Garvin Nicholas on a Mission to Promote Trinidad and Tobago in the UK

Garvin Nicholas headshot

Garvin Nicholas

Just as any good corporation needs to put forward a public face to represent its interests, so too does any nation looking to increase international ties through trade, economics, and tourism. For the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, it is not enough to simply let the tropical allure of the islands themselves draw in the international community. In order for the world to truly know what a country has to offer, it needs an individual willing to tout the benefits of international relations.

His Excellency Garvin Nicholas is the man in control of this mission for the nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the UK. Mr. Nicholas serves as the High Commissioner to the UK for Trinidad and Tobago. In reality, his title is a very professional manner of saying that he works with the government in the UK to improve, increase, and diversify international relations with his homeland in the Caribbean.

While governments in every country are full of positions, roles, and employment opportunities that have obscure or murky titles that leave many scratching their head, each of these individuals serves a purpose in working for their country. Mr. Nicholas was chosen not at random to represent his homeland, but rather was selected because he possesses the background and desire to make real change occur and foster a greater connection between these two nations. But what is it about Mr. Nicholas that makes him such a good choice?

Understanding Trinidad and Tobago

The main islands of Trinidad and Tobago make up the nation of the same name, and while they have different histories they share more than the connection of a common conjunction in their name. Trinidad was under the control of the Spanish empire f or 299 years from the date Christopher Columbus landed there in 1498, until control was ceded to the British Empire in February 1797.

On the other hand, Tobago was constantly changing hands during the same period. For centuries, control of the island shifted between Spanish, Dutch, French, British, and Courlander powers. With each group of outside powers came new ethnic groups through voluntary migration and forced slavery. Over time the cultures of Spanish Creoles, French Creoles, African Slaves, Indian migrants, and white Europeans intermixed on the island to create a unique creole culture.

It was into this culture than Garvin Nicholas was born. The son of a man with East Indian and African heritage, and a woman with French, Spanish, and Portuguese heritage, Mr. Nicholas was raised in the village of Maraval. In the heart of what he identifies as the centre of the creole culture in Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Nicholas was raised neither in abject poverty norextreme wealth. Despite the many similarities of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, there remain to this day differences in the dispersion of peoples across the islands and difficulty understanding the unique cultures of each group. Across the islands people celebrate different holidays for different religions. Christmas, Eid, and Diwali are celebrated by Christians, Muslims, and native peoples inhabiting various corners of the islands.

With all this diversity in one small nation, it might be understandable that cultures would clash and one would rise to gr eater prominence than another. How then, could one individual represent such a diverse nation wherein those of East Indian descent inhabit the central and southern regions while those of African descent inhabit primarily the centre and northern regions?

This is perhaps where Mr. Nicholas shines through as a perfect representative of the creole culture and his homeland. Raised by two hardworking parents, he was instilled with a sense of respect and dignity for all of his compatriots. In a recent interview with Kreol Magazine, Mr. Nicholas described his creole upbringing by his parents in the following terms:

“Interestingly again, because of my parents, we grew up in such a way that we embraced all the cultures. We were speaking earlier about the Creole people and their willingness to embrace and I think it is because we have no choice. I cannot identify with any one ethnic group and I think that makes me healthy and strong as a grouping, simply because I can identify with all and I see no group as being superior or inferior. I embrace the richness of the various cultures… So I really do appreciate the richness of Trinidad & Tobago as a cultural melting pot.”

Steel-drummer from CIS Band Trust playing steel drums at the Notting Hill Panorama Championships
Steel-drummer from CIS Band Trust playing steel drums at the Notting Hill Panorama Championships. Photo: Clive Chilvers

Garvin Nicholas, The Man

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Nicholas grew up in a home where all of the cultures of Trinidad and Tobago were embraced and efforts made to understand the backgrounds of all the peoples of his homeland. This included the islands rich creole culture. While no singular place in the world can lay claim to the title of “the homeland of creole,” Trinidad and Tobago can justifiably claim to be the birthplace of many of the most popular cultural aspects of creole cultures across the globe. F or example, Carnival is celebrated around the globe by creoles in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and even the United States, but few can claim to have an event on the level of that which takes place on Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to a world renowned Carnival, the islands are the birthplace of the steelpan drum, calypso, soca, and chutney music as well as the limbo. Despite working a world away from his home as the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr. Nicholas has not forgotten his roots in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, after arriving in London on 5 December 2010 Mr. Nicholas lamented a few weeks later in early 2011 that he was missing out on Carnival at home while his wife and son (who remained in Trinidad and Tobago) were able to enjoy the festivities.

