Indeed, on 18 October 1993, armed with little more than my being and housemate Judi’s stripy bag, I bunked the day off work at Queen Charlotte’s hospital in Hammersmith and took the Tube to Knightsbridge to witness the blessed lady Margaret Thatcher launch the first volume of her autobiography at Mohamed Al-Fayed’s department store – almost three years since she was unceremoniously forced to ditch Downing Street for Dulwich. And it’s all the more ironic since it was only a few months after the same emporium of poshness declined to give Jude a job on account of her having peroxide blonde hair, I kid you not.
I was about third or fourth in the queue to get The Downing Street Years signed, and remember being awed by seeing the world’s press were there, including the BBC’s Jennie Bond, who struck me as rather less poised than her televisual image, wearing dirty white stilettos and chewing gum with her mouth open. You don’t see that on the telly, I thought to myself.
Mindful of recent media stories pitting Thatch against her successor, the current PM John Major, it was decided there would be no big hurrah, no speech to the assembled throng or even addressing the cameras. Instead, she did a quick photo call with the first person in the queue – some bloke in an anorak who, when asked by a journalist if he was planning on voting Tory at the next election said he was a BNP supporter…. and he said it standing right next to the arch bastion of Conservatism! Jeez, they let him go first? It shoulda been me.
Mind you, I’d never voted Tory then and I still haven’t even now, though I’d be disingenuous to deny Margaret Thatcher, as the first female leader of the western world and the first PM in 160 years to win three successive terms, completely fascinated me in some strangely unfathomable way.
And she still does. I mean, I was about to engineer and develop a huge career change that involved a fascination with the differences between a public image and a private person, and in that respect even arch red-socked socialist Jon Snow found her utterly beguiling:
“It would be too strong to say there was something sexual in it, but there was something going on. It wasn’t just sitting in front of a prime minister. It was everything from a primary school teacher, to nanny to semi-royalty, you were never quite clear where you were.”
When it was my time to be ‘presented’ to the baroness I got an attack of nerves and could barely say anything to her, except “Could you sign it to Steven please, Lady Thatcher?”
Thatcher looked up, and her famously unblinking steely blue eyes met with my demure brown pair.
“Steven? Steven with a ‘V’ or a ‘PH’?” came the response, loudly and firmly.
Oh my giddy aunt, she spoke to me, and it made me something approaching a quivering wreck.
“Er, a “V’ please,” I said meekly. I felt like a naughty schoolboy in front of the headmistress.
As we were only inches apart, I took the opportunity to study her in close-up. She looked fantastic, I must say. Very robust and not a hair out of place, but like all the famous women I’ve met – from Madonna and Tina to Kate and Annie – much MUCH smaller in the flesh: Yes, even the political colossus who towered over us for 11 and a half years was actually rather diminutive, despite it being a “very very long time.” (Thanks Gran.)
However such was the presence she radiated you were left in no doubt you knew you were in the presence of greatness, of someone who was adept at controlling everything and everyone.
And there was so much I wanted to say to her; how my father was a Labour voting union rep, and my mother a Liberal fence-sitter, yet here I am today feting a Tory, and not only that but I work in the very hospital where you gave birth to your twins Mark and Carol.
Mindful of the queue of people behind me and that she was known to hate small talk I kept my mouth shut, mercifully, probably, only summoning up a blandly anodyne “It’s nice to see you here today Lady Thatcher.”
She returned the book to me, now emblazoned with a personal inscription in the most beautiful blue fountain pen, and fixed me a wide professional smile and said in a voice lower than Sylvester Stallone in a basement, “Thank YOU for waiting!”
And with that I was happy as Larry and toddled off, rushing to home to tell Judi, John and Vicky of my exploits with only the second politician I’d ever met. The first? Cricklewood’s finest Ken Livingstone. Oh she would have loved that.
One more thing; far be it from me to rate John Major as a successful PM but having also met him after he left office, the contrast with his coffered predecessor was striking. I found it impossible to dislike him – he was warm, engaging, very mild-mannered and made you feel like YOU mattered. Whereas with the rather more ideological Thatch there really was this palpable aura around her, always affecting the heavily cultivated Iron Lady persona of importance and greatness that commanded/demanded respect rather than being likeable.
Right, I’ll get me coat. (It’s the smart black one, in case you didn’t recognise the 20-something me.)