Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Ambassador Peter Westmacott Plays Not My Job

Sir Peter Westmacott, then-British ambassador to France, attends the Paris premiere of the film Le Discours d'un Roi at Cinema UGC Normandie on Jan. 4, 2011.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

We do what damage we can on this show, but it's not often we get the chance to cause a real international incident. So we're very excited that Sir Peter Westmacott, Great Britain's ambassador to the U.S., has agreed to play our game called "No homework, extended naps and eight hours of recess!"

A lot of big-time politicians got their start as little politicians, running for the student council. We'll ask Westmacott three questions about strange doings in the school halls of power.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we invite distinguished people to do something undistinguished. We do what damage we can on this show, but it's not often we get the chance to cause a real international incident.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So we're very excited about our guest today. Sir Peter Westmacott is Great Britain's Ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Peter welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! It's a pleasure to have you.

(APPLAUSE)

SIR PETER WESTMACOTT: Thank you very much.

SAGAL: So, I think, if I'm not mistaken, you're our first knight. So should we address you as Sir Peter, Sir Peter Westmacott, Your Liege? We don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: I think you can settle for Peter.

SAGAL: Peter. Peter is fine.

WESTMACOTT: That's all right.

SAGAL: No, I think I'm going to call you Sir Peter, because how often will I get this chance.

WESTMACOTT: It's up to you. That's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I mean, I do it in a mirror, but this is for real.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: How is it?

SAGAL: It's fun, I enjoy it.

WESTMACOTT: Do I get a chance to defend the honor of my members of parliament, who you've accused of being drunk...

SAGAL: You may.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I mean, you do have bars in parliament, that's sort of...

WESTMACOTT: This is true.

SAGAL: Yes. And do you think those help?

WESTMACOTT: They probably oil the wheels of government.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Lubricated.

WESTMACOTT: I would not want you to think that as a general rule laws are passed while honorable members are under the influence of alcohol.

SAGAL: Right.

WESTMACOTT: Except, perhaps, when they passed that idiotic law that allowed a bunch of cowboys to tow my car, wherever they found it parked, regardless of whether it was parked illegally or not.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

WESTMACOTT: That was a bad law.

SAGAL: Now, you have an extensive resume in the British Foreign Service. You've been all over, right?

WESTMACOTT: Well, I've been to a lot of different countries and I've been in this business for almost 40 years.

SAGAL: Right. I'm curious; I mean does the Queen ever summon you with a message to send?

WESTMACOTT: Not that often, but...

SAGAL: No.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: But occasionally, she will send me a little email saying "here's a nice letter I'd like you to send to that nice President Barack Obama in the White House. Please send it around."

SAGAL: Really? You get little - did you say emails? Does the Queen email?

WESTMACOTT: Oh, she's very modern. She does Twitter, she does email, she does Facebook, she does all sorts.

SAGAL: Wait a minute.

JESSI KLEIN: What?

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: The Queen is on Twitter.

CHARLIE PIERCE: You're not following the Queen?

SAGAL: The Queen of England tweets?

WESTMACOTT: You check it out.

SAGAL: So you were the ambassador to France prior to this.

WESTMACOTT: I was ambassador to France prior to this. Before that I was ambassador to Turkey. And I also served in Iran before the revolution.

SAGAL: Right. I mean it seems odd to us that they would award plum ambassadorships on merit.

WESTMACOTT: To somebody like me?

SAGAL: Yes.

WESTMACOTT: Oh yeah.

SAGAL: Presumably...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I mean presumably because of your ability or something, rather than...

WESTMACOTT: Well, did years of language training before I came here.

SAGAL: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: That was really...

SAGAL: It's really excellent. Your accent is a little off, but otherwise you sound fluent.

WESTMACOTT: I'm working on it.

SAGAL: I know, I appreciate it.

WESTMACOTT: I have an American wife, born and brought up in Bethesda, Maryland, I might add.

SAGAL: Oh really?

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Do you acquire one of those for every country you visit?

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: I don't change them that often.

SAGAL: I understand. I understand. So talk to us, we're talking about politics this week. I want to hear your observations, diplomatic as I'm sure they will be, about the differences between the British and the American system. Because you're over here and you see how we do things. And I'm wondering, in general, what your reaction is to the American political culture and ways and means.

WESTMACOTT: Wow, this is getting serious.

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: Well, I have been here before.

SAGAL: Yes.

WESTMACOTT: So I had a little bit of look at what - how bipartisan life was in the middle of the 1990s, when you were busy impeaching your president.

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: Some things haven't changed a huge amount.

SAGAL: No.

WESTMACOTT: As for the differences, well, of course, you did set up a political system all those years ago which I think was probably designed to ensure that something you rather unkindly called tyranny could not be imported across the ocean to the United States of America.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah.

WESTMACOTT: So you set up a system designed kind of not to work, as I understand it.

SAGAL: That's pretty much the idea.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

WESTMACOTT: And so that's one of the differences.

SAGAL: Yeah. We did find out, for all your skill as a diplomat, we did find out that there was an incident in your past that you caused a bit of a scandal, as they say in France.

WESTMACOTT: Oh god. Which one?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'll tell you what, you go through them and I'll tell you the one I was thinking of.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I didn't realize there was more than one.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

WESTMACOTT: You go first, Peter.

SAGAL: All right. We heard that there was a scandal when you served and you had the audacity to serve British cheese at a function in France.

WESTMACOTT: Oh that one.

SAGAL: That one.

WESTMACOTT: Oh that's OK.

SAGAL: That's OK?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh god, what did you think I was thinking of? Please tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: Well, I did serve British cheese because, for some reason I've never quite understood, a lot of my French friends believe that that is the one country in the world that makes good cheese.

