Passport to a life of privilege

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT plans are well advanced (I learn) to privatise the issuing of British passports.

For a long time it has been felt that passport issue and renewal was long overdue for a rethink. Not only is the whole procedure desperately antiquated and in need of speeding up, but the look of the passport itself has remained resolutely old- fashioned. Accordingly, it has all been turned over to a new private firm called HerBritMaj, which will next year be issuing totally new-look passports.

'We are very conscious of the history and significance of the traditional passport,' says Adrian Wardour-Street, who will be handling public relations for the new firm. 'We have absolutely no wish to meddle with the look of the thing. At the same time, we do feel it should have been modernised long ago, so we will be totally updating everything, as well as introducing the concept of advertising.'

You are going to be advertising passports for sale?

'No point in that. It's a ready-made market. No, we are going to introduce advertising inside passports. Think what a prime site a British passport is for small ads, and how much revenue BritGov must have lost over the years . . .'

BritGov?

'Yes. That's the name of the new, private-sector interface of the Home Office. Didn't you know that? Oh, perhaps that's still hush-hush. Better not mention it, then.'

What sort of advertising will we find in our new passports?

'Respectful. Tasteful. No escort agencies, for instance. Well, only the very best ones.'

What else will you be doing for the image of the passport?

'We will be introducing a whole new range of different passports, responding to customer need. For the businessman there will be the passport that incorporates a pocket calculator, space for credit cards and business cards. For the tycoon there will be the passport with in-built mobile phone. For the lady traveller, a passport with mirror, face wipe and personal hygiene pack, in a choice of five different shades.

'And so on for other professions. For the doctor, a space for thermometer and basic drug samples. For the priest, a crucifix-shaped passport with selected Bible passages inside - actually, we haven't quite finalised that one yet. We had already produced the prototype for the Catholic priest when someone noticed it included a space for Names and Ages of Holder's Children. Not perhaps the most tactful touch at this moment in time.'

But otherwise nothing will be changed?

'Nothing. The passport is a heritage item, and the sacred birthright of every Briton. So apart from the sponsorship, nothing will be changed.'

The sponsorship?

'Oh, didn't I mention that? Yes, we have contacted many large firms, from Nike to Adidas, and all of them have shown considerable interest in sponsoring individual passports. Drug firms are interested, too, and holiday firms, and big high- street firms - for many of them the concept of personal sponsorship is a new and exciting one. We have also tried to get in touch with the Arts Council, but the phone seems to be off the hook.'

Does this mean that from next year individual passports can receive individual sponsorship from individual firms?

'Much more than that. It means all passports will receive individual sponsorship.'

Does that mean we won't be able to get a passport in future unless we have a sponsor?

'And possession of a British passport, or BritPass, as it will be known, will not just be a passport to foreign travel. It will also provide entry to premier night clubs in more than 130 countries. It will entitle you to substantial hotel discounts. And it will entitle you to get cheques up to pounds 50 cashed in any British embassy abroad.'

Hold on, hold on, hold on. Does that mean we won't be able to get a passport in future unless we have a sponsor?

'Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. But you've got to remember that a passport will become such a prime possession that it won't be the sort of thing you want everyone to have. If everyone had a mobile phone, would anyone want one? I think not. Our motto at HerBritMaj will be: 'If You've Got One, Flaunt It]' '

It's a far cry from 'Her Britannic Majesty Requests and Requires Whomsoever

it may concern

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