Education and Early Career

Like so many of the individuals chosen for diplomatic missions, Mr. Nicholas is a highly educated and socially aware person. As a young man he attended primary school in Port of Spain before going to Trinity College in his hometown of Maraval. After completing his studies at Trinity College, Mr. Nicholas went on to study law at Oxford Brookes University, UK before attending the Inns of Court School of Law. While he may be a Barrister by profession, Mr. Nicholas has been involved in politics since his early 20s. During his interview with Kreol Magazine, Mr. Nicholas recounted his path into politics from a young age:

“Growing up, I always had a social consience and one day, some politicians came to my home and asked me to contest local government election. I was 23 and I was appointed to an advisory body at the local government, and won my first election at 25 and became a Counsellor. Once I entered politics, the bug had bitten me and I have always had a ‘love-hate relationship’ with politics in a sense. Love in the sense that when I get things done, I’m extremely pleased. Hate because of the many frustrations that you experience in trying to get things achieved in the political arena and the games that you have to see played out in the politics, at every level.”

Mr. Nicholas has previously served as a temporary Senator in the Upper House of Parliament in Trinidad and Tobago, as the Leader of the Movement f or National Development, and was even named the nation’s first Press Secretary in 2010 ahead of his appointment as the High Commissioner to the UK.

Bringing His Talents to London

It is the responsibility of the High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the UK to foster an environment of inter connectivity among the two nations, and Mr. Nicholas appears perfectly positioned to achieve that aim for both sides. He admits to the importance of his position, and the difficultly he faces as a result of his nation’s stature. Every nation on the planet seeks to have an audience with the world powers and have some influence on decisions made at an international level. As a representative of Trinidad and Tobago, it is Mr. Nicholas ’ responsibility to be the voice of his people in London. His duties include calling attention to the benefits of a relationship between his country and the UK. Mr. Nicholas does not shy away from pointing out all that his homeland has to offer on the world stage. While petroleum and related industrial sectors have long been essential to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy, Mr. Nicholas sees more than just these to entice international connections.

Tourism and the island’s creole culture are two important rising stars in the nation’s economy. Cultural tourism is a vital tool in generating investment in Trinidad and Tobago, which is a central role in Mr. Nicholas ’ diplomatic mission. The steelpan drum, invented in Trinidad and Tobago, is a big part of the music and celebrations in the island’s Carnival. That music and the celebration of Carnival has been spread across the globe along with the creole culture.

As that culture spreads across the globe to cities throughout the Caribbean, and to major world cities such as New York, Miami, Toronto, and into Europe and Asia it creates a trade buzz for Trinidad and Tobago. When people from the farthest reaches of the globe can hear the sounds and see representations of the magic of Carnival, it sparks an interest in the places that host such culturally rich events.

To that end, while working and living in the United Kingdom Mr. Nicholas works hard to stay in touch with his compatriots that live in the UK and become involved in cultural celebrations taking place there. In addition to gathering with local expatriates to celebrate creole events such as Carnival in the UK, Mr. Nicholas helped spread the joy of his native culture during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Mr. Nicholas described his efforts at cultural diplomacy in the UK during last summer’ s Olympics in the following terms:

“My biggest venture to date has been the hosting of a cultural village last year in the summer period to coincide with the Olympics; a four and half week cultural programme. I took over the tricycle theatre in Kilburn and we had everything. Poetry, dance, food, art, music, you name it, it was fantastic and it was certainly the biggest project undertaken by a nation. I don’t think we’ve ever had a similar project given in Trinidad and Tobago and I continue to use culture to promote our nation.”

If Mr. Nicholas could tell the world any one thing about his homeland, it would be that its people are its greatest asset. He firmly believes that his fellow countrymen have the potential to make Trinidad and Tobago one of the best places on Earth to live. With a rich environment and inviting climate, combined with a highly educated and socially connected populace, Trinidad and Tobago has all the tools to succeed regionally and internationally.

Perhaps of greater importance, however, Mr. Nicholas believes his people and his culture have the ability to show the world how to successfully live side by side with those of different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. He pointed to the strong sense of community in his home country, comparing it to the United States.

In the U.S., while most people are referred to as American there are labels for others that make them almost second-class. Terms such as African- American, Chinese-American, and Native American serve to separate the community and put one group ahead of another. He would rather see a world where people strive for togetherness such as in his homeland.

Mr. Nicholas once had a teacher tell him that “discipline is absolutely necessary for human progress.” That line has stuck with him throughout his life and whether working or relaxing at home, Mr. Nicholas hopes to see the world grow through better connections and communications. For his part, he does what he can to foster such a relationship between Trinidad and Tobago, and the world at large.

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago