Dame Allan’s new Jubilee Building - before meeting with students involved in the Model United Nations (UN) Club. It was a delight to have him back! 



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