Fiona Hill: North East 'grit' helps ex-Trump adviser handle death threats

Fiona Hill
Image caption The ex-White House adviser says her North East "backbone and grit" helped her US career

A Durham miner's daughter has told how her North East "backbone and grit" helped her deal with death threats after testifying at US President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, is a Russian expert and has advised three US presidents.

The 54-year-old, who moved to the US in 1989, said she received threats after testifying in November 2019.

But she said she was "determined to speak out".

The 54-year-old, a US citizen since 2002, is now a senior fellow at the Center for the United States and Europe Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

In a career spanning nearly three decades, she has established herself as a top expert on the former Soviet Union and has worked closely with the three most recent presidents - George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

It was her role on Mr Trump's National Security Council (NSC) in 2017, which she subsequently stepped down from, that led to her testifying as part of the impeachment hearing in November.

Afterwards, she received telephone death threats and aggressive messages, she said.

'Poke fun'

Speaking via Skype from her home in Maryland, she said; "People take offence at something you've said or done and the next thing you know you'll get these hostile attacks and it's particularly difficult for women, people think you are fair game,

"This is when my North East sensibilities come in, because I don't stand for that kind of thing, attacks and aggression.

"We in the North East are used to that and we have grit and a backbone and spine.

"It made me more determined to speak out rather than less."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The former White House aide testified during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence public hearing on the impeachment inquiry

Ms Hill lived in the North East until she was in her 20s, but said she had lots of opportunities to travel because in the late 1970s and 1980s, Durham County Council would fund student trips.

During an academic exchange in the then Soviet Union, she met an American professor who told her about graduate scholarships to the US.

In 1989, she got a place at Harvard University, went on to get a PhD, then worked in America.

On certain occasions she has been ill-treated because of her Durham accent, she said.

"Growing up in the North East you don't think about it because everybody talks like that.

"But when I came into contact with kids in other parts of the country they really did poke fun at me."

'Blair's girl'

During her interview for Oxford University she was told people could not "understand a word" she said.

"One girl offered to interpret for me, that was a jolt of humiliation."

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption President George W Bush visited Prime Minister Tony Blair in the North East of England in 2003

However, Ms Hill said in the US she had never felt discriminated against because of her working class roots and had worked with people of every kind of background.

During briefings with President Bush, he would make references to her accent in a "very positive" way, she said.

"As soon as he heard me speak, he said 'that voice, where's it from?' and when I said the North East of England he said 'I've been there' - you may recall that he came out to visit Tony Blair in Sedgefield.

"I said I was from the next constituency to Tony Blair's one and next time he saw me he called me 'Blair's girl'."

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