Every year, British embassies and consulates around the world receive hundreds of thousands of phone calls and visits from Brits in need of urgent help. In fact, officials from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) took over 330,000 phone calls from Brits abroad last year, although not every single request for urgent consular assistance would be what you could class as an actual emergency.
One of the more interesting cases involved a man who called a British consulate to complain about the airplane food that he had received on the outbound flight of a summer holiday. The man was so dissatisfied with the food that he even asked consular officials to book him a new ticket on a different airline for his return flight – a request, that funnily enough, the FCO wasn’t able to help with.
Perhaps to save the blushes of the airline involved, the FCO declined to name the carrier or any other details about the passenger’s mediocre plane meal.
But the strange requests didn’t end there. One customer who was calling from Nigeria said they wanted to speak to the rapper 50 Cent and asked the British Consulate to share his phone number. Another, asked whether Embassy staff could pop round to a hotel in France and see whether they could find the headphones that the unlucky tourist had forgotten to take with them.
And one non-British caller asked whether his son could qualify for British citizenship based on the fact that he was convinced the child had been conceived during a trip to the UK (the answer was no).
Other surprising (and very wasteful calls) came from around the world and included:
- Texas, USA: A woman emailed to ask if she could buy 30 sheets of A4 paper from the British Consulate as she couldn’t find that size of paper in the local area.
- Lisbon, Portugal: A British couple who were thinking of moving to the country asked how removal companies got large items of furniture into small flats in the city.
- Australia: A man asked whether embassy officials could drop off a TV for his friend who had been admitted to hospital because the one in his ward was broken.
- Doha, Qatar: A woman was unhappy with the services of a makeup artist she had hired for her wedding and wanted to know whether the British embassy could get involved.
- Sweden: A woman who had been invited to an event at Windsor Castle wanted advice from officials on what to wear.
- China: A couple had “engaged the services of a sperm donor” and wanted embassy staff to verify the nationality of the sperm as British.
And that’s just a small sample of the 20,000 wasteful calls the FCO received in 2019 – nearly as many as the 27,000 emergency travel documents issued by the department for British citizens who lost their passports while abroad.
On top of that, consular staff offered advice to more than 5,000 Brits who had found themselves arrested and locked up in a foreign country and there were over 3,000 visits to hospitalised British nationals throughout the year.
“We can’t hand out famous rappers’ phone numbers, collect your lost property or advise on Windsor Castle’s dress code,” a spokesperson for the FCO explained with the release of this stash of bizarre requests.