FROM washing dishes in a Watford works canteen as a student in the 1970s to the elegant grandeur of the French ambassador’s residence in up-market Kensington is quite a journey.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, France’s new top diplomat in Britain, comes across as an urbane, friendly, touchy-feely mandarin, who appears somewhat in awe at his latest appointment.

Fresh from having “presented his credentials” to the Queen, arriving at Buckingham Palace, as tradition dictated, in a horse-drawn carriage, the 63-year-old career civil servant spoke to The Herald still dressed in his formal morning suit at his plush ambassadorial residence opposite Kensington Palace.

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“I have known the UK for a long time,” declared Mr Jouyet. “When I was a student I was in the UK to earn my living. It was close to London in Watford and I washed all the dishes in a restaurant; it was a canteen for a British company, I don’t remember the name. At the end of the day with British friends, I learned one sport; to launch the darts. I remember each evening we played darts.”

The next time the ambassador spent time in Britain was somewhat different; it was the 1990s when he was involved in negotiating the Maastricht Treaty.

“When I was in the European Commission with Jacques Delors…I organised a European summit just after Maastrict Treaty in Edinburgh Castle. We spent the night in Edinburgh Castle; so there are some things worse in life. I remember very well this European summit in Edinburgh. Since this time I have liked Edinburgh. I went with my children there 10 years ago.”

He is back in the Scottish capital to promote the new French consulate and the French Institute’s new home on the Royal Mile, making it a cultural and educational hub.

Mr Jouyet will mix with royalty, leading politicians, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and high-profile artists to underline the French Government’s commitment to having a greater presence in Scotland.

“We have to decentralise more our actions. Until today we did not have all the means to do that in Scotland and we want to do that in Scotland and be more present on the economic, cultural and educational side,” he explained.

Asked if the French Government’s decision to enhance its presence north of the border had anything to do with Scotland having a stronger parliament than before, he replied: “You are perfectly right…For me, I notice the importance of the devolution of power in the Scottish Parliament and Government. So when you have such devolved powers, for a country like France you need to enhance your relationship in devolved matters with the Scottish Government and Parliament.”

Born in 1954 in a Paris suburb, Mr Jouyet studied at the elite post-graduate school, the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which provides some of the country’s top civil servants.

Part of the class of 1980, known as the “Voltaire Year,” his contemporaries included: lifelong friend Francois Hollande, the former socialist French President; Dominique de Villepin, the former French Prime Minister; and Segolene Royale, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2007.

In the 1990s, the ambassador was head of cabinet for Mr Delors in Brussels. Later, he worked for Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, helping to prepare France’s entry into the euro.

Under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, the ambassador was head of the French Treasury. In 2007 and against the advice of his old friend Mr Hollande, Mr Jouyet became European Affairs Minister in the Conservative administration of Nicolas Sarkozy.

In 2014, after having made up with Mr Hollande, the then President made his old friend his chief of staff at the Elysee Palace.

Married to Brigitte Taittinger of the champagne dynasty, the couple have nine children, including three from his first marriage and five from hers.

Regarded as the mentor of Emmanuel Macron, it came as no surprise to some that Mr Jouyet was appointed the new President’s man in London.

Despite his lack of diplomatic experience, the career civil servant is very well-connected with a financial background. One insider once noted: “He knows everyone there is to know in France and Europe, so he’s a real heavyweight.”

When the quote was mentioned, Mr Jouyet said: “I know a lot of people in Paris, Brussels and London and in finance…I don’t know if I was chosen for that but it’s true at my age and taking into account my diversified career I know a lot of people…”

It has also been said that the new ambassador has had a “sinuous” career, showing an ability to work for both left-wing and right-wing governments. Mr Hollande once said of his old friend: “Jean-Pierre has never been on the Left; he is from a family on the Right.”

Mr Jouyet noted how he was criticised for serving in the Sarkozy administration but declared: “I have no regret for that; it was an honour for me. As you say in the UK, I am a French crossbencher because on some topics I’m on the Right, on other topics I’m on the Left. I have never belonged to any party in France. I served closely four Presidents, Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron…”

Describing himself as a “centrist,” he went on: “I am a pragmatic man and I try throughout the course of all my work to serve the European public interest and the French public interest. It’s clear in France I am the friend of business and finance.”

Which bode the question: had President Macron installed him to try to entice City of London firms to Paris as Brexit unfolded?

“No, I don’t think so because to be very honest with you the winning of President Macron, he is above all[wanting] to reform the French country and to modernise it with two major reforms on the Labour market and the second on the tax issue.”

He suggested if there were “opportunities in finance,” then France would take them but the ambassador stressed: “I can tell you, and I know quite well the topic, the relationship between France and the UK on the economic and financial side will remain very strong.”

As his predecessor Sylvie Bermann once noted Britain was now “Brexit for breakfast, Brexit for lunch, Brexit for dinner,” Mr Jouyet was asked how he felt when he heard Britain had voted to leave the EU.

“I remember that at 1am I was sure there was no Brexit. I spoke with the representative of the UK ambassador in France and it was always the case. At four in the morning, and I can tell you it is not my favourite hour, I learn on the radio the vote was for Brexit. I was totally out. It was incredible, incredible.”

He explained how part of his new role was to better understand why the vote happened but admitted the answer was not straightforward.

“I was surprised that a part of the population, even the very rich population, aristocratic population, voted for Brexit. For me, it’s the main surprise since my arrival. I was in Manchester for the Conservative Party[conference] and tried to understand the Brexit voters. I had the same answer: we will be the best in the future; the Commonwealth will remain; we will have another world and so on…I know Leave is Leave and now we work on that. But it’s not a good thing for the UK nor for Europe nor for Scotland.”

Asked if he agreed with President Macron that the door to the UK returning to the EU was “always open as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished,” the ambassador replied: “Totally agree. Totally agree. It could be long but as the negotiations are not finished we as PM quoted hopes to have a reasonable arrangement.”

But when he was asked if there was still a possibility the UK could at some point decide to stay in the EU, he declared: “I have no answer on that…As you know we follow very closely Michel Barnier, we follow very closely the negotiations in Brussels and if I remember well he told last week there are some improving negotiations. So we will see in December but the December summit is not the end of the day.”

Was he hopeful a breakthrough could be achieved? “We can find a proper way,” he declared.

Could the divorce bill be settled? “It’s not up to me to tell you as the French ambassador in the UK…but I have never seen in my professional life a budgetary issue which cannot be solved.”

Mr Jouyet made clear the entente cordiale would survive Brexit. “It’s very personal and is not an official answer from the French ambassador. The relationship between the UK and France is so close that I don’t see we can have a major disruption on the major issues of defence, security, fighting terrorism, multilateralism, climate change, and so on; I don’t think so.”

The new ambassador insisted with the opening of France’s new cultural hub in Scotland, he would be spending more time north of the border.

“You can be sure I will do, not only for my professional life but also for my personal life. I know Scotland is a beautiful country. I want to visit the Scottish countryside and better know the Scots. I love very much the Scottish culture.”

And as a keen sports fan Mr Jouyet admitted to a private ambition: “My dream is to see the derby between Celtic and Rangers.”