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Thirty Hidden Songs

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Blogs are a great way of relating how a day in the life can illustrate a broader point.

Take yesterday, when I had the pleasure to drive my car down to the Kennedy Center. With my wife Julia, we were there to see Sir Paul McCartney receive arguably one of America's most prestigious cultural accolades: the Kennedy Center Honor. It was a packed house, and that means a lot of fans were in the audience -- including of course the two of us.

The night before I was reflecting how, in my life as the Ambassador of Her Majesty, I see many Brits who make a significant contribution to American culture. But the impact of the Beatles in the United States is difficult to exaggerate. Sir Paul's appearances over here carry that weight of expectation that only a few British artists have ever managed. For no one can really question the popular excitement that Sir Paul -- and the Beatles' legacy more broadly -- continues to generate on these shores.

With the exception perhaps of the UK itself, I doubt there's a place anywhere else in the world tonight that has such a real love and appreciation for Sir Paul's musical talents. Like a fine wine, his musical reputation over here is getting better all the time. And whether you are looking at the 1960s, the 2000s, or indeed any time at all -- the star power that Sir Paul and the Fab Four continue to wield is phenomenal. And with the recent agreement to make Beatles hits available on iTunes, it is an all together now different generation of Americans who will be able to access and appreciate their music.

I was of course but a young man when the Beatles first took a jet out to the United States for their February 1964 tour. I've got a feeling that the British Ambassador at the time may have been less of an obvious fan than I was then - I saw the Beatles live in London later that year. But I'm confident he would have appreciated - in a way that too many people don't always - how such a popular and iconic UK export would affect US popular perceptions of the UK. Indeed, he even let 'em in to the British Embassy, and you can see the Beatles' interview here.

After their concert at the Washington Coliseum, they were invited to the Embassy for a celebratory reception. The party itself was apparently marred slightly when one of the young British diplomats, intoxicated by the excitement of the event (and perhaps a little more) thought he would help himself to a lock of Ringo Starr's hair. By all accounts it caused quite a scene, and the Ambassador's wife let it be known she was mortified, apologising profusely for "the scene in the ballroom". Ringo, nonplussed, simply remarked that "These diplomats just don't know how to behave". Maybe I'm amazed that such things could happen at an Ambassador's Residence; but maybe not.

The Beatles of course were not the only British musical phenomenon to win favor in the States. Bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, The Hollies, and The Kinks, as well as individual artists like Cilla Black, Tom Jones and Lulu, were also all part of the so-called British Invasion that brought British music to American ears in the 1960s.

And I think it's fair to say that the UK continues to be a major musical force in this century. Indeed, I will confidently predict that, with a little luck, we will continue to produce bands that win both popular plaudits and critical acclaim in the US. I doubt we will wait long before we see the next transatlantic hit flying out this way. And as Britain's Ambassador to the United States, I am delighted this should be so: the success of British musical talent over here is important not only because it generates significant economic benefits for the UK, but also for strengthening the cultural affinity between our two nations.

Well, I'll be on my way. I trust you spotted all thirty Paul McCartney-related song titles mischievously hidden away in the prose? Of course you did!

The End. (That's 31, incidentally.)