Q&A: Kirsty Hayes

 In Opinion

Christine Isobel “Kirsty” Hayes has been the British Ambassador to Portugal since September 2014. Hailing from Aberdeen, ­Scotland, she studied archaeology from 1995-1998 at University College London (she is distantly related to the famous archa­eologist Sir Austin Henry Layard) and went on to study International Studies and Diplomacy. In September 1999, Hayes joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and worked within ­Environmental Policy and in 2000 moved to Hong Kong where she served as Vice-Consul specialising in politics and economics. Kirsty Hayes worked in Washington D.C. as the temporary second secretary (economics) and from 2002-2005 was Private Secretary to the British Ambassador to the United States, first for Sir Christopher Meyer and then Sir David Manning. Her husband Peter Hayes was the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and ­Maldives (2008-2010). In June 2014, Kirsty Hayes was appointed British Ambassador to Portugal in succession to Jill Gallard. She returns to work in the UK after the summer.

Had you ever been to Portugal before your tenure?

I had. I had been here for work when Portugal was on the UN Security Council and I was dealing with UN issues, but I had never been here on holiday.

What made you choose Portugal?

I did in fact choose Portugal as my diplomatic posting. Partly because the UK and Portugal share a really unique bilateral relationship with the oldest treaty – the Treaty of Windsor – in the world. It was the idea of being a temporary custodian of this amazing relationship combined with the quality of life aspect. I can also say that Lisbon is one of our most popular ambassadorial postings.

Was it difficult for you to acclimatise yourself?

The one thing that surprised me when I came in the summer of 2014 was it rained for about six weeks! I hadn’t realised just how much it can rain in Portugal. Otherwise, I just love it.

What do you most like about Portugal?

The people have a real honesty in the way they communicate, and I also think there are quite a lot of similarities between the Portuguese and the British, with openness and tolerance tempered by a certain amount of reserve. They are also very welcoming and hospitable.

The way the Syrian refugees were welcomed is amazing and a real credit to the Portuguese. I also like the food and the wine as well as the diversity of the country – the fact that you can get in a car and drive a couple hours and you’re in a totally different landscape.

What do you least like?

In honesty, I’m not a big fan of the Portuguese ‘calçada’ pavements. I love the beautiful ornate ones but as someone who likes to walk a lot, I find them difficult, especially when not well-maintained.

Which is your favourite region of the country?

I just love the Azores. I have been there several times and my aim was to try and visit all nine islands, but I’ve visited seven so far. I think they are unique and spectacular. I enjoy scuba diving, so I’ve done some diving around the islands.

Name your favourite restaurant?

I have to say the restaurant scene here is amazing. I tend to go out a lot to restaurants in the LX Factory. It’s near my residence so I can walk there. A lot of the restaurants I’ve liked have been seafood restaurants by the sea. One of the best meals I had was in Porto in a restaurant called Cruel – an interesting and innovative menu designed by Chef Luís Américo.

What is your favourite traditional Portuguese food (dish or ingredient)?

It’s the fish and fresh seafood. I just love it! I can’t generally cope with Portuguese sweets; they are just too sweet for my palate. A Portuguese custard tart is about my limit. Every time I travel to a new area and they say, “you must try this local sweet”, it’s invariably made with eggs and sugar.

And your favourite Portuguese wine (or grape variety /wine region)?

I would say Douro and its wines. I’ve sampled some amazing ports and port wine is a very important part of our shared history. Douro table wines are very exciting and popular in the UK right now.

And finally, your ideal Portuguese weekend getaway?

I’ve had many, but one I really enjoyed was Bussaco with the palace and woods not far from Coimbra. It is absolutely amazing. There’s the Duke of Wellington connection with the famous Battle of Bussaco with an annual commemoration, battle reenactment and the museum. It’s just a stunningly beautiful place.