It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 8 - Interviewing at Short Notice: Tia Sharp's Grandmother

16 May 2013 at 12:24

“Can you get here in 30 minutes. You’re doing an interview with Tia Sharp’s Grandmother and stepdad.” This phone call from my LBC producer came the day after Stuart Hazell, Tia’s Grandmother’s ex-partner had been sent to prison for 38 years for Tia’s brutal murder. They hadn’t done any other radio interview, so for us it was a big deal. I knew the basics of the case but I knew I hadn’t got the detailed knowledge that any interviewer likes to have before doing an interview like this. My basic rule in these circumstances is to think what the listener would be asking if they had the chance. So I jotted down a few ideas and one of our reporters who had been following the case briefed me. Before I knew it they walked into the studio and off we went.

It’s probably the most awkward interview I have ever conducted. By awkward, I mean that initially a lot of their answers consisted of one word. Yes, or no. I didn’t blame them for being suspicious, and I had to bear in mind that they weren’t used to being interviewed. But I ploughed on and asked some pretty tough questions. The key one was whether we really could believe that Christine, as Tia’s grandmother, really had no idea that Stuart Hazell wasn’t safe to leave with Tia. She adamantly denied that she could have known anything. I pressed her and brought up his drug dealing conviction and the fact he walked around their estate with a machete. I knew he smoked dope in front of Tia, so I brought that up too. Christine seemed to think that was perfectly normal behaviour. I replied that wouldn’t be the view of mot normal people.

It became clear that the lifestyle this family led was one which Tia’s grandmother felt was perfectly normal and appropriate. The disconnect between that and what society regards as normal is clearly immense.

They accused the police of treating them like dirt, and maintained that if they been posh, the police would have acted very differently. I found this a bizarre accusation and reminded them that many of the police officers who had worked hard to find Tia would have been from a similar background. It was indeed very wrong that it took three searches of Hazell’s attic before Tia’s body was found, but that was surely an example of crass incompetence rather than anything more sinister.

When we played out the interview on my drivetime show the overwhelming reaction was that they had not covered themselves in glory. They had shown precious little compassion or contrition. In fact. A lot of people felt they sounded downright weird. One or two people accused me of sensationalist journalism and trying to be like Jeremy Kyle. It’s nonsense, of course, because all I was doing was giving them a chance to put their side of the story. If you’d like to judge for yourself, listen to the interview, and let me know what you thought.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Rob Shepherd

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Random Thoughts

A New Way of Measuring Economic Activity - Full Station Car Parks!

15 May 2013 at 09:38

In October 2008 I wrote a blogpost where I suggested that the number of spaces free at Tonbrige Station car park of a morning was a decent indicator of economic activity. In the five years up to then, the car park had been full, or nearly full by 8.15 in the morning. But after that, it never was. You could arrive at 10am and still be fairly sure of getting a space. And that’s how it’s been until the last few weeks. But recently I have noticed that it’s been more and more difficult to find a space. This morning disaster struck and there wasn’t a space to be had. It’s the first time that has happened for years. Scoff all you like, but that is surely a sign that economic activity is increasing, with more people needing to travel to London early in the morning.

So this morning I had had to park where I shouldn’t. Hopefully the local traffic warden has got the day off.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale on Brian Haw

Iain discusses with sculptor Amanda Ward whether a statue should be built in Parliament Square to commemorate Brian Haw

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Gongless at the Sonys

13 May 2013 at 23:58

I wish I could say I am a good loser. But I’m not. “Oh you’ve done so well to be nominated,” they kept saying. “You’ve only been doing radio for two years, it’s great to be shortlisted.” Well, yes. Up to a point, Lord Copper. It really was both a surprise and an honour to be shortlisted, to be in the top 5 of what I am told were more than 50 entries for Best SPeech Radio Programme at the Sonys.

But anyone who sits at an awards dinner and doesn’t want to win is lying. And I am no different. And I was gutted not to be in the top three, even if the glass awards were particularly hideous! I’m really not being a sore loser. At all. But I knew what I wanted to say if I had had the opportunity to get up on that platform and I was hugely disappointed not to have had the opportunity. I wrote it down last night just on the offchance I might get a chance to say it. I wasn’t going to read it out, but I wanted to write it down so it was clear in mind. You might think this a rather crass thing to do, seeing as I didn’t win. But here’s what I wanted to say.

I’d like to thank my fabulous producers, Laura Marshall, Carl McQueen and Matt Harris (all pictured) for their patience, guidance and inspiration. And to Joe Pike, Caroline Allen, Christian Mitchell, Rebekah Walker, Hollie Atherton, Tom Cheal, Tom Swarbrick, Dan Freedman and Raj Pattni, who have all, over the last year, showed what a brilliant, young team we have at LBC. Thanks to Richard Park, Ashley Tabor and Stephen Miron for giving me the chance to do what I do. I just wish I had been able to do it 10 years ago. It’s so much more fun than trying to become an MP. And failing.

I want to pay tribute to a man many of you in this room, who have worked at LBC over the last quarter of a century, will know and love. A month ago he celebrated 25 years with us. His name is Chris Lowrie. He lives and breathes LBC and has made me a better broadcaster than I ever thought I could be.

I’m indebted to James Rea for believing in me and encouraging me to be the best I can be. James has this rather David Brent-esque saying that our callers are our hit records. But it’s true. They are what speech radio is all about.

So to Bill on the M25 who I spent twenty minutes talking to, he having told me he was about to commit suicide live on air, I hope I said the right thing. To Anne in Enfield, who told me about her rape eleven years ago and that she hadn’t told her husband – who then phoned back the next night and told me she had now told her husband and she felt as if she could see the blue sky again, I’ll remember your call until the day I die.

And to all those callers who start their calls by saying ‘you don’t half sound like Rick Stein’, thanks for making me smile.

My mother died nearly a year ago. Mum, I hope I’ve made you proud.

And that’s what it was all about. Making my Mum proud of me. Silly old Hector.

Awards evenings are funny things. Tonight there were 31 awards doled out. Far too many. It was a conveyor belt. They could easily delete ten of them and no one would notice. The highlight of the evening was meeting Billy Ocean. I’ve got all his records – Red Light Spells Danger, When the Going Gets Tough, Love on Delivery. The whole lot. And what a lovely man.

