Prague loses distinctive diplomat with departure of UK’s Jan Thompson

Jan Thompson, photo: CTK

Great Britain’s ambassador to Prague Jan Thompson steps down on Friday after four and a half years in the post. Ambassador Thompson has cut a distinctive figure in the city, winning over many people with her informal approach, classic Škoda car and, most recently, a hit video.

Jan Thompson,  photo: CTK
Jan Thompson arrived in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2013 after postings that included conflict zones and post-tsunami Thailand.

Her Excellency soon made an impression for a number of reasons. She drove a 1969 Škoda Embéčko (1000 MB) car around the streets of Malá Strana, performed with an English-language theatre group and brought two cats from an animal shelter to live in the Baroque palace that houses the British Embassy.

Not long into her stint in the Czech capital, Ambassador Thompson outlined her approach in an interview with Radio Prague.

“I like to think of myself as a kind of new generation of ambassadors who try to break the mould a bit.

“Perhaps the perception can be that ambassadors can be a bit stuffy and old school.

“I want to show that’s not necessary and it’s perfectly possible for ambassadors to be very approachable and do their job very effectively by being more informal and more approachable.”

One of Jan Thompson’s most eye-catching moments in Prague came with a Christmas video released on social media last month.

A pastiche of the movie Love Actually, it showed the ambassador and her staff busting impressive disco moves around the UK Embassy. To date it has had over 55,000 views on Twitter alone.

But what was Ambassador Thompson like at the personal level? Journalist Jiří Hošek is a former Czech Radio London correspondent and had quite a lot of interaction with her over the years.

“She was incredibly active and showed enormous passion for the Czech language and for Czech culture.

“And I think she really got under the skin of the Czech mentality, which was extremely useful.

Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night with Jan Thompson,  photo: archive of Prague Shakespeare Company
“She was in many ways ‘undiplomatic’, in the best sense of this word. In my opinion she sort of recodified the whole meaning of the word ambassador.

“She was really very communicative, she understood the media world and she worked very well with social media.

“And I think she represented the United Kingdom in the best possible way.”

Grant Podelco acted alongside Jan Thompson at the Prague Shakespeare Company, including in her first production with the troupe, Twelfth Night.

“We all knew who she was, but she didn’t flaunt her position and was just a member of the cast like the rest of us.

“We called her Jan and joked in front of her and did all the things that we would normally do backstage.

“She was totally cool and after a few hours we totally forgot who she was.

“That is, until opening night, when all these other diplomats and famous people came to watch her perform.

“We’re definitely going to miss her, because she was a great actress and also brought a lot of attention the theatre, as well as a lot of energy.”

The new British ambassador to Prague, Nick Archer, will have a colourful pair of shoes to fill when he arrives in the city next week.