The Queen’s Messengers must surely have one of the most plum courier jobs in the country. Employed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, their work in delivering top secret and important documents (or indeed any other kind of material which is considered essential for use by a diplomatic mission), is shrouded in mystery and goes back hundreds of years.
The History of the Country’s Top Courier Jobs
Appointed back in 1485 by King Richard III, John Norman is reported to be the country’s first official King’s Messenger, although it is Charles II who is often credited as having set up the first team of messengers to act on his behalf. In order to show that the four royal courtiers who were acting for him were doing so under his authority, he broke a bowl which was embossed with four silver greyhounds. He gave one piece to each of the men, and it is the silver greyhound which has been the symbol of the service ever since.
The Diplomatic Bag
As they go about their business, the individuals who undertake these top courier jobs carry their important mail in what is commonly known as the diplomatic bag, although in reality it could be packaged in any number of different ways. So long as it is marked as being subject to diplomatic immunity, then according to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it cannot be opened or detained by customs officials and the contents are not subject to any import taxes. Even though, in many cases, the Queen’s Messengers travel on normal commercial flights, the Diplomatic Bag (which is sealed with a tamper-proof seal and has its own diplomatic passport) cannot be opened, searched, x-rayed or even weighed. In some cases, the bag may even be chained to the courier’s wrist until he hands it over at his final destination. Even the Queen’s pre-recorded Christmas Day speech is sent around the world in the diplomatic bag.
As exciting as they might sound, the opportunities to land one of these courier jobs are, not surprisingly, limited. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office figures on the number of Queen’s Messengers is sketchy, but a Lords Hansard publication dated June 1995 stated that there were 27 in post at that time, including a superintendent and two messenger escorts. The cost of overseas travel and staff administration for these individuals was estimated to be around £3 million in 1995/6. A document which appears on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and is presumably dated some time after February 2005, meanwhile, indicates that 15 were employed. In the period from 1st January 2004 to 19th February 2005, these individuals were said to undertake 660 journeys and they are said to travel to 77 different worldwide locations. The job description for the Queen’s Messengers is outlined as follows:
• To ensure that all material is secure in all respect by examination of diplomatic bags, official labels, ties and seals conform with the Vienna Convention
• Prior to undertaking any journey to ensure all documentation (including passports, visa, waybill, airline tickets and travel cards) are valid for the Journey and adequately safeguarded at all times
• Establish the bona fides and authority of the person due to take charge of any classified material/diplomatic bags in line with Security procedures
• In emergencies, take appropriate action to re-establish a journey and safeguard the classified consignment without delay
Applying For the Country’s Top Courier Jobs
Unlike most courier jobs, you’re not likely to see one of the positions as a Queen’s Messenger advertised in your local newspaper. Reports suggest that they are chosen from amongst the ranks of retired army officers, but of course only those with completely untarnished records would be considered!