Jamie Shea is a master of the memorable soundbite. It was Shea,
NATO’s spokesman, who first called the Balkan crisis ’the worst
humanitarian disaster since the Second World War’. It was Shea who
movingly described the plight of the Kosovan refugees thus: ’Not only
have their identity papers been taken away from them, but they have had
to trade in their property rights for a train ticket to oblivion.’ And
with a simple phrase ’wasteland Kosovo’, he brought an image of horror
and desolation to the minds of the public in the West.
Shea is better than good according to Patricia Kelly, CNN bureau chief
in Brussels. ’I have covered NATO for 25 years and he is the best
spokesman it has ever had. He is absolutely excellent,’ she says.
And Kelly is far from alone in her praise. Shea is very well liked and
respected by the reporters he briefs daily, and not just for his pithy
delivery. ’He makes information as freely available as possible, he
makes time to make sure people thoroughly understand things and he is
never too busy to help,’ adds Kelly. ’His whole career is defence and he
knows his subject inside out. He is a real professional.’
Despite the fact that hundreds of journalists attend his press
conferences, Shea is renowned for his ability to remember their names
and faces, and also their level of knowledge about NATO so that he can
tailor his answers to their questions accordingly.
Mark Laity, defence correspondent for the BBC, concurs: ’There are two
types of spokesman, the ones who give out as little information as
possible and those who make as much as possible available. Jamie works
to very strict guidelines and always tries to give out the most he
’It is like a bear pit here and he is basically our one point of
contact. He cannot show his face without being descended on by a pack,
every step he takes he is followed. He can’t stand still for five
seconds without being surrounded. He puts up with this with unceasing
patience. His stamina is extraordinary.’
His achievements are perhaps all the more remarkable given his
Far from being trained as a spinmeister extraordinaire, Shea began his
NATO career as a minute-taker 18 years ago. His progress through the
ranks was steady and in 1988, he began writing the secretary general’s
Despite having an incredibly demanding job as spokesman and being
promoted twice during his time at NATO, Shea is still writing speeches.
’He is so good at it he keeps being asked. Sometimes he doesn’t know how
to say no,’ a colleague remarks.
A 45-year-old Londoner who sounds as if he has been given elocution
lessons by the cast of EastEnders, Shea also boasts an impressive
He is a permanent professor, lecturer and course examiner for
universities in the US, Europe and the UK and a regular lecturer on NATO
and European security affairs in many other universities. In addition,
he has had 16 scholarly works published at last count.
Quite how he finds the time is a mystery. In the thick of the war, he is
working 16-hour shifts - his ’light days’ start at 8.30am and finish at
7pm. His usual responsibilities include accompanying the secretary
general Javier Solana on about half of his trips, which generally means
travelling once or twice a week. When accompanying, he sits in all the
meetings and usually takes on about half of the report writing.
Somehow, he also makes time to be a good father. He has two young
children and friends say he finds time to turn up to school pantomimes
and the like, staying as long as he can before returning to work. As one
says: ’He drives his kids to school in the morning because in a
situation like this, it is probably the only time he will get to see
Head of external relations, NATO
Deputy head and senior planning officer, policy planning unit, NATO
Deputy director of information and press, NATO