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Duke pays tribute to pioneering woman diplomat

The structure which cost £3.75 million to build was almost £400,000 over budget and about four months behind schedule.

The Duke of Cambridge during a visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to open the Mayhew Theatre (Eamonn M McCormack/PA)
The Duke of Cambridge during a visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to open the Mayhew Theatre (Eamonn M McCormack/PA)

The Duke of Cambridge has paid tribute to a pioneering woman diplomat as he opened a lecture theatre named in her honour.

William launched the Mayhew Theatre which recognised the achievements of Cicely Mayhew, one of the first women to be appointed to the British Diplomatic Service, and told members of her family she was “remarkable” woman.

He jokingly referred to the new building, constructed in an internal courtyard at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in Whitehall, as a “crisp” because of its distinctive roof when he chatted to the contractors.

Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service at the FCO confessed the budget and timescale for the build had been missed.

As he invited William to the podium in the lecture theatre and education space, he said: “Welcome to the Mayhew theatre, concrete proof of the FCO’s commitment to learning and development – a little bit late, a little bit over budget, but now complete and ready to be open.”

The structure which cost £3.75 million to build was almost £400,000 over budget and about four months behind schedule.

William told the invited audience: “I know how valuable the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is, I can see what you do for myself when I travel around the world at the Government’s request.

“I meet members of your service and I’m always impressed by your dedication to projecting our values, to protecting our national security, to creating prosperity and to supporting our citizens all around the world.

“I recognise the challenges of modern diplomacy in a digital age, where we need to adapt to the opportunities and threats of new technologies. Investing in the people who make up the diplomatic service is vital.”

The duke, who met three of Lady Cecily’s children and one of her grandaughters at the event, told those who will use the teaching space: “Take inspiration from the commitment to public service that Cecily Mayhew showed throughout her entire life.”

The former diplomat, who died in 2016 aged 92, joined the Foreign Office in 1947 and previously worked in the code-breaking centre Bletchley Park, having been recruited from university by naval intelligence.

At her request, she worked behind the Iron Curtain in Belgrade – but had to give up her career when she married.

The Mayhew Theatre uses state-of-the-art technology to allow staff to join sessions virtually from across the world, and will be used to support the delivery of curriculums from the Diplomatic Academy, opened in February 2015 as a centre of excellence.

Jon Benjamin, the academy’s director, said about the delays to the budget and timescale: “A lot of it was caused by the delays inherent in trying to work in this space and having to work out of hours.”

PA

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