I heard last week I had been nominated for Radio Presenter of the Year at the Arqiva Awards in July. I’m up against Frank Skinner and a double act from Real Radio, Dixie & Gayle. These awards are for commercial radio only, which is probably just as well, because at the Sonys the more the evening went on, the more it seemed you had to be a BBC programme to win!



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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Esther Rantzen

13 May 2013 at 09:00

*This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Esther Rantzen

Mrs Thatcher and I are both products of the same Oxford college, Somerville. When she went there, and when I did, it was for women only, and we were taught by generations of pioneering women scholars. But I have never believed Mrs Thatcher should be judged, first woman Prime Minister though she was, as a woman. We at Somerville were encouraged to think rationally, using our minds, not our gender, and for me Mrs T thought like a scientist. She wanted to put forward policies that worked, that were successful. She felt the same about people, encouraging those who worked, and were successful. But there was one area in which it seemed to me that she thought and acted like a woman. And that was the absolute priority she placed on child protection.

I came up with the idea for ChildLine in 1986, (0800 1111, free, confidential, open 24/7) and there were plenty of people at the time who were horrified by the concept that abused children could be encouraged to ask for help themselves, on their own initiative. But Mrs Thatcher understood immediately that an anonymous helpline is the only way abused or neglected children could be helped. Child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, is a secret crime. It usually goes undetected by any helping agency. ChildLine offers abused children their one safe way to seek help, and protection.

Given the controversy around the idea, it was a thrill for the ChildLine team when very soon after our launch she hosted a reception at Number Ten for us. (There is a picture of her with some of the stars who came, Frank Bruno, David Frost, Susan Hampshire). But even more crucial than the celebrities we were able to invite were the philanthropists and the government ministers to whom we were able to describe our work. I stood in the receiving line next to the Prime Minister, pinching myself because I couldn’t believe I was in such distinguished company, as the rich, famous and powerful shook our hands. There was a momentary lull in the line of guests, and Mrs Thatcher turned to me.
“Miss Rantzen,”she said, “What are the long-term effects of child abuse?”

It was a big question, and I answered carefully. “Well, Prime Minister,” I replied, “If everything we learn as children about love, and trust, and loyalty, we learn first of all from our parents, and if instead we learn from them shame, and fear, and betrayal, it’s not surprising that abuse victims often end up with broken marriages, or in addiction units, or psychiatric hospitals, or prison.” By the time I had finished Mrs Thatcher’s famous blue eyes had glazed, and I thought, “Dammit, I’ve bored her. I’ve spent a life-time boring my family, and decades boring the viewers, now I’ve bored the Prime Minister.”

Then the guests began arriving again, and we continued shaking hands. Then Mrs Thatcher brought out on the embroidered footstool she always stood on so as to be seen and heard by everyone, and started her speech. She talked about the NSPCC (of which she was a constant supporter) and Christmas time (which was approaching) as a time to think about children, and then she said “You know, if everything we learn as children about love, and trust and loyalty we learn first of all from our parents, and if instead we learn from them shame, and fear, and betrayal…..” and she went on, word perfect, exactly as I had inadvertently briefed her. I stood next to her, with two thoughts in my head. Firstly, gratitude that I had not intended that to be my speech, because I was speaking second. And then, awe, at how brilliantly she had taken a brief, recognized information she could use, and used it, perfectly.

I spoke next, nervously reading every word, describing the suffering of the children who were ringing ChildLine. The third speaker was a survivor, who was fund-raising for us. She took my place on the footstool and looked around the grand stateroom, filled with distinguished guests. “My father,” she began, “was a Mason and a policeman, and I tell you that because I want you to understand how respected he was in our community. But nobody knew what he did to us children, once the front door had closed behind him.” And then the memories and the occasion overwhelmed her, and she broke down in tears.

She got down, and disappeared into the crowd, and I took her place on the footstool and explained that it was too late to do anything to protect yesterday’s children, like her. However, she had told me that she was determined to do everything she could to save today’s and tomorrow’s children, like her own daughters, and that was why she was raising money for ChildLine. Then I got off the footstool, and went to look for her. Someone said, “She’s in the Prime Minister’s private study.”

So I followed her, and found myself in a room with comfortable sofas, our fund-raiser sitting on one of them, and the Prime Minister bustling around filling a glass of water for her, and finding a towel for her to dry her eyes. As I arrived, Mrs Thatcher was saying “Now, my dear, you can stay here as long as you want. And cry if you want to, it’s better to let your feeling out, don’t try and bottle them up. That will only make you feel worse”. I watched, hugely impressed. Was this really the “Iron Lady”? This was an empathetic woman, instinctively saying and doing the simple, right, comforting and supportive things. I said, “Don’t worry, Prime Minister, I’ll stay here, you go back to the reception,” and when she was sure we didn’t need any more help from her, she went back to the party.

But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. On my way home with my husband, Desmond, we stopped to buy an evening paper, and there on the front page in a huge headline was the report, “Prime Minister comforts sobbing victim of abuse in Number Ten. At a ChildLine reception today…..” So her team had spotted what I had seen, the Iron Lady showing a compassionate heart, had decided to use it, and ChildLine was also given helpful publicity for our work.

So I treasured the memory of the consummate politician, who could take a brief, show instinctive compassion, with a highly professional team to support her, and use the whole event to support the work of an important new charity.

Later she came to visit our offices, and said, “You call ChildLine a helpline, I call it a life line.” And quietly, pausing in one of our corridors, she pulled out of her iconic handbag a personal cheque from her, a generous donation to ChildLine.

Towards the end of her life, Lady Thatcher attended a Women of the Year Lunch. She had been advised not to make any more public speeches, but typically she had ignored the advice, and spoke eloquently about history, and her feelings about her country. Afterwards I went up to her and said, “Lady Thatcher, I want to thank you for the wonderful support you gave ChildLine in our earliest days. We could not possibly have launched so successfully without your help.” She looked at me, and once again I have a memory of those bright blue eyes, focussed on me. “Nothing,” she said slowly, “Is more important that protecting children from abuse. Nothing.”

And I knew that came from the Iron Lady’s heart.



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Iain Dale talks to Sir David Attenborough

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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Petronella Wyatt

12 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Petronella Wyatt

I first met Margaret Thatcher when I was nine and she was on the point of winning her first election victory. My father, Woodrow Wyatt, a former Labour politician who had become disenchanted with his old party, had come to view her as Britain’s only hope of recovery. They had met at a lunch a few years before and formed a firm friendship. When he announced one Saturday that she would be paying us a visit, he spoke with reverence. “Mrs Thatcher,” he declared, “will be our saviour.”

