Four years after arriving here, I leave Stockholm at the end of this week for a new posting at the UK delegation to NATO in Brussels. I’m looking forward to the new job and new city. But it will be hard to leave Stockholm, and I will carry with me many memories of this wonderful city, beautiful country and the friendly, fun and fascinating people I’ve had the privilege to meet from Luleå to Lund, Gothenburg to Gotland. Here are nine reasons our years in Stockholm have been so memorable.
S is for Science: I had heard about the Nobel ceremony, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. It was a privilege to sit in the Konserthus three years running to see a succession of British laureates – John Gurdon, Peter Higgs, Michael Levitt and John O’Keefe – receiving the greatest accolade in their profession. It was also a great honour to be a guest at the Nobel Banquet in the City Hall, and wonderful to witness a nation elevating and celebrating science, and admiration for scientific discovery, to a genuinely national event.
T is for Tack för Maten: I love the Swedish custom of the guest sitting next to the hostess proposing a toast to thank the host and hostess for the dinner. I’ve been the recipient of many lovely “Tacks” at our Residence, from ministers, industrialists, scientists, authors and many others. I’ve also had the pleasure of delivering quite a few “Tacks” myself. One I will always remember was at City Hall in front of about 1000 people at a graduation ceremony for the Karolinska Institute. Speaking to a Nobel Laureate, dozens of professors, and hundreds of PHD graduates and medical doctors, I tried to sum up why, as a mere political scientist, I admired and envied those gifted with the skills to do “real” science.
O is for Olympics: I would have loved to be a scientist, but I would also love to have been an athlete. The next best thing was the events we had here to celebrate the London Olympics. We held the British International Primary School’s annual Sports Day in the Stockholm 1912 Olympic stadium and in the same stadium I received on behalf of the Embassy a good luck vase for London 2012 at a special commemoration event marking the centenary of the Stockholm games.
Ambassador Johnston with school children
C is for City: I said when I was appointed that my wife and I looked forward to living in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Every day as we take our morning walk along Djurgårdsbrunnsviken, we remind ourselves of what a joy it is to live in a city of islands, of water, trees, clean air and light. Even in a less than perfect summer, this remains a very nearly perfect capital city.
K is for King: there are historic links between the British and Swedish Royal Families. Indeed, there’s a beautiful stained glass window in the English church, celebrating the life of Crown Princess Margaret, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, who married King Gustav VI Adolf. In my four years here, I had the privilege of a visit to Stockholm by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as the honour of attending the wedding of Princess Madeleine and another British national, Christopher O’Neill.
H is for Home: anyone whose job involves moving house every few years, will tell you how important it is to feel at home. We’ve been privileged to live in a beautiful house, in an exceptional setting and to share it with many guests, coming for receptions, meals and other events, to promote UK business, encourage investment, and support cultural, scientific and other links between the UK and Sweden. But feeling at home is about more than that, and it’s thanks to our colleagues and friends in Stockholm, and to the friendly and helpful people we’ve met in shops, cafes, restaurants, on the phone and elsewhere, across this city and country that we’ve felt so much at home.
The British Residence
O is for Officials: one of the reasons I applied for this job was that I’d always enjoyed working with Swedish colleagues, in various jobs at the Foreign Office in London and at the United Nations in New York. All the officials I’ve worked with, in the Prime Minister’s office, Foreign, Finance, Business, and Defence Ministries, and elsewhere, have been unfailingly helpful, professional and co-operative. The same is true of the Swedish politicians and business leaders I’ve met. Our close political and commercial relationship is built on, and depends on, these ties and on the work done by all my colleagues in the Embassy team. I’m grateful to them all.
L is for Princess Lilian, who was born in Britain, met Prince Bertil during the Second World War, married him in her sixties, and died in 2013. We had the privilege of organising a memorial service for her at the English church, which was attended by the whole of the Swedish Royal family, and by her friends in the British community. Getting to know my fellow UK nationals in Stockholm, and their friends and families, not least through the congregation of the English church, has been another delight.
Memorial Service for Princess Lilian at the English Church
M, finally, is for Music: my wife’s first introduction to the beauty of Sweden was listening to a Lucia at the Swedish Consulate-General in New York. Our first event at City Hall was for the award of the Birgit Nilsson Prize. We’ve been to wonderful concerts at Berwaldhallen and the Konserthus and we’ve had some beautiful music in our house and in the English church. Above all, I’ll remember the Lucia concerts at Oscarskyrkan. Sitting in the dark with the sounds of the choristers old and young converging from across the church bearing candles. The beauty of the music, the promise of light in the darkness, the essence of the Swedish spirit. I’ll never forget it.
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