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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 15:46 GMT

Jamie Shea: Nato's man with the common touch

Jamie Shea at one of Nato's daily briefings

Anyone regularly tuning into Nato's daily briefings on Kosovo will have detected a notable shift in the official voice of international relations.

Jamie Shea speaking at the Nato news conference on Monday
It comes courtesy of Jamie Shea, the organisation's official spokesman, who has probably done more for the cause of Estuary English than any number of "streetwise" pop groups.

Yet Shea's flattened London vowels - more barrow-boy than old school tie - are rapidly becoming the voice of the allied military assault on Yugoslavia.

As Nato's 45-year-old chief press officer, he is the mouthpiece for its 19 member states as well as its Spanish secretary-general, Dr Javier Solana.

Daily test

Each afternoon, he faces a conference hall packed with the world's media, to explain the latest developments in Nato's first campaign against a sovereign state.

It's a pressured role, in which one wrong word or misplaced remark could have disastrous consequences.

His job is all the more testing in light of Nato's assertion that it is fighting a sophisticated propaganda campaign being waged by the Serbian authorities.

[ image: Shea's boss Solana is said to
Shea's boss Solana is said to "trust him fully"
But Shea is an experienced operator, having worked for several of Solana's predecessors: Belgian Willy Claes, German Manfred Werner and, before that, the former UK foreign secretary, Lord Carrington.

His down-to-earth delivery, peppered with "errs" and "ums", has won him the respect and praise of many reporters in the international press pack.

Such professionalism belies his humble origins with the alliance. Shea started as a minute-taker, before moving on to the information office in a junior role, and then taking charge of Nato's visitors' programme - organising trips around the Brussels headquarters for foreign dignitaries.

Refreshing change

He went on to write speeches in the division of political affairs, before joining Lord Carrington's team in the final months of his spell as secretary-general.

In a world of where clipped and polished pronunciation, certainly among the British contingent, is the norm, Shea's cockney-like tones have gone down well.

It has even been said that his accent lends Shea a credibility and authenticity that is often lacking in the world of international spin-doctoring.

Target of complaint

Not everyone is quite so enamoured. One Nato official says once, after Shea addressed a group of Nato generals' wives, the UK delegation received a formal complaint demanding to know why someone with his accent was in such a position of authority.

But his colleagues take a different attitude, said the official.

"Jamie is from London and is a real cockney. That's how he talks and he doesn't care what other people think. Nobody here does."

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