What was one to expect? An icy, imperial goddess? A sly termagant? Or a respectable middle-class lady quietly pouring out the tea? At five o’clock I presented myself in my father’s study. Margaret Thatcher had her face turned towards the wall. How she confounded my expectations and yet, in a strange and remarkable way, fulfilled them. Her face, which in those days was lightly made-up, had the stamp of command and also the mark of the ordinary.

Her features were regular and her suit, which was yellow, gave them a golden glow. Her gaze was both sharp and soft. “Soah, you-ah ah Petronahlla.” At least that is an approximation of what she sounded like. (She had begun, in secret, to take vocal lessons from Harold Macmillan; the result being that she sounded a little like a Home Counties Scarlett O’Hara.) “Cahm here, dear.” A plump apple-white finger alighted on a badge I been given at school, which bore the words “British Smile Day”.

“That’s right,” she said. “Keep smahling.” I was 14 when I met her again. The woman I had sipped tea with was now the first female incumbent of 10 Downing Street. “The Prime Minister is coming for a drink,” said my father. “Could you made her a whisky and soda?’ Trembling, I handed her a glass. Then my father did a terrible thing. “I’m going upstairs to fetch a book. Please entertain Mrs Thatcher while I’m gone.”

I stood petrified. Perhaps because of her office, she seemed less suburban and more supreme. She has the seductive smile of Ingrid Bergman, but there was a visible majesty of a sort that would terrify her enemies. Eventually she spoke and her divine stamp took on a surprising benevolence. “You’re not smiling any more, dear,” she said, all the affectation wiped from her now cello-contralto voice.

Her powers of recall were astonishing. I simpered. “Which of your school work do you like best?” she enquired. “History, Prime Minister.” I searched my brain for great Conservatives and blurted out the name of the reforming Victorian prime minister Robert Peel. There was a terrifying silence. Finally she said in a tone of pure horror. “Robert Peel! Too many U-turns.”

Sometimes I thought my father entertained a fondness for Thatcher that balanced precariously on the edge of love. My suspicions were aroused when his thoughts turned from economic figures to her own. He compared her legs to those of Cyd Charisse and her eyes to Elizabeth Taylor’s. I noticed my mother becoming increasingly annoyed as he finished one peroration with “Margaret is what Napoleon said about Josephine. She is all woman.”

It was true that Thatcher had a surprising susceptibility to men. Not to all men, but, like Elizabeth I, to those with a sort of gaudy glamour and an insinuating flirtatiousness: Jeffrey Archer, Richard Branson, whom she adored, and Cecil Parkinson.

She was an amalgam of strength and vulnerability. She could be jealous of other women, and took praise like attar of roses; she sucked it into her skin. Once, when I impudently complimented her on her knowledge of history, she thanked me almost shyly. “Those Tory grandees think I’m ignorant, but I have read the great Dean Swift.”
My mother admired Thatcher but was cautious of embracing her with my father’s wholehearted bonté. She had discovered, by listening at the door, that her husband spoke to the Prime Minister every morning before breakfast. When she and Denis next came for dinner, my mother was baleful. The discussion turned to the economy and my mother decided to vouchsafe an opinion. “You know, Woodrow, I think that…” At once she was interrupted by the Prime Minister. “Be quiet, dear,” she said. “Your turn will come.”

As a dinner guest she displayed a sense of humour of which the public knew nothing. My father adhered to the Edwardian habit of asking the women to leave the room after pudding, so that the men could enjoy cigars and “serious conversation”. “But you can’t send me out of the room,” she protested, “I’m the Prime Minister!” She also enjoyed a risqué joke. I remember mentioning the notorious, orgiastic activities of the 18th-century Hellfire Club. “ Shut up,” hissed my father. “No, don’t!” rejoined Thatcher.

In time, however, my mother warmed to what her detractors fail to comprehend: Margaret Thatcher’s essential humanity. Her natural instincts were unselfish and compassionate. She was genuinely distressed by the misfortune of others. Her eyes would soften with tears at tales of privation. She worriedly intervened when anyone she knew was ill. When I mentioned to her, during the height of the Westland crisis, that my mother was undergoing an eye operation, she was aghast. “But why didn’t you tell me at once?” The following day, my mother’s hospital room was inundated with flowers and exotic hampers of fruit.

To me, she showed immense kindness and took an unwarranted interest in my activities. She encouraged me when I sat my A-levels. She was with me when I decided to leave Oxford University, taking my part against my father. “Don’t be a snob, Woodrow. Those Oxford dons are unspeakable. She knows what she’s doing.”

I often thought she was anxious for me to find a husband. It was not that she disliked feminism. Rather, she believed a stable home life was a prerequisite for a successful career. “Everyone needs to be cherished,” she told me. “Without Denis I would never have reached the starting blocks.”

It was touchingly evident how much they loved each other; nor did they require photographs to be released to the newspapers to prove it. Thatcher had an old-fashioned view of publicity from which present politicians could benefit. Never was her family to be used to further her political career. “If you can’t manage a political crisis,” she once said, “it is morally wrong to involve civilians.”

As I grew up, she became a fixed point in my life. It was impossible to imagine any premier but her. But it was not to be. Power failed to corrupt Thatcher, but eventually she became isolated and complacent. The Romans kept their leaders on their toes by employing someone to run behind a man during a triumph, whispering: “You are only a mortal.” Slowly and anxiously I watched as Thatcher’s once infallible antennae began to fail her.

Disaffected members of the Tory party threw out barbs and squibs. Thatcher seemed exhausted by her travails. The results of the first ballot came in. Michael Heseltine had deprived her of an overall victory. At 6.30 the following morning, my father received a telephone call from No 10. It was his beloved Margaret. She spoke slowly and painfully, “I have decided to resign. I wanted to tell you before I made the announcement.”

It was the only time I saw my father cry. I, too, began to weep as he railed against “Tory traitors — the Labour Party would never have behaved like this to any of its leaders”. I felt as if I had lost my Earth Mother, the symbol of my youth.

