PROFILE: Lucian Hudson, principal media adviser to the Foreign Secretary

A solitary newspaper cutting is pinned to the wall of Lucian Hudson's granĀ­diose office. Dwarfed by a huge piece of modern art, it symbolises Hudson's raison d'etre in his current role.

It also points to one of the main stories that has given Foreign and Commonwealth Office mandarins a headache over the last six weeks. The headline reads ‘Freed: Kidnapped Britons Safe’ – referring to the captured sailors in Iran.

In recent weeks Hudson has also advised on the kidnapped embassy staff in Ethiopia and the kidnapped BBC journalist, Alan Johnston.

‘We had to ensure their safe return. We successfully got the message out that we were doing this by diplomatic means,’ says Hudson from his Whitehall office overlooking St James Park.

As the Foreign Secretary’s principal media adviser, Hudson has been behind the scenes during an exceptionally fraught time at the FCO, the Government department that led the negotiations to free the sailors.

‘In the first five days we were frustrated by the lack of information about where they were being held and why.’

The FCO set about contacting all the embassies in the countries surrounding Iran (some of them allies and some of them not) to rustle up support for its cause. Margaret Beckett also appeared on Arab and Islamic media to argue for the release of the hostages, aided by the FCO’s specialist Arabic and Islamic media team.

There is something appropriate about Hudson’s appointment to the FCO six months ago. Gently spoken, Hudson’s manner – coupled with the resilience and tenacity wrought by that his years as a journalist – makes him an excellent diplomat.

FCO permanent under-secretary Peter Ricketts, whom Hudson advises, agrees: ‘You would think that Lucian has had years of official diplomatic ­experience.’

Hudson describes himself as balanced. ‘I’ve seen a thing or two,’ he ­reflects. Having spent 16 years as a journalist and latterly editor of BBC World, you would probably expect that to be the case.

The toughest story Hudson has ever covered, he says, was the death of Princess Diana. ‘We went from reporting an accident to reporting what transpired to be her death. We had rehearsed royal obituaries, but then the situation was actually real. It happened so fast.’

One of the main challenges was making quick decisions about what could and could not be reported, he adds. ‘It is about staying focused without getting too excited.’

Unusually for a public sector PRO, Hudson is overtly expressive. His face lights up when chatting about light- hearted moments such as the time he taught his wife to swim when she was 25 years old.

‘It was my proudest moment. It is very difficult to convince someone that the water can hold them,’ he grins.

He also guffaws loudly and gesticulates when amused. But his expression drops to an appropriate neutral poise when returning to a serious subject, as it does when asked to describe Margaret Beckett’s public profile.

‘Margaret Beckett has never ­courted the media. She is the first person to admit it is not her main concern,’ he says.

He adds that there tends to be a lag between what a politician does and people acknowledging what they do. ‘There is this (media) snobbery and obsession with the caravan thing, but we don’t worry about that too much.’

Hudson says his first six months have gone quickly, yet he feels as if he has been in post for about three years because so much has happened in this time. ‘Time here is like dog years, one equates to much more,’ he laughs.

He now wants to concentrate on rolling out the recommendations made two years ago in the comms ­review of the FCO by Howell James and McKinsey & Company. This brings together the functions of PA, public diplomacy, press and internal comms and went live earlier this month.

Foreign policy will always be at the top of the news agenda. The FCO now boasts a fully fledged comms department under the leadership of a natural diplomat to help fight its corner.

CV - Lucian Hudson

Director of comms and press secretary, FCO

Director of comms,DCA

Director of comms, Defra

Editorial director, Armstrong International. In October became director of e-comms, Cabinet Office

Head of programming international channels, BBC Worldwide

Editor, BBC World

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