The Embassy is going through a major change programme at the moment, to do with the visa application process. Part of the process -- the bit where the applicant comes in, submits their application and documents, pays for, and later collect their visa -- has this week moved to a brand new Visa Application Centre (VAC) in the centre of town, run by a commercial partner. The completed application forms are then sent to the Embassy and Karen and colleagues process them, with the resulting issued visas being delivered back to the VAC for next-day pickup. This move is being done in conjunction with a biometrics initiative, so applicants now also have their fingerprints and a photo recorded, for security reasons.
These changes are not unique to Saudi Arabia. The British Government is rolling these two changes out worldwide, and this week it just happens to be Saudi's turn. If you want to know more about the project check the UK Visas and British Embassy Riyadh websites. As part of this new VAC going live, we have had several visitors this week from UK Visas in London, to deliver training to the new staff on Visa applications, and to new and Embassy staff on taking biometrics information from customers.
I expect you're wondering what the heck this has to do with the title: "15 Minutes of Fame". Well I'll tell you, now that you have the background. Karen has been performing the role of Change Agent for this project, and has been fully involved all the way along. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the VAC last Monday she was interviewed by the local Saudi TV news station, who had also come to see Riyadh's answer to David Beckham: recruited to lend the proceedings a celebrity air by being photographed giving his biometric details. There was a Reception for the visitors from London the following evening (Go-Live Day for the VAC), and after dinner the conversation turned to TV appearances. Karen, naturally, recounted her experience from earlier, and I told the group about my winning appearance on the game show Bob's Full House in the mid-1980s. It seems like a lifetime ago but it's a nice piece of ammo to have in your arsenal for occasions such as this.
For the benefit of my non-UK readers, Bob's Full House was an 80's game show hosted by comedian Bob Monkhouse and based on the game of Bingo. Each time a contestant got a question right they could cross off a number on their bingo card, and the rounds were: completing the four corners, middle line, and finally the full house. It sounds really naff as I write about it, but at the time it was very popular.
Anyway I won a holiday, which became our honeymoon, as the show recording took place a few months before Karen and I were married. I have the show on video tape, so if you want to know what I looked like at 25 years of age and wearing 80's clothes you would have to a) be invited round for dinner, and b) get me very drunk. Upon hearing this, one of the trainers from UK Visas revealed that he had appeared on The Crystal Maze back in the late 80's too. I won't bore you with an explanation of the show's format but it was a bit of a cult hit in the UK.
Mark's show was in the original, golden, Richard O'Brien years and not in the later series that were hosted by Ed Tudor Pole. Richard O'Brien is the thin, bald, totally cool character who wrote The Rocky Horror Show, and starred in the movie version (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as the butler Riff Raff.
His presence as the Crystal Maze's host gave the show the same kooky, spooky, spaced-out air, and we used to watch it more for Richard's performance than for the puzzles themselves. Mark boasted that he had won a crystal, but refused to be drawn by my question: "So did you get locked in?" I took that to mean he had but didn't like to talk about it. Karen was a big fan of TCM, so her eyes lit up at this revelation and she wouldn't stop asking him questions about it.
The next morning one of the PR chaps at the Embassy came into Karen's office to say her TV interview had been showing every hour on the Riyadh equivalent of GMTV, and that he had recorded the latest bulletin. Karen and the London visitors ran upstairs to watch the recorded news item, and cheered each time they saw one of their number standing in the background. When Karen came on, speaking through an interpreter, there was an even bigger cheer, and part-way through Mark leaned close to her and whispered, "This doesn't beat The Crystal Maze!"
I haven't seen the clip yet, but I'm going to ask if it's possible to get a digitized copy, and if successful I'll post it here.