I'm typing this in my hotel room in Washington DC as I prepare to head out to the dreaded Dulles Airport to fly back to the UK later tonight. I arrived on Friday, so it's been a short but really productive and enjoyable trip.
DC is not the city I used to love. I always said it was my favourite city in the world, but I'd say I'd give that accolade to Sydney now. A lot of my favourite haunts have disappeared. Barnes & Noble in Georgetown. Gone. The Central Cafe in Union Station. Gone. I could go on. The city is a shadow of its former self. Covid has hit hard. 70 per cent of civil servants haven't returned to work.
Over the weekend I caught up with friends including Shane Greer and my old LBC producer, Jagruti Dave. On Saturday night Simon Marks, LBC's hosted a lovely dinner at his home and it was great to meet ITN's US editor Robert Moore and his wife Liz. It rounded off a good day, after going to the Across the Pond bar to see West Ham thrash Nottingham Forest 4-0.
Monday saw the business end of the trip start. I had lunch at the Jefferson Hotel with Professor Alvin Felzenberg who wrote the Thomas Jefferson chapter in THE PRESIDENTS. Alvin did so much more than that, though. He is a walking encyclopedia about all the 45 presidents and saved me from making many howlers in the editing of the book. Many of you will have heard him be my guest on several episodes of the PRESIDENTS AND PRIME MINISTERS podcast.
In the evening I was part of a panel discussing THE PRESIDENTS at the National Churchill Leadership Center, chaired by Justin Reash. Two of the book's authors, Colleen Graffy and Alvin Felzenberg joined us to discuss all sort of issues related to the book. Apart from the people in the room, there were four hundred watching online. A really enjoyable evening, with quite a few young people there, and a lot of books sold.
On Tuesday morning I headed over in the direction of the White House to do a podcast with Stewart McLaurin who is the director of the White House Historical Association, and then to speak at a roundtable lunch for around 20 people. What a lovely building they're housed in. It really was a pleasure to speak at such an occasion.
And then later on Tuesday it was the main event, the reason for the whole trip, the booklaunch reception hosted by our ambassador to the UK, Dame Karen Pierce. It took place at the magnificent residence which is the home of the deputy ambassador. I had interviewed Karen the previous day for LBC and you'll be able to hear that interview next Monday on the show, or if you're reading this afterwards it will also be on the IAIN DALE ALL TALK podcast. She is a true force of nature and is doing an incredible job for us in Washington. Everywhere I went, people sang her praises and the consensus was she is the best ambassador we have had in Washington for many a year.
Several of the authors who wrote chapters in the book were there including Simon Marks, Allie Renison, Toby Harnden, Matthew Binkowski, Alvin Felzenberg, Colleen Graffy, Mitchell Reiss and Brooks Newmark. There was quite a stellar guest list with quite a few members of Washington high society there.
It was great to meet 'Lucky' Roosevelt (pic), who was chief of protocol at the White House under Ronald Reagan, and granddaughter in law of President Teddy Roosevelt.
I was then introduced to Valerie Biden, sister of Joe, who is a hugely important figure in the White House and one of the people Joe Biden really listens to. She asked me if she should wince while reading the chapter on her brother. I reassured her that it had been written by Lord Adonis and he was a fan. We had a really humorous conversation and when she later left, she hugged and kissed me. I interpret this as me now having an 'in' to the president!
It was great to meet Sally Bedell Smith, the royal biographer and contributing editor to Vanity Fair. She's go a new book out in April on the marriage between George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
It really was a collection of the great and the good. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch was there and I had a brief chat to him where it became clear he is a complete Anglophile. Top journalists from the Washington Post, CNN and various other news outlets were there too.
Then there was a tap of a glass and the Ambassador made a short speech to introduce me, which was both warm and funny. If only my mother could have been there to witness it. She'd have told me not to let it go to my head. I stood there, the imposter syndrome reappearing for the 'nth time in my life. Little Iain Dale from Ashdon in Essex being eulogised in Washington by Britain's top diplomat. It doesn't get much better than that.
I then made a short speech which started off with an anecdote about the last time I was in a British embassy overseas, in Beirut in 1991. I mentioned the fact that David Tatham was the ambassador there at the time, who later went on to be Governor of the Falkland Islands. I was told later that David's son Michael had, until six months ago, been deputy ambassador to the US, and had lived in this residence. What a spooky coincidence.
It really was a special evening and as well as the Ambassador I'd like to thank her whole team for their efforts, and in particular Edward Roman, without whom it just wouldn't have happened, and also Katrina, the Ambassador's social secretary who made the whole evening run like clockwork.
Afterwards, 14 of us went to dinner at a restaurant called FOUNDING FARMERS, and with that, I went back to my hotel feeling proud of all the people who contributed to the book, and hoping that everyone who took away a copy enjoys reading it.
Right, I'd better get to Dulles to get the late flight back to Heathrow.