When my father died in 1997, her letter was the longest and most comforting I received. Then Denis followed and she seemed to diminish physically. She spoke to me of her terrible loneliness. “ Look after your mother. It’s a terrible thing, to be alone.” She was becoming ill and losing her train of thought. It was anguish to watch. I saw her less and less, though occasionally she would overcome her frailty to attend parties given by friends, and for a few fleeting moments, her brilliance would emerge.

One of Lady Thatcher’s least publicised qualities, which raised her above any other politician I have known, was the complete absence of schadenfreude or triumphalism. In 1992, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Alistair McAlpine, Lady Thatcher’s former Treasurer and close friend, to spend election night with the recently deposed premier and her family at his London home. Denis and Mark Thatcher were understandably bitter. When Tory wet Chris Patten, whose vitriol towards her had known no bounds, lost his seat, they leapt to their feet and whooped like Watusi chieftains. I shall never forget the majesty on her features as she reprimanded them: ‘Sit down at once! The misfortune of others is never a cause for celebration.’

I can hear her now, sensible and eminently kind. She was the best and wisest person I have ever known. Countless tributes will be made and countless books will call her one of the greatest figures in British history. But now I am remembering the woman who made a shy girl feel important, and the touch of her cool hand. Margaret Thatcher is dead, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.


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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Jennifer Saunders

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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Carol Thatcher

11 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Carol Thatcher

For a workaholic, No 10 was the perfect home: a staircase of just 17 steps led from the private flat to the prime minister’s study on the first floor. It had to be the shortest commute in London. The flat quickly dispelled the popular image of grand living. It was converted out of attic rooms during Neville Chamberlain’s time. When it was portrayed in a Bond film, we all looked enviously because it was much more glamorous than the real thing.

I recall domestic arrangements being very do-it-yourself. Often, guests who came up to the flat for an early-evening gin and tonic would find one or other of my parents co-ordinating glasses, with one of us racing down the stairs to the catering kitchen to fill up the ice bucket from the machine there because no one had thought to refill the ice trays in our own freezer. My father wasn’t keen on ice in drinks, though. “Dilutes it,” he used to claim.

My mother regarded food simply as fuel and had no claims to being a foodie. The late playwright Ronnie Millar, who used to come in for speech-writing sessions often on a Sunday evening used to raise his eyebrows and mutter: “Lasagne again.”

My mother had total tunnel vision when it came to work. As kids, my brother and I were watching a pop music show on TV while she was doing constituency paperwork in the same room. I asked if she wanted me to turn the volume down. No, she replied, she hadn’t realised it was on.

When I was at boarding school she was meticulous about turning up to school functions but always had a file of paperwork to sign or read when there was a lull in proceedings.
I think she was the most practical, efficient and organised person I have known. I once read that she was described as “fanatically tidy” while I was “fanatically messy”. I couldn’t argue.

On the evening of Friday 2 April 1982, my father was downing a gin and mixer in the drawing room of the flat at No. 10, when a message was delivered by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff. Argentina had invaded the Falklands. Now, Denis prided himself on his geography, but this caught him out. ‘I remember looking at The Times Atlas of the World to find out where the bloody hell they were – and I wasn’t the only one.’ Denis was already in fighting mood. ‘As an ex-soldier I thought: how the hell are we going to get a force 8,000 miles away? I looked at the distances and it was a logistical nightmare – but I had no doubt that we had to do something.’

An emergency session of the House of Commons was called and the Prime Minister’s own survival was in doubt. I had never seen my mother on her feet in the House of Commons as Prime Minister and it occurred to me that, if things were as bad as they appeared, this might be my last opportunity. I slung on some clothes, caught the Underground to Westminster and joined the queue for the public gallery.

My mother later described the mood of the House as ‘the most difficult I ever had to face’. She began solemnly, but then her voice took on a harder edge. ‘It is the government’s objective to see that the Islands are freed from occupation and returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment.’

There were several interjections, including one by Edward Rowlands, Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil, who blanched at the PM’s reference to Southern Thule, which was occupied in 1976 when a Labour government was in power. He said it consisted of ‘a piece of rock in the most southerly part of the Dependencies which is completely uninhabited and which smells of large accumulations of penguin and other bird droppings’.

As I left the public gallery, my mind was filled with farcical images of bird shit and scrap-metal dealers. It made the cries of shame seem rather over the top.

Back at No. 10, I gently opened the door of the sitting room, not quite knowing what to expect. I genuinely feared that my parents might be moving out of No. 10 within days. A few months earlier, my mother had gone round the flat with little sticky dots marking anything that was ours as opposed to HM Government’s. The idea was that, if we had to move in a hurry, the removal men would find their job easier.

‘Hello,’ I said cautiously. She was sitting on a gold-coloured velvet sofa. There was no sign of doubt; this was Britain’s first female Prime Minister auditioning for the part of war leader. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Fine,’ she said, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her dress. ‘We’re down but not for long. I’ve just been downstairs and told Peter [Carrington] and John [Nott] that we’re going to fight back.’

By the following morning, her resolve had hardened even further. Having been to the local church near Chequers, she marched purposefully across the Great Hall and announced: ‘I’m going back to London. I know we can win. I know we can get them back if only I had six strong men and true. And I don’t know if I’ve got them.’
During the first few days of the crisis, my father saw very little of Margaret. She didn’t need reassurance – at least, not from her husband, who shared her views entirely. If it had been down to Denis, he would have dispensed with the diplomatic foreplay and evicted the ‘Argies’ at the first opportunity. ‘From the word go, I said: “Get them off!” I never had any doubts that we were going to win but it was such an enormous operation.’

I was working for the Daily Telegraph at the time and would drop into No. 10 occasionally to pick up mail and hopefully see my mother. She was rarely home, but one weekend I found her sitting on the floor in the drawing room surrounded by peace plans – one brought back by Francis Pym, the new Foreign Secretary, another from Al Haig; there was even a proposal from Chile. They all had a conciliatory tone, suggesting things like ‘interim administrations’ and ‘mutual withdrawals’. The Prime Minister wasn’t prepared to ‘bargain away the freedom’ of the Falklanders and insisted: ‘I’m not agreeing with anything until they get off.’

And get off they did. On a Monday night two months later, I was driving down Ebury Street when I heard my mother’s voice on the car radio. ‘There are reports of white flags flying over Port Stanley,’ she said, and I took my hands off the wheel and cheered. Slamming on the brakes and parking, I listened to the rest of the speech, feeling absolutely elated.
My main emotion was relief for my mother. Although I had seen very little of her, images of her leaving No. 10 dressed in black, on her way to give bad news to the House, showed the strain she was under.

