IT’S an exciting day for Gibraltar’s new leader Fabian Picardo.
Aside from his fast-approaching 40th birthday and forthcoming fatherhood, he has finally managed to work out how to listen to his music library at work.
“I’ve got iPads and iPods coming out of my ears, but have only now managed to sync all my music on iTunes Match so I can have my collection in the office,” explains the keen music fan.
One of Europe’s youngest leaders – who only reached four decades at the weekend – he tells me how he likes an even spread of Spanish and British pop and is not adverse to taking a weekend off to watch a band in Barcelona or Madrid.
“I love all sorts of different music, Spanish bands like Mecano and La Oreja de Van Gogh (Van Gogh’s Ear), as well as British stuff like Queen and Dire Straits.”
Then, when pushed for something a bit more contemporary, he adds: “Oh, and Kings of Leon.”
His other big passion, he tells me, is Liverpool football club and this is patently clear from the shiny membership card that sits pride of place on the table in front of him.
“I have actually applied to become a season ticket holder and am currently on the short list,” he explains, going on to reminisce about the golden days of the 70s with the likes of Kevin Keegan and Ian Rush.
“It was a fantastic time, but I was never allowed to stay up late to watch extra time and penalty shoot outs. My dad actually used to wake me up to tell me who won.”
We are sitting around a long wooden table in his spacious office in the Governor’s Palace.
Clearly highly organised, he has sheaths of papers and documents carefully lined up in front of him and sports a friendly and personable manner.
The new Chief Minister is a true breath of fresh air since ousting the Rock’s conservative leader of 14 years Peter Caruana in December.
There is still a long way to go to bring things up to speed and he is hell bent on improving the image of Gibraltar and presenting it as a modern entity.
He might perhaps start with the palace waiting room, where the chintzy sofas are only worsened by one of the driest selections of reading matter imaginable, including a dozen issues of Jane’s Defence Weekly – the UK’s
military bible – and a couple of copies of the Economist dating back to 2009.
But once you get into the nerve centre of the operation, it is clear there are plenty of good ideas.
Aside from working to promote the enclave as a superb business location, he is keen to improve the experience for the seven million tourists who visit each year.
“We want to upgrade the tourist product and show it at its best. We don’t want loads of traffic jams on the upper Rock and for people to leave feeling disappointed.”
One of the key things that needs to improve, he admits, is the poor level of accomodation options available to tourists.
A severe shortage of rooms was highlighted with the recent chess tournament, when there was ‘not enough room at the inn’ even for the 363 players competing.
“We need more variety,” he admits, confirming that they are currently ‘looking to finalise’ arrangements with a few international chains.
He is also keen for the Spanish to begin to appreciate its near neighbour.
“We want Spain’s institutions to see us as a modern European neighbour and for Spain’s politicians to come over and see that we offer a classic travel experience.
“There is so much culture and history here. A lot more than just beaches and sun. Take the discovery of the Neanderthals at Goram’s Cave, there have been a lot of historical developments here.”
An intelligent lad, Picardo was the first Gibraltarian to attend Oxford University for 10 years, studying law at Oriel College before getting a job as a solicitor at Hassans, Gibraltar’s leading legal firm.
“It was not as if we were not bright enough, we just weren’t properly encouraged,” he insists. “I was lucky as I had a lawyer at Hassans who took me under his wing and really encouraged me.”
Since leaving 15 years ago he has worked hard to encourage youngsters to apply to Oxbridge with a huge amount of success, five students alone having attended Oriel since then.
And he adds proudly that the famous college even flew the Gibraltar flag on the day he got into power in December. There is actually a photo of it on the wall of his office.
So, all in all, Fabian Picardo is flying high this year, despite the many challenges he will face over the next four years as Chief Minister.
There is one, slightly different challenge however that is going to keep him on his toes in the coming months… for the young leader is soon to become a dad for the first time with his second wife Justine.
The due date is April 10 and he admits it’s ‘an exciting time’.
As to the suggestion that he has left it a bit late, he is not in the slightest bit fazed. “My dad had me when he was 55, so in my family we all start late,” he explains, giving the distinct feeling that he will take it all in his stride…let’s
hope more like Kenny Dalglish than Andy Carroll.
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