Hugh Hunter is our man in Orlando – the British consul there. Or rather, he was. Hugh’s not your average Foreign & Commonwealth employee serving his Majesty’s Government—no. Hugh, it has been noted, is somewhat a loose cannon. You might think he’s ex-Oxbridge (the term given for those hailing from Oxford or Cambridge). No, he’s an ex-fireman from Romford, Essex (another thing we have in common, not the fireman bit, the Essex bit). And it turned out his ability to put out fires physically morphed into the metaphorical realm too. His job as the British Consul in Orlando, Florida required plenty of metaphorical fires to be balmed. But can Hugh keep his renegade personality under control within an institution that requires tact, diplomacy, a stiff upper lip attitude and happy to follow the rules? Let’s find out!
I read his book “Our Man in Orlando” and am honoured he is prepared to be interviewed!
Hugh (that is your real name isn’t it?)—thanks for taking the time to be interviewed by me today, you were quite a hard man to track down initially!
Well, thank you for taking the time and making the effort to find me.
It’s ironic that you worked in the British Consulate, yet you are quite open and frank in the book that your entry into the U.S. initially wasn’t strictly ‘legal’ itself. Did this cause a problem when applying for a job with the UK Embassy (Hugh originally worked for them in New York)?
It wasn’t a problem when I applied for the job; I didn’t mention that I was in the country illegally and they didn’t ask me about it. After I got the position I was given a diplomatic visa for the United States from their embassy in London; after that I had no tangible problems with the US authorities, although the US immigration officer who admitted me into the USA wasn’t very happy about it.
Your time in Orlando and Florida was primarily spent visiting British Nationals who were serving time for any variety of crimes. Your book tells us of a few of these—any you’d like to sample for my readers here?
British prisoners in Florida
There are so many crazy stories about British prisoners in Florida it’s hard to know where to start! There was the grandmother who hijacked a helicopter in order to bust her husband out of Death Row. She almost pulled it off, but the pilot managed to persuade her to abort the mission when the prison was in sight. The woman was later captured and ended-up with a 20-year prison sentence.
Another guy I visited had the record for the longest prison sentence being served by a British national anywhere in the world – he was serving over 1200 years, and he hadn’t even killed anyone.
One of my favourites was a guy who, when I visited him in jail, told me that he’d got drunk, killed his girlfriend and then had sex with her body. I was astonished. Then he said ‘That’s when I made my mistake.’ I remember thinking that he’d probably already made a few mistakes, but he went on to tell me that he’d panicked and taken her body to a local forest and buried it. He was caught and is now doing 30-years for manslaughter.
But that’s not all you did. Any other work you became involved with, particularly regarding any natural disasters that occurred? And how well did other Consulates pull together?
Hurricanes in Florida
The hurricane season in Florida – essentially June to December – was always interesting. One year we had four massive hurricanes all go through one-after-another during a two-month period. I had anticipated that we would get lots of assistance from other British consulates in the USA, but it didn’t work out quite that way. There was insufficient funding to give us the support we needed, which made the whole situation very difficult. I wrote to the FCO management to complain, but nobody wanted to hear it.
I note with interest that a lot of time is spent not speaking too favourably of Her Majesty’s Government with regards to procedures. And after having read your book, I can agree that there seemed to be a lot of hyperbole, yet not much real action. Any particular example you care to expand upon?
People who become consuls do so mostly so that they can be of assistance to those in need, but the British FCO acts, in many ways, like a corporation. Those two goals sometimes fail to work in tandem. A few years ago, amid much publicity, the FCO launched a scheme to give legal assistance to British inmates who had been subjected to legal procedures that are considered inappropriate in the European Union; this scheme included prisoners who, although under the age of sixteen, were tried and imprisoned as adults. I had two such cases in Florida and I submitted them for consideration. Despite repeated complaints and reminders from me, nothing was ever done to assist them.
You also regale the reader with your ongoing exploits with Cheryl, your long term girlfriend, who eventually wanted more than you could offer. Why did you include such personal information in the book?
There was little mention of my personal life in an earlier draft of my book. But, my publisher felt that readers would want to know more about me and asked me to include something of my own circumstances. I chose to write about my relationship with Cheryl (not her real name) principally for two reasons: the first was to illustrate that this was not going to be a stuffy book about international relations, but something entirely different; the second was because that although I write about many imperfect people who have made bad decisions and are perhaps deeply flawed in some ways, I wanted to show that I was not so very different myself and was not being judgemental.
The book ends with you leaving Orlando and returning to the UK. Are you now back in the U.S. working? If so, can you divulge in what capacity?
After I left Orlando, I continued to work for the FCO as the British consul in Marseilles; but I left the FCO after a year in France to return to London and write full-time. Three years ago I got married (not to Cheryl, I might add) and moved back to Florida, where my wife lives. I continue to write, full-time, but have not yet completed my next book, a work of fiction.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, I think you might be surprised to read this humorous and frank tale of a British Consul abroad. I would highly recommend “Our Man from Orlando.”