Denis wasn’t in the gallery for that statement. Instead, he waited in the Prime Minister’s room and they went back to Downing Street together, saying goodnight to the policemen on the door of No. 10. ‘We went inside, and as we walked past the famous bulldog-pose portrait of Winston Churchill by Salisbury, hanging in the anteroom to the Cabinet room, I swear the great man bowed and said “Well done, girl”.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Simon Callow

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 5: Does Sir Alex Read Hansard?

10 May 2013 at 20:18

The Independent on Sunday “Diary columnist” Matthew Bell has come up with an interesting theory as to why I have bought a house in Norfolk. Apparently it’s got nothing to do with the scenery or the fact that Broadland is the most peaceful part of the whole country. No, it’s because I have ambitions to succeed Keith Simpson as the local MP. When he put this to me it was all I could do to stifle a huge roar of laughter. Mr Bell clearly isn’t familiar with my electoral record in that part of the country, and he didn’t seem to understand that I have resigned from the candidates list and made clear I will never stand for Parliament again. “Ah, but you could change your mind,” he said, seeing his diary story disappearing from his grasp. Just to avoid any doubt at all, if I ever, ever change my mind and try to stand for Parliament for the Conservatives again, I will happily donate £10,000 to the charity of Keith Simpson’s choice. Having scuppered Mr Bell’s plans, I see he resorted to a rather pisspoor attempt at satirising my horror at seeing Lady T’s funeral papers on eBay. I trust he will do better next week.

Talking of Norfolk, I doubt whether anyone was expecting the Conservatives to lose control of Norfolk County Council. As one wag commented: “We didn’t do this badly even when Iain Dale was standing here!” I like to think that was a joke. I seem to remember in 2005 we got three more county council seats in North Norfolk than was achieved this year! Just saying…

I’m sure everyone is excited at the prospect of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday. It’s the most political event in the entire music sector. I was in the audience in Dublin when Riverdance made its debut in 1994, and then again in 1998 when Britain hosted the event in Birmingham. I was a guest of the BBC and sat next to the newly elected Labour MP Stephen Twigg – now a leading light in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. Stephen rather lost control of himself when the Israeli transsexual Dana International won the vote. He was up there boogying with the best of them. The winning song, Diva, was certainly a very catchy number. My next Eurovision related experience came in 2010 when, at Total Politics, we enlisted the help of Bucks Fizz to make a video encouraging people to vote. It was rather unsurprisingly called ‘Making Your Mind Up’. Naturally I couldn’t resist making a cameo experience in the video, which became a bit of a Youtube hit. I didn’t get my skirt ripped off though.

There’s a saying about judging people by the company they keep. Quite why UKIP still pander to political gadfly Winston McKenzie is anyone’s guess. I remember interviewing him back in 2007 when he was competing for the Conservative London mayoral nomination. I thought he wasn’t quite the full shilling, albeit vaguely entertaining. Politically, he couldn’t string a sentence together. He is at best an attention seeker, at worst – well, make up your own minds. In 2005, he tried for the X Factor and failed. In the 1980s he was Labour. In the 2000s, he was a Liberal Democrat. Both of those parties eventually saw through him. He stood for Veritas in 2005 (remember them?) before founding his own ‘Unity’ party. Having failed to get anywhere with the Tories, he then joined UKIP. I warned Nigel Farage at the time what he was taking on, as did others. Yet he was allowed to fight the Croydon by-election last year, where he distinguished himself by equating gay adoption to child abuse. Even now UKIP candidates are using him in their literature to demonstrate how liberal they really are. As Ali G might say, ‘Is it because he is black?’ There can’t be any other reason. When UKIP jettison Mr McKenzie and other dodgy candidates, then I will know they’ve become serious. I suppose if McKenzie ends up with the Greens or the BNP he can claim a full set!

The angelically behaved Nadine Dorries has finally been allowed to rejoin the Tory flock. And about time too. Her treatment has been nothing short of a disgrace. Even those on the Tory benches who aren’t great fans of hers were telling the whips it was time to bring her back into the fold. Sir George Young was throwing his hands up in the air in a ‘nothing to do with me gov’ kind of way, telling anyone who would listen that it was the posh boys who were vetoing it – one posh boy in particular. I wonder what changed Mr Osborne’s mind. Lynton?

The whips’ troubles may not yet be over, however. Dr Sarah Wollaston, the lovely doctor from Totnes is causing all sorts of troubles on Twitter with her full and frank remarks. It’s fair to say she is not exactly a fan of Lynton Crosby. When he told the 1922 committee that MPs on Twitter should be Tory evangelisers, not commentators, she let him have it with both barrels… on Twitter. This week she has been speculating that he is the reason there were no bills on minimum alcohol pricing or plain package cigarettes in the Queen’s Speech. She’s also been having a go at the Eton Mafia in Number 10. Can an interview without coffee with Sir George be avoided much longer?

In his speech opening the Queen’s Speech debate Peter Luff (who for reasons best known to others is known on the Tory benches as ‘Leaker Luff’) quoted Stanley Baldwin’s words on leaving office. “When Stanley Baldwin was leaving Downing street after his last premiership, it is said that he was stopped by a journalist who asked, “Will you be available to give your successor the benefit of your opinions?” Baldwin replied, “No, when I leave, I leave. I am not going to speak to the captain on the bridge and I have no intention of spitting on the deck.” With that, he walked off. I wonder if Sir Alex Ferguson ever reads Hansard?



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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Michael Cockerell

10 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Michael Cockerell

The death of Britain’s first woman prime minister received what might be called Thatcheration coverage across all media – print, digital and electronic. But relatively little attention focused on how she learned to use television to become the country’s first and most formidable small-screen premier.

In the early days as leader it was not like that at all. According to ‘The Times’, she came over on TV ‘with all the charisma of a privet hedge’. I interviewed her on the night in 1975 when she won the leadership and she seemed as fragile as porcelain as she said: ‘It is like a dream – to follow in the footsteps of the great Winston, of Harold Macmillan and of Ted Heath. I almost wept when they told me – in fact I did weep’. She bit her lip and her eyes glistened.

