What do you want to be when you grow up little girl? Air hostess, singer or vet would be high on most wish lists but the Canary Islands” new British Consul Maria Leng always knew she wanted to work for the Foreign Office. Maybe a slightly nomadic existence was in the family blood, her mother is from Galicia on the Spanish mainland and her father was from Sunderland but moved to work for the oil industry in Aberdeen.Maria’s early years in Fife have also helped to make her Scottish accent loud and proud, apart from when she uses her fluent Spanish, French or German.
Island life is nothing new to Maria after just over 2 years as Vice Consul to Ibiza but this time she has 7 islands to cover. “The Canaries has 2 consul offices, one in Santa Cruz and the other in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria but my job involves all the islands and in the 2 months since arriving I have spent a lot of time flying on the little Binter planes.”
Maria’s passion for exploring has been limited so far in Tenerife and the lack of a car at the moment has meant learning to appreciate the Titsa bus service. “I’m living in Santa Cruz but I’ve managed to see a bit of Puerto de la Cruz, Candelaria, Guimar and the south” she said gesturing to CC Fañabe Plaza as we sipped tea. “The safe, relaxed feel of Tenerife has impressed me and everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. At this time of year it’s very different from Ibiza as that’s very seasonal, after the end of September it cools down pretty quickly.”
A year in Toulouse helped Maria’s studies in European Business Administration and a series of good steady jobs, particularly in the oil industry, meant there was no pressing need to move on which was just as well. “The entry exams for the Foreign Office were yearly and the first time I was going to sit them I got stuck in a jam behind a traffic accident on the Forth Bridge and missed them.”
Maria certainly wasn’t left twiddling her thumbs. “I love football. I saw my first game as a toddler at Sunderland’s old Roker Park and later became a regular fan at Celtic. I also took my Scottish FA coaching badge and coached 12 to 18 year olds at Cupar.” After admitting she will soon be living within throw-in distance of CD Tenerife’s Heliodoro stadium, I posed Maria with an away blanquiazul shirt at the Soy del Tete fan shop but diplomatically she says she will be taking an interest in all the Canarian teams.
Artistic performance is also important to Maria. “I’m keen on amateur theatre and also sang and choreographed for the Selkirk Amateur Opera. Last night I saw the final of the Santa Cruz Carnaval Queen contest and loved it. I’m looking forward to sampling all the Carnaval events, I can’t really avoid it as the consul office is in Plaza Weyler at the heart of the action.”
So how about some advice from our new consul? “Insurance is a really important thing, lots of people don’t bother and then regret it – an air ambulance can cost up to 18.000 euros. Another common oversight is filling in next of kin on passports, that causes so many problems if the unthinkable happens. We will try to help with serious problems but can’t interfere in Spanish legal issues. Our website is a great starting point and can answer many basic enquiries.”
With a hunger to explore, and a wealth of practical experience, Maria is ready to embrace the 7 islands and do her bit to make sure the British abroad have plenty of reasons to smile.
British Consulate Tenerife
Plaza Weyler – Above Barclays Bank
Tel (0034) 922286863