The Newest Pop Star in France Is—Mon Dieu!—A U.S. Diplomat

The French weren’t expecting a woman consul,” admits Eleanor Hicks. “Or a black woman consul and, above all, a young black woman consul. Europeans have not got used to trusting young people with important public office.”

Yet, at 31, consul Hicks is the chief U.S. diplomat headquartered in Nice in the South of France—and the French are adapting très bien. One reason is that Eleanor Hicks is a lot more than a pretty cookie-pusher: playwright, cover girl, author, composer and now pop singer. Later this year her first record—titled Meant to Be and already a favorite in France—will be released worldwide.

The French call her “le consul de charme.” She’s also been dubbed “Mademoiselle X,” which is roughly equivalent to Jane Doe in America, because French pronunciation of the letter “x” (eeks) is similar to the way they fracture her name.

The Jane Doe moniker has given her a little trouble. “Sometimes I call a Frenchman at home and I get his wife on the phone,” she says. “When she asks me who I am, I say, ‘Mile. X,’ and she hangs up in anger.”

Her new fame has had its benefits, however. Not long after a Nice newspaper published a long profile of her, she got a phone call from a familiar-sounding man who said his name was Mr. Peck. Gregory, of course, who has a house nearby.

“Would you like to come to a small dinner next week?” he asked. “That little dinner,” Eleanor recalls, “was for 50 people, including Raquel Welch, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Rosalind Russell and James Mason. And I was the guest of honor.”

Eleanor Hicks got her professional start as a singer moonlighting for a rock group while she was posted in the American embassy in Bangkok. In the two years she has spent in Nice she has written more than 30 songs. A movie studio has expressed an interest in one of her plays, and she has also written a book, In a Hush of Time, which she describes as “about the many positive roles there are for black people in the United States.” The book’s preface is by the smoldering black author James Baldwin. “We don’t agree on a lot of things,” she says, “but if I had had his terrible experiences, no doubt I would feel the way he does.”

Born in Columbus, Ga., Eleanor was soon taken to Cincinnati with her parents, where she grew up oblivious to most overt forms of prejudice. She has only two childhood memories of discrimination, one on a bus, the other in a bowling alley, both of them mild.

She enrolled in the University of Cincinnati, earning a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs. Later she took a master’s at Johns Hopkins in the same field. She joined the foreign service in 1966 and has served in Germany, Thailand (where, in addition to being an off-duty singer, she was a specialist in counter-insurgency) and the home office in Washington. She has a year left in her idyllic French location, but is already studying Swedish in the expectation that Stockholm will be her next post. As consul she oversees a French staff of five, plus one junior American diplomat. Her duties range from greeting American VIPs to tracking down lost passports to preparing reports on French maritime rights policy.

There are also, of course, the parties in the South of France—several every day—which she is invited to both as consul and celebrity. She limits herself to a spartan three a week. “Otherwise,” says Eleanor Hicks with a smile, “the United States would have itself a burned-out consul pretty fast.”

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