Xpat Interview: Theresa Bubbear, Former Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Budapest

  • 10 Nov 2011 11:00 AM
Xpat Interview:  Theresa Bubbear, Former Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Budapest
Theresa was born in central London, just within the sound of Bow Bells - which makes her a true cockney.

She went to school in Blackheath and after a gap year as an English Speaking Union exchange student in Connecticut she studied French and Russian at Girton College Cambridge.  Her degree course included a year teaching English to reluctant French teenagers in Grenoble and a term at Leningrad State University.

She joined the Foreign Office when she graduated in 1985 and has worked in a range of different jobs and countries.  Before coming to Budapest she was head of the FCO’s largest HR team, responsible for finding a job for every member of FCO staff and a member of staff for every FCO job around the world.  

She completed a law diploma 3 years ago and would like to take a degree in psychology.  In addition to French and Russian she speaks Finnish and Spanish and is studying Hungarian.

Theresa’s husband Alan is also a British diplomat, currently based in London but working remotely from Budapest as much as possible. They met in Moscow and have juggled their careers since then, taking turns to lead on overseas postings.

Their identical twin daughters, Katharine and Natalie, are 19. Katharine is in her first year of a degree in drama at Bristol University and Natalie is in her second year of a degree in Classics and English at Newcastle University.

Their younger sister, Jenny, is 16 and has been at Wells Cathedral School (one of the UK’s 4 specialist music schools) since she was 9. She is a recorder and flute specialist and regularly plays in one of the National Youth Orchestras as well as in solo recitals, festivals and competitions.

The final member of the family is Polly the elderly spaniel, who is very much enjoying living in Buda and who seems to understand Hungarian.”

1. When did you arrive in Hungary and what brought you here?
I arrived in August 2011. I was working in the Foreign Office in London and when I saw the job of Deputy Head of Mission in Budapest advertised I just had a feeling I’d love it, especially as it included 6 months of full-time language training and I’m a bit of a language junkie.

2. Have you ever been an expatriate elsewhere?
Alan and I have worked at British Embassies, Consulates, and High Commissions in Moscow, Johannesburg, Helsinki and Pretoria. And as a student I lived, worked, and studied in the US, France, and St Petersburg (which was still Leningrad in those days).

3. What surprised you most about Hungary?
The weather, which has been unbelievable since I arrived. And the amount of English which is spoken in central Budapest. I had been told to expect that no-one would speak a word of English (but maybe there was a reason my Hungarian teacher wanted me to believe that...)

4. Friends are in Budapest for a weekend - what must they absolutely see and do?
I’d start with a stroll around central Pest and a ride on the number 2 tram, then a walk across the Chain Bridge and round the Castle District. And a ride in the chairlift if the weather is good (and, of course, it always is). I find the shoes by the Danube a very moving memorial so I’ll definitely take all my visitors there. And if the timing is right I’ll take them to a concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the wonderful national concert hall.

5. What is your favourite Hungarian food?
Túro Rudi. And all the soups.

6. What is never missing from your refrigerator?
I know it’s a diplomatic cliche, but I always have a bottle of champagne, just in case...

7. What is your favourite Hungarian word?
Libegőzni (great word, great way to travel); magyarázni (I love the idea that putting anything into Hungarian explains it); and helló (when used to mean goodbye). I love the sound of kellemetlen, hihetetlen, láthatatlan etc.

8. What do you miss most from home?
My husband when he’s not here. My daughters, my sisters, and my garden. Some of my colleagues. And the group of university friends I used to meet for pizza and a gossip once a month.

9. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?

10. What's a job you would definitely never want?
I always thought I’d hate HR, but I’ve now done two HR jobs and loved them both. I wouldn’t want to be royal. Or an air hostess!

11. Where did you spend your last vacation?
My last holiday was in New York and New Jersey in May and June when my husband and I attended our eldest daughter’s high school graduation (she followed in my footsteps and also spent her gap year on an ESU scholarship). It was an amazing trip and a very special occasion. I also spent 3 weeks by Lake Velence on immersion language training in the summer, but that wasn’t really a vacation.

12. Where do you hope to spend your next holiday?
I’m going to Cape Town (my favourite place in the world) next Easter with my husband and daughters. The twins were born in South Africa and it still feels very much like home for all of us.

13. What was your favourite band, film, or hobby as a teen?
I was a very boring teenager. I played the violin and viola and did a lot of reading. I loved the film of Dr Zhivago with Omar Sharif.

14. What can't you resist?
My youngest daughter’s pleas for money/clothes/more money/more clothes/new mobile phones etc. My spaniel’s big sad eyes. And champagne.

15. Red wine or white?
White. And preferably sparkling

16. Book or movie?
Book (or Kindle). I drive my family mad by forgetting who everyone is in movies and having to ask for plot updates every few minutes, but I can concentrate long enough to manage TV programmes. I love Downton Abbey, Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters, and (above all) House.

17. Morning person or night person?

18. Which social issue do you feel most strongly about?
Having lived in Finland for 4 years I’m aware that other countries manage issues around teen pregnancy much better than we do in the UK. If I could wave a magic wand over a set of UK statistics I’d bring teenage pregnancies in the UK in line with those in Finland and put much better education and support programmes in place.

19. Buda or Pest side?
I love coming to work in Pest in the morning and going home to Buda in the evenings. But I’m a city girl at heart so if I had to choose it would be Pest.

20. What would you say is your personal motto?
I don’t think I have one. But I keep hearing myself say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, so maybe that’s it.

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