- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

"I'm really here spying," actor Rupert Everett confided, maximizing a discreet vantage point near the bar as he surveyed guests bidding farewell to British AmbassadorSir Christopher Meyer and his wife, Catherine, at their residence Wednesday night.
"Who's the little guy with big white hair standing near the door? … The lady with the gold necklace over there? … The woman in couture by the wall?" the tall, plummy-accented star of "My Best Friend's Wedding" asked as the decidedly top-notch crowd squeezed into the terribly grand drawing room to mix, mingle and chat about Iraq and "inside the Beltway" buzz of the day, oblivious at least for the moment to a major Hollywood presence.
With such remarkable talent for selecting out Washington grandees from a distance (in this case, Motion Picture Association chief Jack Valenti, Justice Sandra Day O'Connorand always-best-dressed socialite Grega Daly), Mr. Everett shouldn't have too much trouble with the title role in "Mr. Ambassador," a new sitcom based on a British envoy to Washington.
"It's going to be funny, not political," he said of the NBC series, scheduled to debut in the fall. "I do everything wrong, but somehow always win out in the end."
If Mr. Everett expected to pick up pointers about dithering diplomats, he was bound to be disappointed at a fete for a popular and effective ambassador who did just about everything right.
Praise was fulsome for the departing guest of honor, even from such generally terse sources as Gen.Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and White House political guru Karl Rove. Both credited the ambassador for personal friendship as well as care and attention for the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States throughout his 5 years in Washington (the longest since Sir Ronald Lindsay's 1930-39 tenure).
Jack Straw, secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs and the evening's host, flew over from London to toast his nation's senior diplomat for "strong and unwavering … care and attention to that relationship" and for sage guidance and advice to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Parliament during difficult times. "Christopher knows how America ticks," Mr. Straw said, "the finest compliment of all."
"It's the best job in the British diplomatic service," Ambassador Meyer reflected during a response that included mention of all the "ghosts" who had preceded him in the post (although Sir Peter Jay, whose antics inspired a rather scandalous film called "Heartburn," is still very much alive) and "moments which will forever remain etched in our memory," both serious (the Clinton impeachment, the Bush-Gore recount) and sweet ("sitting with [Rep.] Mike Oxley in a replica of Mel's Diner from 'American Graffiti' singing 'Duke of Earl'").
After a quick vacation in Las Vegas and a dizzying round of farewell parties here, the Meyers will return to the United Kingdom, where the ambassador will take up post-retirement duties as the next chairman of Britain's Press Complaints Commission.
"It's an ombudsman job on a grand scale," he said, adding that his work largely will involve "retractions, apologies, corrections and undertakings never to do it again" on behalf of individuals who do not wish to take their grievances against the print media to court.
Lady Meyer, who also was lauded by Mr. Straw for her "magnificent" job as a diplomatic wife and hostess to an estimated 60,000 guests over the years, will continue her work as a high-profile advocate of Parents and Children Abducted Together (PACT), the organization she founded to support "left behind" parents of children spirited across international borders. (She has rarely seen her own two sons, now 15 and 17, since her ex-husband secretly transported them to Germany nine years ago.)
"As a diplomatic wife, I had a platform to meet people who might help the cause, but I couldn't criticize a particular government. Now I will be much freer to lobby," she said, making sure to point out that after her departure, PACT will maintain a permanently staffed Washington office.
By the time the haute-cuisine dinner (terrine of trout, roast pheasant, gateau Saint-Honore) was over, Mr. Everett definitely had plugged into the A-list and maybe even picked up a story idea or two. At least that's what his dinner partner, "Social Crimes" novelistJane StantonHitchcock, was maintaining as the ever-so-English actor swanned over to socialize with Sir Evelyn andLady Rothschild,who ended up giving him a hitch back to New York on their private jet (with publishing legends Tina Brown andSir Harold Evans along for the ride as well).
Others made do with less luxurious local transport (though the embassy's porte-cochere certainly was chockablock with sleek black sedans, mostly of the chauffeur-driven variety). Among the chosen few spotted waiting their turn amid the limo gridlock: Justice Stephen Breyer; Sen. Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao; Reps. John Dingell, Tom Lantos and Jim Leach; Kennedy Center Chairman James Johnson; Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former diplomats Joe Gildenhorn, Richard Fisher and Richard Holbrooke; Gen. Brent Scowcroft; former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger; former White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein; author William Shawcross; banker Joe Allbritton; and journalists James Lehrer, Al Hunt, Judy Woodruff, Jim Hoagland and Andrea Mitchell.


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