Evening Standard

Present and correct: the art of the diplomatic gift

- Samuel Fishwick

PINT-SIZED Ugg boots, a toy kangaroo and a pair of Yeezy trainers — there are no rules about gift-giving on the internatio­nal circuit.

After touching down in Australia, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex received the first shower of baby gifts since Meghan Markle’s (above right) pregnancy was announced on Monday, including the aforementi­oned footwear and toy marsupial. A palpable hit, presumably, as Prince Harry appeared particular­ly ecstatic to receive the tiny boots. .

On the other hand, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, was reportedly puzzled when he was handed a pair of signed Yeezy trainers by Kanye (below right) t) and Kim West when they visited the country try on Tuesday (he asked if they h were for playing football).

Herein lies the rub: the art of the diplomatic gift is always a tricky power play. Like ike any gift, receipt is less about fun, more about staying firmly on brief, and — if necessary — marshallin­g your mandibles to grin and insist that you are truly thrilled to be receiving a bar of soap and £10 Waterstone­s book token (coded message: read more, smell less?).

Theresa May stayed on message with her present for pregnant Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson; a No 10-branded babygrow, a teddy and a copy of the PM’s favourite book, Swallows and Amazons.

It isn’t yet the season to be jolly — despite the £4 million spent on mince pies in September — yet every gift sends a message, so wrap your head around these.

An exchange of goods and services

A subtext is par for the course. In July, incoming Brexit minister Dominic Raab and EU negotiator Michel Barnier met for the first time. Barnier gave Raab the book Going to the Mountain by Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela. Raab, in turn, gave the former French minister a copy of Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox. The philosophe­r’s essay explores the difference between thinkers who view the world through a single defining idea and those who base their world view on experience. Shade.


On the other hand, gifts are often an opportunop­portune moment to advertise your oown munificenc­e. It’s beebeen a busy fortnight for the arartist formerly known as KKanye West, who dropped in to the White House last TThursday to present close frffriendr­ien Donald Trump with pplanplans for a new prepreside­ntial plane design on his iPhone calling it iPlane 1) and hhats for Ivanka and JaJared Kushner (hers reareads “Make Earth Great AgaiAgain” and his “Travel Space AAgain”.) Then, this week, trainers for Museveni — a man with a questionab­le human rights record — and for school children in Uganda. Critics asked why West giving away shoes worth more than $200 (£152) to children, when he could be giving them more useful things — such as a donation towards building a new school.

Hyperlocal heroes

A personal touch means taking a leaf out of the Australian playbook and keep things local (Uggs are an Australian affliction). Showcasing the best of your country is a golden rule to follow. Fidel Castro gave out Cuban cigars, France is known to hand out bottles of wine. Yet this can backfire. In 2012, David Cameron gave Barack Obama a ping pong table by the British brand Dunlop. It was made in China.

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