From the outset Mrs Thatcher was concerned not to become a casualty of the cameras. She knew that her predecessor Ted Heath’s unappealing TV manner had helped bring him down. And the new leader would react to the sight of a TV crew almost in the manner of a primitive tribesman faced with a white man’s camera – it was as if she thought it might somehow take her soul away.

But she appointed as her television adviser advice a colourful character called Gordon Reece. He was a diminutive former TV producer, who looked rather like Ronnie Corbett. He ran on champagne and smoked huge Havana cigars. Mrs T later knighted him for services to her TV image.

Under his tutelage, she underwent a complete makeover in her appearance for television.
At the time she played down Reece’s contribution. When I asked Mrs T in 1979 how important he was to her, she responded wide-eyed: ‘Gordon Reece? Do you know I think he comes to me for advice not the other way round. And it’s always been that way’.

Mrs T was being economical with the actualite. After she left office, Lady Thatcher was more candid: ‘Gordon was absolutely terrific. He said my hair and my clothes had to be changed and we would have to do something about my voice. It was quite an education, because I hadn’t thought about these things before. He was a real professional’.
And she quoted specific advise Reece had given her about what she should wear for TV: ‘Avoid lots of jewellery near the face. Edges look good on television. Watch out for background colours which clash with your outfit.’
But Reece’s focus group findings told him that while many voters welcomed the strength of her free-market convictions, on television she often came over as shrill, domineering and uncaring. Specifically Mrs Thatcher’s voice put people off – it was perceived as too high pitched.

Reece arranged for a voice coach from the National Theatre to teach her techniques to lower her pitch. One was to practise humming; the other was to keep repeating the word ‘ngakokka’. When I asked about her new voice, she said: ‘when you ask me a question, I say to myself think low’. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was a comment on my interview technique.

Reece also taught her was to stop worrying and love the boom microphone. He told her that recorded snippets of her conversation could make her sound more down-to-earth and in touch with voters. In later years she could never see a microphone without offering some seemingly spontaneous comments to people she met -whether it was another political leader or someone in a factory or hospital – knowing that TV people cannot resist ‘natural sound’.

But there were some things Mrs Thatcher would never say on camera. I filmed her when she visited the British Embassy in the States in the late seventies. Peter Jay who was then our man in Washington asked: ‘what would you like to drink?’ She made no reply but out of sight of the camera wrote a brief note to the Ambassador. Later I discovered it read: ‘Whisky and soda’. She was certainly not going to be filmed asking for one still less drinking it.

Reece also arranged for Mrs Thatcher to appear on TV programmes that were outside the political leader’s usual round of current affairs and news – like ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, starring the late and unlamented Jimmy Savile. When Tory critics claimed her appearance on the programme was demeaning, Reece responded: ‘Rubbish. I simply encourage her to appear everywhere she can to the best advantage. It’s the most ludicrous intellectual snobbery to say that a politician shouldn’t appear on general interest programmes because the viewers are supposed to be on a lower level of humanity than the people who watch ‘Panorama’. They have votes too and if she talked down to them they would soon rumble her.’

Mrs T had become very media savvy as I saw when I filmed behind the scenes during her 1979 general election campaign. Reece had introduced the photo opportunity, beloved of American presidential hopefuls, into British elections. Until 1979 no previous aspirant to Number 1O had given an election campaign press conference clutching a two-day old calf in a meadow.

When I asked her about it at the time, she said: ‘The press said they did not want a picture of me with a load of bullocks. There was this tiny calf. The photographers have their job to do and I am very conscious of that.’

In the campaign Mrs Thatcher was determined to counter Labour’s charges that she was dogmatic and uncaring. In an interview with me, she assumed a kittenish persona. I put it to her that there sometimes seemed to be two Mrs Thatchers: one toured supermarkets and factory floors, exhibiting endless fascination about the minutiae of people’s lives and jobs. The other was the platform politician – full of zealous conviction.

‘How many Mrs Thatchers are there?’ I asked. She smiled and replied confidingly: ‘Oh, there are three at least. There is the intellectual one, the intuitive one and there’s the one at home.’

Her voice was so low and breathy, her manner so intimate – even coquettish – that the late Sir Robin Day, watching in the studio when the filmed interview went out, joked: ‘the untold story of the election campaign: Margaret Thatcher is having an affair with Michael Cockerell’.

As a schoolgirl, Margaret Thatcher has wanted to become an actress. And as Prime Minister she was to play many different roles on television: Iron Lady, tearful mother, simple housewife, world statesman and war leader.

A favoured method of getting herself across was the big set-piece TV interview. The PM had different ways of dealing with interviewers. Some she coated with honey – while she would bite the heads of others. As she put it: ‘this animal if attacked defends itself. So when I come up against somebody who is out to do a very belligerent interview, I say to myself: By God, anything you can do I can do better — and I’m belligerent back’.

By her own admission she would become very nervous before a high-profile TV appearance – and the tension inside Number 10 was palpable. When I asked Mrs Thatcher what she thought about big set-piece TV interviews, she replied: ‘I hate them, I hate them, I hate them.’

The PM would rehearse for interviews with her blunt Yorkshire press secretary Bernard Ingham, who pulled no punches in playing the part of the interviewer. One time, as Sir Robin Day set off for one of his major Panorama interviews with Mrs T in Downing Street, he said to me : ‘why don’t I start the interview “Prime Minister, what’s your answer to my first question?”’ Sir Robin felt he knew that whatever he asked her she would come up with the soundbites she had prepared earlier. But sadly, despite my prompting, he never did begin an interview in that way.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher became the first prime minister to agree to appear on a chat show. The timing was no coincidence. The miners’ strike was at its height. Although the opinion polls showed that a large majority of people blamed Arthur Scargill for the violent confrontations with police that dominated the TV screens, the attacks on Mrs Thatcher as dictatorial and callous were getting through. She and her advisers calculated that she would benefit from appearing on a programme that showed her human face.

Michael Aspel asked whether both living and working at Number 10, she ever got the chance to relax. The grocer’s daughter replied: ‘I started life living above the shop. Do I ever relax? No, I am always on the job’. The studio audience fell about with laughter. Mrs Thatcher beamed with pleasure at the audience response without ever seeming to have understood what she had said.

Some time later I reminded the PM that when I had first filmed her as leader the TV cameras seemed to fill her with dread and she wished they would go away. ‘Over the years’, she replied, ‘I’ve learned that what you people want is a positive answer and that is what I always give you’. And in a way she always did – even when she was saying ‘no, no, no”.

