David Usborne: Avoiding despots but meeting Melinda Gates: is this the world's biggest protocol nightmare?

Share
Related Topics

Prescient, the Brazilians. Years ago, they agreed to be first at the podium at the UN General Assembly each September when nobody else was volunteering. Ever since, they have been allowed to keep the now highly prized slot, which always guarantees a full hall – the Americans come after.

Everything is jockeyed for at the General Assembly. The order of speakers is up for grabs months in advance and operates on a first come, first served basis – except that presidents, potentates and despots get priority over, well, mere deputy prime ministers. Nick Clegg had to settle for late this afternoon.

Embassies spend all year preparing. Will the food be to their leaders' liking? Will they get face time with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? For the UN Protocol Office there's the added task of ensuring that foes don't end up eating together or colliding in a lift. Were Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to end up sharing bathroom facilities, disaster could ensue. (Or conceivably a toilet treaty.)

Also furiously pursued are spectator seats at the summit itself, particularly when the rock star leaders speak – Obama and Ahmadinejad among them. A little red ticket will get you in, if you can find one. The British mission seems to have cornered the market, it's handy to know.

"It's a logistical nightmare," Desmond Parker, the head of protocol, confessed this week. It hardly helps that most of the iconic UN tower has been emptied for renovation. The speeches still happen in the old General Assembly hall, its roof covered in white plastic because of leaks, but the side meetings have been moved to a temporary shed-like structure built on what used to be the UN lawn.

"You can imagine how difficult it is for us to accommodate people and move around and get things flowing the way they should flow," Parker noted. And that's just inside the UN campus. Try moving around in the city where the siren-and-lights caravans of 194 leaders paralyse every avenue.

So don't get lost, and don't be late. That man with a fan of greying hair charging down a walkway in the sun is late, for certain. Barack is about to address delegates about world poverty and Bob is within a squeak of missing it. Not a diplomat or an overseas aid minister, but an old rocker, Bob Geldof.

Had Bob turned right instead of left he could have opted instead for the Maternity Conference with Clegg and Hillary and Miranda. Melinda has more money than power, because her second name is Gates and her husband was yesterday named the world's richest man, again. Seats at the maternity event were even more scarce than seats in the main hall."You cannot please everyone," says Parker. And the choreographywas not quite perfect yesterday. President Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil didn't show up at all. Mr Obama was late. Switzerland went second and America third.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk