UK ambassador to Morocco revives Churchill's 'love story' with Marrakech at storytelling event

UK ambassador to Morocco revives Churchill's 'love story' with Marrakech at storytelling event
Moroccan artists believe that the performance of the British ambassador in the city of Marrakech will have a positive impact on the Covid-19-hit touristic sector.
3 min read
18 February, 2022
In Morocco tourists decreased by 78.5 percent in 2020 amidst Covid-19 border restrictions. [Getty]

British Ambassador to Morocco Simon Martin stole the show on Thursday in the city of Marrakech at the International Storytelling Festival. His performance revolved around the 'love story' between British politician Winston Churchill and the Moroccan 'Red City'.

Dressed in a black frock coat and sporting a top hat - just like Churchill in the 1940s - the ambassador stepped into the 'Helqa' (the circle of listeners that gather around the storyteller) in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Martin was accompanied by a Moroccan translator who was wearing a red and white traditional outfit.

"I am not a storyteller, but I want to tell you a love story. It's a love story between my country and the beautiful city of Marrakech,” said Simon Martin at the start of his performance.

Ambassador Martin and the Moroccan translator narrated to a crowd of media professionals and locals how the 'British Bulldog' had fallen in love with Marrakech, 'Paris of the desert', as he used to call it.

Embittered by his failure to secure an office in the Baldwin cabinet in 1935, Churchill escaped gloomy London to spend a vacation in the desert city of Marrakech. 

The striking contrast between the city’s arid desert and the snow-topped Atlas Mountains that surround Marrakech during the winter took the heart of the soon-to-be UK prime minister.

The World War II mastermind revisited the city in 1943, when he painted one of his finest watercolors, 'The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque' - the only painting Churchill realised during the Second World War, which he donated to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The first edition of the Marrakech International Storytelling Festival was inaugurated on Sunday, thanks to the the support of several partners such as the British Embassy, the Union of Storytellers of Marrakech and the Al Muniya Association.

With more than 40 storytellers from five continents, the event hinges on the tradition of storytelling in Marrakech. The festival is set to end on Sunday February 20th.

Moroccan artists praised the British ambassador’s initiative, as it shed light on the first cultural event held in Morocco since the reopening of its borders on February 7.

Redouane, a Moroccan storyteller and artist, told The New Arab that “this event will not only make it possible to promote the tradition of storytelling, but also to bring back tourists and locals to appreciate the beauty of Marrakech. Artists in Marrakech hailed Mr. Martin's performance as a smart move to promote tourism in the Red City.”

“We hope to see also Moroccan politicians and diplomats supporting tourism in the same way,” added Redouane.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the 'Red City' was a tourist magnet, with more than 3 million visitors in 2019.

Since 2020, the Moroccan government’s strict border policies have paralysed Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, the beating heart of art, entertainment and cuisine in Marrakech. According to official figures, the number of tourist arrivals in the kingdom decreased by 78.5 percent in 2020.

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During the past two years, artists and food sellers have  lived on their savings while calling on the government to ease its border policies. 

Despite the recent reopening of borders, locals complain that the number of visitors is still limited.