The last time I interviewed Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister was when she was celebrating her tenth anniversary in Number Ten. It was a pretty surreal experience. She talked to me looking into the middle distance almost as if she were Joan of Arc, hearing voices.

I had earlier asked Willie Whitelaw, her recently retired deputy PM, how long he felt Mrs Thatcher would continue in office: ‘Oh, she is very fit, very strong. I hope she’ll go on for a very long time’, he replied. ‘But she is not immortal’, I’d ventured to suggest. ‘No she is not immortal’, responded Whitelaw, then added, ‘but perhaps she is’. In Number Ten, I recounted this exchange on camera to Mrs T. Reviewing the tape today is revealing.

On freezing the frame at exactly the moment she hears my intimation of her mortality, a remarkable look comes over her face for an instant: an apparent mix of alarm and blinding revelation. Within a few frames it is gone and she recovers her composure when I tell her that Whitelaw has said perhaps she was immortal: ‘What a sweet thing of Willie to say – no, I am not immortal and I don’t know how long I will go on – and no-one does.’

The next year she was gone from Number 10. Her departure left a huge hole for political journalists. Once you had Margaret Thatcher in your viewfinder she rarely failed to produce riveting images and powerful quotes. The modern media which in any case tends to magnify personalities had for the fifteen years of her Tory leadership been faced with a giant-sized one. Disraeli, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill became Prime Ministers before the age of television. Happily the late Lady Thatcher did not.


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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Dame Ann Leslie

9 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Dame Ann Leslie

My note at a 1973 Tory Party Conference read: ‘Met a frightful woman called Margaret Hilda Thatcher’. I made copious notes about the assorted Grand Old Gents who then wielded power in the party – along with their old school ties, champagne flutes and brandy balloons – but about that ‘frightful woman’? Nothing further, because I assumed that she’d never get anywhere.

Indeed, it was not until February 1977, standing with her on the Great Wall of China, that I first grasped the fact that Mrs. Thatcher was more than an over-elocuted bottle blonde who had, improbably and (many believed) temporarily, managed to become Tory Leader. In that role she was making an official visit to China.

It wasn’t just the Grand Old Gents who didn’t take her very seriously. Even Fleet Street editors thought of her as a bit of a suburban housewife joke. It might have been only four months since the death of Chairman Mao, and two months after the arrest of the Gang of Four – seminal geopolitical events – but the press party on the trip were mostly chosen from the fluffy end of journalism: female columnists who could be relied upon to indulge in girl-talk about Carmen rollers with her, sniggering gossip columnists, plus two or three earnest China specialists. I still thought of her as ‘that frightful woman’, but now that the Cultural Revolution was over I could at last visit the enclosed land where my father was born and where my grandparents got married.

I knew that the Chinese routinely subjected their visiting ‘Distinguished Foreign Friends’ to what I called the Great Wall Stakes. I warned Mrs T. that I’d learned the section of the Wall we would be visiting at Badaling was extremely steep and slithery and, er, her high heeled court shoes were wholly unsuitable for the challenge. She blithely assured me: ‘Oh, I don’t intend to be athletic, my dear!’

But then the Chinese, doubtless secretly tittering at her forthcoming humiliation, told her: ‘Chairman Mao said “he who does not reach the top of the Great Wall is no great man.”’ Big mistake. She retorted briskly: ‘That should be changed to: no great leader!’ And off she shot up along the Wall like a Blue Streak rocket and, in no time at all, she and her Rotary-wife suit, carefully coiffed helmet of hair and those ‘unsuitable’ shoes were mere specks on the Badaling horizon.

Her insatiable gluttony for facts – dreary-swot stuff which the grand old gents tended to believe was somewhat beneath them – soon became exhaustingly evident.

Time and again on that Chinese trip, her then 23 year old daughter Carol would moan ‘Oh, Mum, come on!’ when it looked as if Mum had fastened on yet another hapless Chinese official and was about to grill him about the exact make-up of Revolutionary Committees, and could he please explain exactly what happened to surplus grain profits, if there were any, and was the Basic Unit accounting method really the most efficient method of running an agricultural commune? While the eyes of the ‘Gang of Nineteen’ (as we in the press party dubbed ourselves) were glazing over at yet another baffling recitation of the mus and catties of Chinese rice production, Mrs T’s were shining like stars.

At the end of yet another gruelling day touring communes and eating jellyfish, tree fungus and ducks’ feet at yet another banquet in the Great Hall of The People, the entire Thatcher party and our ‘Gang of Nineteen’ were hollow-eyed with jet-lag and lack of sleep. She on the other hand was fresh as a daisy and, turning to me, said brightly: ‘Oh dear, these evening do’s end so early. I wish we could go round the factories that are open all night’.

In her heart of hearts, she still belonged to the thrifty suburbs of her youth: on glimpsing cheap but neatly bundled vegetables in a Beijing market stall she cried happily: ‘How wonderful – they’re just like Sainsbury’s stewpacks!’

Two years later I found myself once again scuttling in her blue-suited wake during the ’79 Election which brought her to power – and once again marvelled at her stamina and her capacity for absorbing facts and regurgitating them with stunning accuracy. There seemed nothing on which she was not, by now, an expert – from false kneecaps to chocolate making to types of ironing board covers. Interrupting a woman ironing a garment in a factory she enthused: ‘Oh, those ironing board covers are marvellous! Do you know, they come in two sizes, a big one and a little one, I have one of the little ones at home and you know compared to…’ ‘Is your wife good at ironing?’ I asked Denis. ‘My wife is good at everything she does!’ he harrumphed.

Including (as he did not say) flirting. She liked men – preferably tall, young and handsome ones, like Cecil Parkinson and Michael Portillo. Frankly she did not much like most other women, especially not beady-eyed women journalists like me. I think she thought we were a bunch of wimps.

On that ’79 campaign, tour buses were not routinely fitted with onboard loos, and having given birth the previous year my bladder was not entirely stoic about having to spend hours out of reach of a public lavatory. I pleaded with her: ‘Mrs Thatcher, please can we have more potty stops? I sometimes wonder whether you vaporise the stuff, like astronauts. But I can’t.’ The iron-bladdered Iron Lady looked at me witheringly: ‘No one needs to go more than twice a day. I go first thing in the morning and last thing at night – and that’s quite enough!’

