Billy wears the trousers on trip to Azerbaijan

IPSWICH: When borough council leader Liz Harsant was invited to Azerbaijan last week to meet officials bringing that country’s Olympic team to town, she knew who to take with her.

Head of culture and leisure at the borough Billy Brennan was the obvious choice to join her in talks with senior Azeri officials – but from the moment they landed at the capital Baku it was clear that some of their hosts had misunderstood their respective roles.

So while Mr Brennan got the red carpet treatment, Mrs Harsant found herself treated as his PA at times – although the key officials knew exactly who was who!

While there may have been some embarrassment for Mr Brennan, they said the trip had helped to build strong relations between Ipswich and Azerbaijan – relations that could be valuable long after the Olympics.

Mrs Harsant said: “It was a very good trip. We hadn’t really known what to expect before we went there, but Baku is a very modern capital and quite an amazing place.”

Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia, Georgia, Iran and the Caspian Sea. It has huge reserves of oil and its economy is expected to take off over the next few years.

Mr Brennan said: “They are a very young country and they have a great admiration for Britain. They especially like the British education system with its colleges and universities. At the same time as we were there Polly Bridgeman from UCS was there trying to push that and we really hope to develop a strong relationship with them.”

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At one stage during the trip they were driven from the capital of Baku to Lankoran in the south of the country. Mr Brennan was put into a chauffeur-driven limousine while Mrs Harsant was squashed in the back of a fairly old Mercedes.

She said: “I didn’t mind really, but Billy was a bit embarrassed. They kept calling him ‘Mr Billy’ and we found that amusing but I think it was all very worthwhile.”

A party from Azerbaijan is now expected in Ipswich next summer to prepare for the Olympics and to try to get support from the people of the area. Mr Brennan said: “They will be bringing their culture to the Ip-Art festival and bringing some of their athletes to get a first look at the town in 2011.

“Then they will come over for their pre-Olympic training before the event itself.

“The idea is that their visit next year should give people in Ipswich the chance to meet them and hopefully by the time the Olympics come around people here will have ‘adopted’ them as their second favourites in the competition.”

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