BWIA pays up for return of seized plane
By John Mair in London
May 23, 2003
She admits to not being a 'real Guyanese' having not been born there. But only reluctantly. She is Colleen Harris and she is right at the heart of the British Establishment in her job as Press Secretary to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and future King. It's a job she has done for the last four years and yet she has still managed to maintain, by her design, relative obscurity. She shared some of the secrets of the Court with the Sixth Diaspora Dialogue at the Guyana High Commission in London last week.
But her Guyaneseness is less ersatz than she might at first lead you to believe. She was brought up in a firmly culturally Guyanese household in London by a mother and father who both hailed from El Dorado. Indeed, she admitted that until she went to an English primary school at the age of five: "I thought Guyana was the centre of the Universe'.
The world of her household centred firstly around the food. A diet of souse, black pudding, roti and the like. When they came, English school curries were a culture shock with their mild taste and their special addition of raisins.
Both parents stressed the overweaning importance of education to her: "They were obsessed with getting a good education for their children and the concomitant need for discipline: what you did and you did not do as well as the feeling of belonging to a community." Colleen remembered a household in which friends always dropped in and there was active (and loud) discussion about politics, rum and all things under the sun.
She retained the idyllic images until her first visit 'home' at the tender age of 14. The culture shock almost proved too much until that food again settled her physically and emotionally. So much so that when she returned at 17, she wanted to stay forever. It was only her father's stern warning about having to join the Guyana National Service that brought her scurrying back to London.
But that was naught compared to her last visit in 2000; this time in the company of Prince Charles.
She had made her mission to get him to her 'home' when she took the job with him. She thought it was "the best overseas trip he has ever done" and had been a "storming success" not least for Guyana where the Prince on a chance view out of an aircraft window over the interior saw a cocoa plantation. That today supplies organic ingredients for his Duchy of Cornwall chocolate. The Prince of Wales very obviously liked the people and remembered their links in the UK. So much so that when he spots Colleen talking to a fellow Afro Caribbean he asks whether they too are what even he calls "a member of the Guyanese Mafia". Colleen has been selected to join the senior ranks of that 'Mafia' by the Foreign Office (and 'the Godmother' Baroness Valerie Amos) asking her to chair the Caribbean Board - a government quango whose aim is to influence policy towards the Caribbean.
Colleen married an Englishman but passed on to her own children some of those Guyanese values imbued in her by her mother. "My upbringing has influenced them more than my husband's". But, ersatz or not, she still thinks of Guyana as home "somewhere to return to" she says. All that stops her is the small size of her remaining family there and limited finance. And her job.
She may have infiltrated the establishment but she has also learned that discretion is the byword to survive. She had let some light into the closed world of St James Palace but refused to be drawn on the 'real' Prince Harry or even the (unreal) Prince Charles. In the Court, one does not get caught.