She would always, over the years, comment on my not very remarkable clothes – ‘what a lovely colour your jacket is, I’ve got one just like that!’ – but she never wasted her high octane flirtatious charms on the likes of me, perhaps not least because she suspected that we women knew her little tricks.

Especially her use of hand-on-the-elbow body language. One victim of the latter told me how it worked. ‘First she plays the role of the tough, terrifying warrior queen and then, when you are truly intimidated, she suddenly cups your elbow, gazes up at you with those china-blue eyes and breathes “my dear”… and makes you feel you’re the one man in the room who can bring out the feminine “little woman” in her. Believe me, it works!’

Indeed it did. Over the years I’d watched her deploy her hand-on-the-elbow weapon on dozens of initially recalcitrant men, ranging from the Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, to Mikhail Gorbachev, to my own husband (who heartily disliked her public image but who, at a party at No.10, received the hand-on-the-elbow treatment and was almost instantly seduced).

She was a nightmare to interview (as I once told her: ‘you are the worst interviewee I’ve ever had, bar perhaps Imelda Marcos: asking Imelda or you a question is like chucking a pebble into Niagara – it’s instantly swept away.’). On one occasion she said: ‘My dear, please don’t cut in until I’ve explained the whole situation to you!’. Fine – except I’d asked her about the poll tax, and its unenforceability, and she insisted on explaining the whole situation about Toronto’s rubbish collection system instead.

No wonder her feeble Cabinet colleagues couldn’t stand it anymore. But, despite myself, I adored her – and knew that the Tory Party had committed hari-kiri by turfing her out so cruelly. The Tories are still paying for that matricide today.



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Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Dr Liam Fox

8 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published today. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Dr Liam Fox MP

The first time I remember physically seeing Margaret Thatcher was at a speech she gave in Scotland while still Leader of the Opposition. As a Young Conservative it was not only the first time that I had ever seen a major politician speak live but it was particularly exciting as it was Margaret Thatcher who had drawn me into the Conservative party. Coming from a very ordinary background in the West of Scotland, you didn’t join the Conservative party because you were a political careerist! It was the stark differences between the language and imagery of Margaret Thatcher and other politicians of the day which first grabbed my attention. Up till that point, in gloomy and failing Britain, there was still too much of a feeling that whatever pigeonhole you had been born into was where you should stay. It was Margaret Thatcher’s liberating views on social mobility that made me a Conservative and I remember, to this day, that it was the conviction and energy that she brought to her arguments that impressed me just as much as the political messages themselves.

Almost a decade later, when I was the Prospective Conservative candidate in the constituency of Roxburgh and Berwickshire, I had the first opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with a woman who was now at the height of her political power. She had just had surgery on her hand for a Dupuytren’s contracture and as trainee GP I made sure I had swotted up on all the details in case it came up in conversation. As it turned out, it would be the cause of me receiving the Thatcher grip on the wrist, so beautifully described by the Bishop of London at her funeral service. I explained to her that there was some belief that the Papal blessing, with the last two fingers drawn into the palm, was the result of a mediaeval Pope having the same medical condition and being unable to extend his fingers as had traditionally been done up to that point. She looked at me and said “really?”. Not understanding the significance of the question I simply nodded back. She turned the full Thatcher –ray straight at me and said “really”. At this point the prime ministerial grip was brought into full force as she put down my cutlery and asked me – more of a command than a question – for the third time “really?”. Realising that she was either genuinely interested or suspected me of pulling a fast one, I said with all the sincerity I could muster “yes prime minister – really”.

Momentous political and personal events were already dissolving into history when I spent an evening with Margaret Thatcher in New York in the new millennium. We were attending a reception for the Anglo-American group, the Atlantic bridge where the guests included both Michael Ancram and Michael Howard. It was a very special occasion because we all knew it might be the last time she would speak to an audience in America, particularly poignant as she had such a high regard for the United States, believing it to be a flagship in the battle for liberty and the rule of law. It was difficult for her as she had recently lost Denis and had suffered a number of minor strokes. I had the pleasure of introducing her and said “for most of us we get to hear about history or to read about history. Seldom, do any of us have the honour of meeting with history”.

Those who have never known Margaret Thatcher well might be surprised at the humility she genuinely possessed and she want quite misty eyed, saying “no, no, not at all – that is just too kind”. She had a short prepared text to read and we wondered if she would be able to deliver it yet within minutes not only had she recovered her full Thatcher poise but had gone off the text to give us a short, impromptu lecture on the importance of the relationship between Britain and the United States. It was the last time that I was to see the echoes that I had heard as a young conservative in Glasgow – and it was magnificent. An hour or so later, we were sitting together in the back of her official car as we waited to go off to the dinner we were attending. She suddenly turned and asked me “remind me, dear, of the name of our host”. I replied his name is Mr Mallory Factor. Inexplicably, she then added “is he related to Max Factor?. “Why on earth would you ask a question like that?” I replied. “I just wondered” she said with a smile “if he might have any free samples for an old lady”. I didn’t know what to say. One of her long serving bodyguards sitting at the front looked in the rear-view mirror and said, in what can only be described as astonishment “she told a joke!”. We all laughed, perhaps all for different reasons.

The last time I had the pleasure of spending any time with her was when she did me the honour of attending my 50th birthday party in Admiralty House in London in September 2011. Being in poor health by this time, it was suggested that she should only attend for 20 to 30 minutes as she would be too tired. She was having none of it. Surrounded by many people that she had known well and many more who simply wanted to have the chance of a fleeting encounter with her, and bolstered by more glasses of white wine than those accompanying her would have liked, she played the room like the old trooper she was. To his great credit, Prime Minister David Cameron who was also present, simply melted into the background leaving the field clear as she swept all before her. The last conversation about politics that I had with her was as we walked through the room. “You must be feeling quite vindicated about the euro” I said. “Why so” she replied. “Well, it’s looking pretty shaky”. She stopped. “Is it really?” “Well, it’s not looking too healthy” I suggested. Slowly moving off, she added “well dear, we’ll not be too sad, shall we?”

As I sat, like so many, in the crypt Chapel of the House of Commons where her coffin was resting and again at her funeral in St Paul’s I couldn’t help think about all the politicians, commentators and pundits who constantly ask “who will be the next Thatcher?”. Their search is in vain. They will not find one.


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Iain has a blazing row with George Galloway over Margaret Thatcher (Part 1)

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