Two decades of Downing Street door pics

Remembering what I can about visits to Downing Street in the past 20 years.

My very last working hours of 2023 were spent at Number 10, celebrating UK filmmaking. 

It was a fantastic event – and an opportunity to get a more recent Downing Street door pic, 20 years (more or less to the day) since my first.

I thought it’d be fun to post all such photos and see what I can remember about them (cobbling it together, given the SDAM). 

First, some quick notes about the filmmaking reception:

  • The official photos here are fun. Real Star Wars droids and lightsabers! Plus cool bits and bobs from Barbie, Wonka, The Red Shoes, Paddington and more (laid on by Warners, BFI, Framestore and Working Title).
  • The PM’s speech included a superb gag about him being mistaken for Timothée Chalamet (“…or at least, I assume that’s why people keep shouting Wonka at me”). Ben gave this excellent speech on the point of the event. Gurinder Chadha brought that to life with her career story. Rousing stuff on why screen culture matters for our souls and economy.
  • The lovely and talented Joanna Scanlan was bobbing about – providing an opportunity the Daily Mail didn’t pass up to make an obvious DoSAC joke. 
  • The canapés were Christmassy and on point (unless you’re vegan).

On to the door pics! 

December 2003

This was my first ever visit, right at the start of my civil service career. 

I was 27, newly in post as Assistant Strategic Communications Manager at the Department of Trade and Industry, having applied through Guardian jobs (an actual page in an actual newspaper!) to join the GICS

I’d gone for the role on the basis of digital product work (a comms planning tool, image library, e-newsletter, that kind of thing) – only to discover, to my delight and horror, it also entailed going to Downing Street every Wednesday to negotiate slots on Alistair Campbell’s media “grid”

My task was to learn everything about every upcoming DTI announcement and ministerial meeting, sufficient to answer any possible question that could be fired at me, and then horse-trade for media prominence – with the risk of pissing off DTI’s press officers and SpAds if I gave too much ground.

It was terrifying. As a novice civil servant I wasn’t especially good at it. But I did it about 70 times before moving to a digital-only job at the ODPM. Character building!

October 2012

Having climbed the ranks of digital comms at ODPM/DCLG and BERR/BIS (while wearing shirts and suits!), by 2011 I’d landed myself the plum role of Product Manager for the Whitehall bit of GOV.UK.

A mere 15 months into that role (October 2012, when this visit took place) GDS had already replaced Directgov and Businesslink with GOV.UK. A month later my team would launch the Whitehall section and publishing app, and close down the first two ministerial departments’ sites. 

A much more casual (bordering on scruffy) look for this second photo! This was the kids in jeans “insurgency” era of GDS and we were deliberately dressing down as part of the positive disruption. 

I have zero memory of this visit. Without the photo I’d have no idea it happened.

But the matching photo in Public Digital’s book reveals Kathy Settle was with me. So my best guess is that this was a meeting to tell No. 10 the plan for shutting down every department and agency website in the next 6 months – including their own! 

We were hardline on declining exemption requests (if No. 10 wouldn’t close their site and refocus content on users’ needs, nobody else would) but concessions were made which persist to this day, like the special homepage banner showing the iconic door number and knocker. The need is questionable (do users have to knock to enter the site?) but it does look great. 

July 2013

The less said about this look the better. Suffice to say: 

  • It was a hot day
  • I wasn’t expecting to go to Number 10
  • The dress code chez GDS had become even more relaxed
  • Merging every department’s website inside 6 months while parenting a 2 year old and 5 year old was intense, and I’d let myself go a little
  • By this point, I was pretty blasé about popping to Downing Street. It’s just a working office full of fellow civil servants at the end of the day.

Judging by the date (shortly after migrating Number 10’s website) I think this might have been for a catchup with the Head of Digital Comms in Downing Street.

I went frequently over a period of years, liaising with a succession of people in that high-turnover role – through some detective work on LinkedIn they were Rishi Saha (a single domain co-conspirator), Nick Jones, Anthony Simon, David Tomchak and Chris Hamilton. Discussions (as I progressed from Product Manager for part of GOV.UK to being in charge of all of it) were mostly about news and campaigns functionality on GOV.UK and jointly pushing for more coherent comms output across Whitehall departments – albeit with different motives (controlling the message vs. better meeting users’ needs).

Official photo of Larry the Cat, wearing a union jack bow tie collar.

One time during this period of routine visits, I got there early and spent some quality time in the waiting room stroking Larry the cat – eliciting the full complement of feline bliss of purring, milk treading, and drooling all over the carpet.

That moment of calm with Larry is the most vivid memory I have of being inside Number 10!

On one visit I also took a dump in the guest loos, so there’s that to be proud of too. 

September 2018

This is the month I left GDS and started as Chief Digital Officer at Croydon Council (at the job interview, the council’s CEO had described me as “prime ministerial” – a vibe I do seem to be bringing here! More dapper, less disrespectful on my way out of the civil service into local gov).

Again, I have zero actual memory of this visit. You could tell me this was photoshopped or AI-generated and I couldn’t argue it wasn’t. But it wasn’t.

I assume from the date it was some kind of handover meeting. The person holding the camera is likely either Jen Allum who succeeded me, or Chris McCann who had started as GOV.UK policy and engagement lead. I was ready to leave GDS after 8 amazing, blissful (drool-on-the-carpet level of bliss) years. But with Brexit looming (and Covid as it turned out), the job had become heavily political and operational, and far less transformational. (♬ There’s a voice, that keeps on calling me…)

December 2023

And here we are a couple of weeks ago, in December 2023 for the BFI/No 10 filmmaking reception.

Model is wearing his own fancy velvet Simon Carter jacket (hidden under the raincoat), black jeans and some Grenson boots. Hand nonchalantly in pocket, as if to say “not my first rodeo, mate”. A lot greyer, but I reckon the Christmas tree and I have both improved with age in the 20 years since 2003. 

It was fun to go again, and the novelty will never wear off! I hope I get to go a few more times yet…

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