Profile: Jamie Shea, NATO - Speaking on behalf of NATO/NATO’s Jamie Shea is renowned for his frank dealings with the media

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.

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

can.



’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

background.



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

speeches.



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

academic record.



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

them.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1985

Head of external relations, NATO

1991

Deputy head and senior planning officer, policy planning unit, NATO

1993

Deputy director of information and press, NATO



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