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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Interview with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson or Parliamentary Reception with the President of India?

This was the conundrum facing me last week on the last day of the state visit of Mrs Pratibha Patil, President of India, at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11.

I had bid for Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, two months ago when I knew that he would likely be addressing the UK India Business Council of which he is Lord President, during the President's visit.

So on the day, at the imposing Lancaster House by the Mall, I reminded the UKIBC I was there for the interview, and they directed me to Lord Mandelson's press secretary. The press secretary, who was softly spoken and Irish, directed me to two press aides. I was told to stay close to one of them, a pleasant chap called Ben, who told me that I could walk and talk alongside the Business Secretary after he had given his speech as he was leaving. We were to wait at the bottom of the grand staircase after his speech.

The Irish press secretary then advised us the Lord M would be seeing off the President to her car, or rather the Queen's car, so we should wait outside nearby.

Meanwhile, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office official called David said that he was directed to take me to Parliament if I wanted to attend a reception with the Indian President and hear her address there. I said that I would attend after my interview.

Lord M was still not around, and David was about to leave for Westminster. Lord M arrived, waving to the President as she got into her car. Lord M was chatting on the steps of Lancaster House. David looked at me, and I decided in that moment to fulfill my mission and do my interview. David walked speedily off to his car, and the Business Secretary got to his car door (which he opened himself) while I strode purposefully towards him, my voice recorder outstretched. He stared at my stomach, where my ID card was displayed from a strap round my neck, and waited for my question.

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