Sherard Cowper-Coles

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Sherard Cowper-Coles
Cowper-Coles in Afghanistan in 2009
British Ambassador to Afghanistan
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterGordon Brown
Preceded byStephen Evans
Succeeded byMark Sedwill
British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded bySir Derek Plumbly
Succeeded bySir William Patey
British Ambassador to Israel
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byFrancis Cornish
Succeeded bySimon McDonald
Personal details
Born (1955-01-08) 8 January 1955 (age 68)
London, England
SpouseBridget Mary Elliott
Alma materHertford College, Oxford

Sir Sherard Louis Cowper-Coles KCMG LVO /ˈʃɛrərd lw ˈkpər ˈklz/ (born 8 January 1955)[1] is a British former diplomat. He was the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009–2010. After leaving the Foreign Office, he worked briefly for BAE Systems as international business development director. He left BAE Systems in 2013 and is now a Senior Adviser to the Group chairman and the Group Chief Executive of HSBC. He is also President of the Jane Austen Society.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Sherard Cowper-Coles is the son of Sherard Hamilton Cowper-Coles and Dorothy (née Short). His grandfather, the metallurgist Sherard Osborn Cowper-Coles, was the son of naval inventor Captain Cowper Phipps Coles. He was educated at Freston Lodge School, New Beacon School, Tonbridge School and Hertford College, Oxford,[3] where he read classics.

In 1982, he married Bridget Mary Elliott. Her father was Neil Elliott, a prominent land agent whose brother was the actor Denholm Elliott and whose father had been assassinated while serving as Solicitor-General to the Mandatory Government of Palestine in 1933 and who was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem.[4] The couple have four sons, Henry Sherard, Rupert Neil, Frederick Peter and Myles Philip, and one daughter, Minna Louise.[3]

In 2011, he divorced Bridget Mary Elliott and married Jasmine Zerinini, a French diplomat, in 2012. They have a daughter, Louise Elizabeth.[5]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Cowper-Coles entered the diplomatic service in 1977. He was Third Secretary and later Second Secretary in Cairo, 1980–83, First Secretary in the Planning Staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1983–85; Private Secretary to the Permanent Under-secretary of State, 1985–87, First Secretary in Washington, 1987–91, Assistant in the Security Policy Department of the FCO, 1991–93, Resident Associate, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1993–94; Head of the Hong Kong Department of the FCO, 1994–97, Political Counsellor in Paris, 1997–99; Principal Private Secretary to Robin Cook, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 1999–2001.[3]

His first role as a head of mission was in Tel Aviv as the British Ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2003. He was next appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, a post that he held until 2006. From 15 May 2007 until April 2009 he served as Ambassador to Afghanistan in Kabul.[3]

In February 2009 it was announced that he would be taking up a new role as special representative of the UK Foreign Secretary to Afghanistan and Pakistan.[6]

He attracted controversy in October 2008 when a leaked French diplomatic cable suggested he had been sharply critical of Karzai and US policy. While insisting Britain should support the US, he was quoted as saying: "We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one."[7]

This memo leak occurred the same week another additional memo was leaked concerning fellow British ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald's comments with regard to United States Senator Barack Obama. Both leaks concerned foreign policy and occurred in the final weeks of the 2008 US presidential election.[8]

In early 2010 it was reported that he clashed with senior NATO and US officials over his insistence that the military-driven counter-insurgency effort was headed for failure, and that talks with the Taliban should be prioritised.[9]

On 21 June 2010, the British high commission announced he had taken "extended leave" from his position in Afghanistan.[9] Following comments from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, it appeared unlikely he would return to the post.[10]

Post-diplomatic career[edit]

In 2011, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles became BAE Systems' international business development director, focusing on the Middle East and south-east Asia.[11] He is a committee member of the Saudi-British Society.[12]

His appointment at BAE caused some controversy, since he is thought to have "had a profound effect" on the decision by Robert Wardle, then director of the UK's Serious Fraud Office, to end an investigation into BAE's allegedly corrupt dealings with Saudi Arabia.[13]

In 2013 and 2014 he participated in the Bilderberg Conferences.


Cowper-Coles was appointed a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) in 1991[14] and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1997 Birthday Honours[15] and a Knight Commander of the Order in the 2004 Birthday Honours.

Published works[edit]

  • (2012) Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign
  • (2013) Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin


  1. ^ The Times 8 January 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2010
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b c d Cowper-Coles, Sir Sherard (Louis), in Who's Who 2008 (London, A. & C. Black, 2008)
  4. ^ "Obituary Neil Elliott". The Daily Telegraph. 14 April 2003. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  5. ^ Sherard Cowper-Coles & Jasmine Zerinini
  6. ^ "Holbrooke on key Pakistan visit". BBC News. 9 February 2009.
  7. ^ [2]"British envoy says mission in Afghanistan is doomed, according to leaked memo"
  8. ^ Harnden, Toby (2 October 2008). "Exclusive: Barack Obama is 'aloof' says British ambassador to US". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 3 October 2008.
  9. ^ a b Boone, Jon; Walsh, Declan (21 June 2010). "UK special envoy to Afghanistan who called for talks with Taliban quits". The Guardian. London.
  10. ^ "Straight-talking UK envoy's future in doubt". BBC News. 23 June 2010.
  11. ^ Webb, Tim (18 February 2011). "BAE Systems hires Britain's former envoy to Saudi Arabia". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  13. ^ Hope, Christopher (12 March 2011). "Revelations in BAE Saudi case prompt inquiry call". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  14. ^ London Gazette, 11 June 1991, page 8957
  15. ^ London Gazette Supplement, 14 June 1997, page B3.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Principal Private Secretary
to the Foreign Secretary

Succeeded by
Preceded by British Ambassador to Israel
Preceded by British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Succeeded by
Preceded by British Ambassador to Afghanistan
Succeeded by