Ben Ross: Her Majesty knows that her passports are precious things
Something to Declare
Ben Ross is Head of Travel at The Independent. He has worked for the paper for over a decade, and began reporting on travel in 2001. Before joining the travel desk full time, he ran The Independent's special projects department. He started his journalistic career at the BBC working for its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
Saturday 18 May 2013
A new name has been given to the agency which produces all British passports. From now on, the Identity and Passport Service – formed in 2006 in an attempt to combine the UK Passport Service and the Home Office's doomed identity cards programme – will be known as "Her Majesty's Passport Office", a rebadging designed "to make the service more easily recognisable" to Brits both at home and abroad.
The Home Office says "the inclusion of 'Her Majesty's' in the title recognises that passports are the property of the Crown, bear the Royal Coat of Arms and are issued under the Royal Prerogative". It all sounds terribly swashbuckling.
If only Elizabeth II could really do the business, as in medieval times when safe-conduct documents were issued by the Privy Council. Her inability swiftly to open border checkpoints will already be well known to those of her subjects who have experienced the queues at Miami airport's immigration control (revealed yesterday to be the longest in the US by my colleague Simon Calder).
Still, there's something magical about a passport, whether or not it's been issued by the Queen. I still have my first one, of the old blue hard-backed variety. The top right-hand corner has been cut off – presumably to avoid it being "hacked" by antediluvian identity thieves. Within it, a youthful, bespectacled version of me glares back in black and white. A bonus picture taken five years later to update the passport is in colour, which only serves to highlight my acne.
Even with its wings clipped, as it were, that old blue passport exudes authority. During those bespectacled, spotty years, to clutch it as I boarded the ferry from Harwich, or took my first plane (to Munich, as it happens) was to journey into a world where travel was a mysterious, wondrous opportunity.
In the red, soft-backed, machine-readable age, a passport still speaks of adventure. Those peculiar visas you've collected (handwritten for Cuba, shiny and Cyrillic for Russia, phenomenally expensive for India) are always a source of cheery reminiscence in an immigration queue. And losing one? In South America? That's an anecdote that'll live on for ever.
Then there are those stirring words on the inside cover: "Her Brittanic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance." Reading them, I'm immediately transported into the world of James Bond, of spies and derring-do, even if I'm far more likely simply to be heading to Mallorca for a beach break.
Admittedly, passports are still alarmingly expensive: £72.50 for an adult and £46 for a child. (Or a boggling £237 for a family of four.) And the fact that the Queen doesn't use one herself grates slightly. (It's in her name already, see?) However, travelling the world was once a delight reserved only for the upper crust – and its democratisation is one of the great boons of the jet age.
My passport, bent and bruised as it is, is one of my most treasured possessions, and it will remain so, whatever the name of the agency that grants it to me.
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