And as it happens, the reality is that in the United Kingdom we have lots and lots of wonderful cheeses too. So I used to have a bit of fun by showing my French friends that there are great British cheeses. I did not often expose them to great British red wine.

SAGAL: No.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: But great British cheeses was fine.

SAGAL: You are a diplomat. You are an extremely experienced diplomat. Obviously you're good at it or you wouldn't be here. We wanted to...

TOM BODETT: I'm mean not here, here, but like in the United States.

SAGAL: Not here.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah. We wanted to see...

WESTMACOTT: I must have done something wrong to get here.

SAGAL: Exactly, yes. We wanted to see how your skills would work in everyday life. So I want to present some situations to you and see how a professional world class diplomat would respond. So here we go. Does this dress make me look fat?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

WESTMACOTT: I think you look just marvelous in that dress.

SAGAL: That's very good.

WESTMACOTT: I particularly like the color.

SAGAL: Excellent.

WESTMACOTT: I cannot imagine why you should think it makes you look anything other than perfect. I carefully don't use the word "fat" again.

PIERCE: And you carefully have not answered the question.

SAGAL: That was very good.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: Occasionally, we don't.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Another one, you ready? Would you mind reading a draft of my first novel?

(LAUGHTER)

BODETT: I want to hear this.

WESTMACOTT: I should be absolutely delighted. It's a real privilege to be asked to look at your first draft of a novel. But you don't expect me to write any comments on it do you?

SAGAL: Right. But let's say you've read the first draft of the novel.

WESTMACOTT: Yeah.

SAGAL: Let's say it's awful.

WESTMACOTT: Yeah.

SAGAL: And then I say "what did you think? Tell me the truth."

WESTMACOTT: I particular liked the chapter where they talked about the fun and games behind the shed on that island in the exotic Caribbean.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But what about the part where, like, the guys hold up the gas station and then they all sort of end up there together until the aliens come? Did you like that part?

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: You know, that chapter appealed to me a little bit less than the one I just mentioned.

SAGAL: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: God, I really appreciate you being so frank with me.

WESTMACOTT: I hope you will ask me next time you write a novel.

SAGAL: Oh, I absolutely will.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: I'm sure that your publisher will come back to you very soon with a further suggestion that you follow up the stunning success of the first one with another contribution.

SAGAL: Sir Peter, I've written some poetry I'd like you to look at.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: That was excellent diplomatic work.

WESTMACOTT: Peter, I want you to know, we are sometimes sincere.

SAGAL: I appreciate that. Well, Ambassador, we are delighted that you are here. And we have invited you to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL: No homework, extended naps and eight hours of recess.

SAGAL: A lot of big time politicians got their start as little time politicians, running for the student councils in their schools. So we're going to ask you three questions about strange doings in the school halls of power. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home voicemail. Carl, who is Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott playing for?

KASELL: The Ambassador is playing for Harry Clayman of Bethesda, Maryland.

SAGAL: All right, a local.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Here we go; the first question. Sometimes the future of a politician can be seen in their student days, such as in which of these people? A: Bill Clinton, who became president of Little Rock West Middle School despite what was known then as the "playing doctor incident"?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who vanished from student council his senior year for a week, and said he was hiking the trails behind the school?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: Famously corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was disqualified from an eighth-grade race for student council race for trying to buy votes?

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: I think I have to plum for C.

SAGAL: You're going to go for C, Jack Abramoff? You are correct.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's exactly right.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Abramoff was disqualified from the race when he spent more than $100 buying hot dogs for student voters.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, next question. A student named Hayley Wade - at the University of Calgary, in Canada - won election as student council vice president there. And most people say it was because she did what? A: Promised to build a pipeline to campus from a nearby Molson brewery?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: Put up posters above the urinals in campus men's rooms that praised users on their endowment, shall we say?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: She brought a T-shirt gun to all her debates?

WESTMACOTT: That's a tough one.

SAGAL: It is.

WESTMACOTT: I'll try A.

SAGAL: You're going to go for A: she promised to build a beer pipeline to campus?

WESTMACOTT: Some people will do anything to get elected.

SAGAL: That's true.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: But it's wrong.

SAGAL: It's wrong, sadly. She put up posters above men's room urinals, praising the users on the size of their manhood. Hayley said of the posters, quote "Part of my platform is all about student engagement on this campus, and effective communication with students," unquote. A male voter said, quote, "I ended up laughing out loud, creeping out the person beside me and peeing on my shoe," unquote.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So this is very exciting. Last question, if you get this right you win. Sometimes going the extra distance does not help. A New Jersey sixth grader named Zack Martini lost his race for student council president despite what? A: Arranging a visit to the school from Justin Bieber? B: Getting campaign advice from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? Or C: Putting up posters in the boy's room urinals praising the users' endowment?

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: My guess is it probably isn't C.

SAGAL: Probably not.

(LAUGHTER)

WESTMACOTT: I'll try Chris Christie.

SAGAL: You're right, that's what he did.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: He asked Mr. Christie for advice during a public Q and A. Christie told the young man to A: Get colorful posters, B: Ask for people's vote, and C: Constantly berate public employees.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Sadly, it didn't work in the case of young Mr. Martini. Carl, how did the ambassador do?

KASELL: The ambassador had two correct answers, Peter, and that's enough to win for Harry Clayman. Congratulations.

SAGAL: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

WESTMACOTT: Thank you.

SAGAL: Sir Peter Westmacott is the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter thank you so much for being with us here on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!!" It's been absolutely delightful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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