Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 12:03 UK

UK's diplomatic double in Zambia

Carolyn Davidson and Tom Carter
This is the second time the couple have worked a job share

A married couple who have become Britain's top diplomat in Zambia on a job-share basis say they are more effective than a single person.

"We have the ability to talk to each other overnight and come up with a solution the following morning," Tom Carter told the BBC.

He is currently looking after the house and children while his wife Carolyn Davidson represents the UK in Lusaka.

The diplomatic double-act are due to switch roles in the New Year.

They are thought to be the first husband and wife team to job-share a head of mission posting at a UK embassy.

They have decided to each do a four-month stint as High Commissioner.

With Zambia gearing up for presidential elections at the end of this month after the death of President Levy Mwanawasa, it has been quite a busy start.


"We presented our credentials to the acting president and he was very pleased that Britain valued its relationship with Zambia so much that it was sending two High Commissioners instead of one," said Carolyn Davidson.

We tend not to have rows, so far so good is all I can say on that
Tom Carter
"He actually said: 'We like this idea, Zambians like innovation and maybe we will follow your example,'" she added.

Mr Mwanawasa who had led Zambia since 2001, suffered a stroke in June and passed away on 19 August in a Paris hospital.

"It was quite a sombre time when we first arrived as it was just before the funeral of President Mwanawasa, which for us was quite sad because he had been instrumental in accepting our positions here as British High Commissioners.

"It was very sad that we couldn't thank him personally," she added.

This is the couple's second diplomatic job-share, as they were appointed joint deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Many people would dread the idea of sharing an office with their partner but the couple feel they work well together.

"Sometimes we are able to take quite tricky decisions much more rapidly than perhaps an individual would on their own," said Mr Carter.

"It does sound improbable but our experience to date has been that it is easy to do and very straightforward."

Role reversal

Mr Carter is at home for the moment organising dinner parties, appearing at charity events and looking after the couple's two young sons - traditionally fulfilling the role of what was once the diplomat's wife.

"I'm currently the trailing spouse and I'm enjoying it.

The late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa's casket
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa passed away just as they took the job
"Setting up a house, getting the kids settled in school and unpacking the luggage," he said.

The role of the diplomatic spouse also often involves entertaining other dignitaries and royal guests.

"It's a bit like living in a small hotel or restaurant and since we've been here, we've probably had two to three events a week.

"We had the house completely full for several days over the period of President Mwanawasa's funeral.

"We had a representative of the Royal Family and a Foreign Office Minister with us, so it's pretty busy," Mr Carter said.

Joint studies

The couple are also both qualifying for an MBA, however studying together is something that they are not doing.

"We felt it would be a little too much if we were working completely in parallel on that, so we are slightly out of sync," said Mr Carter.

His wife Carolyn will swap places with him in the New Year, so that he can take up his role as a Commissioner and she will stay at home.

"We do try to maintain a separate home life but inevitably work does get discussed at home.

However, as a job share, they have managed to set some working ground rules

"The rule of thumb that we have come up with is that if a decision needs to be taken which will impinge on the two of us, we tend to discuss it quite carefully together," Mr Carter said.

"If it's something that needs to be resolved in the next 24 hours and won't have an impact on the other person, that decision is taken independently."

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