French presidents' interpreter on career at Hay Festival

Francois Mitterand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy Amanda Galsworthy has worked for three French presidents in 26 years

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A British-born interpreter has been giving her insights into the occasional pitfalls of being chief translator to French presidents.

Linguist Amanda Galsworthy told the Hay Festival in Powys of her work with three French presidents over 26 years.

She spoke of how President Francois Mitterrand once in the 1980s used her origins to "infuriate" then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Ms Galsworthy is on a brief visit from her home in Paris.

She said Mr Mitterrand called her over at the end of a meeting of European heads of state and told her to "please say this" to Mrs Thatcher.

Francois Mitterand listens to a translation of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 Francois Mitterand listens to a translation of Margaret Thatcher in 1990

She was then treated to the bizarre experience of translating what he said about her to Mrs Thatcher.

"He said 'this young lady is one of yours' and she said 'yes'," Mrs Galsworthy told the Hay audience.

"Then he smiled and said, 'but she is one of ours now'."

Diplomatically, she did not explain how Mrs Thatcher expressed her anger.

Unfunny joke

Several years later Mrs Thatcher took apparent revenge though not on the French president, but his interpreter.

"Years later after a lunch she called me over and said 'I have some advice to ask of you'," Mrs Galsworthy told the audience.

"Then, in her very loudest voice, so that everyone could hear she said 'I've been meaning to ask you, a great friend of mine has a son who has failed all of his exams'.

"'I suggested that he become an interpreter. What do you think?"'

She added: "It was horrific because she was still prime minister so I could not say what I really felt."

As the chief interpreter to Nicolas Sarkozy, Ms Galsworthy kept her guard about any possible faux pas with the current president.

And she underlined the diplomatic skills interpreters have to develop when doing their jobs.

She told of how a colleague was struggling to translate a Japanese dignitary's unfunny joke, but found a way out of his dilemma.

He told his waiting listeners "the speaker was telling a joke which was unfunny and impossible to translate but it would give him great pleasure if you would all laugh".

Other Hay highlights on Saturday include Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed talking to Labour environment spokesman Ed Miliband.

There was also a talk by American author and broadcaster Bill Bryson, Nicholas Stern with a lecture on climate change, and events involving novelists Roddy Doyle, Tony Parsons and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Stereophonics' singer Kelly Jones was providing music and chat and Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp was speaking to a sell-out audience about his memoirs.

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