A group of Majorcan friends arrived for supper in sombre mood. I worried that there had been an accident in the town but no, they’d heard the news of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and wanted to show their respect.
Later as they raised their glasses to her memory –although in truth they seemed to know her best from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her in the film The Iron Lady – they asked whether I’d ever met her. I hesitated because although at the tender age of 24 I had indeed had an encounter with Britain’s first female head of government, it was in truth a rather comical episode. At the time I was working for Norris McWhirter, the founder of the Guinness Book of Records, who had arranged for a photograph to be taken of all the female MPs in the House of Commons –a record number in those days-with Margaret Thatcher at the helm.
The women arrived at the Houses of Parliament like excited school girls all having been instructed to be punctual and took their places in a range of tiered seats in a drab banqueting suite. When all were settled, though gabbling noisily, a couple of po-faced men in black appeared in the doorway and there was a sudden hush. The great dame approached wordlessly and took position centre stage in the front row. Norris McWhirter smiled benevolently and instructed the quaking photographer to do his best.
And then, just at that moment when all faces were turned avidly to the lens, the Prime Minister fixed Norris with a steely stare and declared, ‘Norris, when the image appears in the book, my eyes had better be open!’ Afterwards tea was served and Norris, a close friend of the PM, introduced me. She was extraordinarily warm and human and when I reached for the sugar bowl- to gasps of disapproval from a few of the female MPs- she reprimanded them and told me that it was perfectly fine to take tea with sugar. And then we discussed tights of all things and the hazardous way that they often puddled around the ankle forming ugly wrinkles. I can only imagine that she must have considered me a political lightweight to have engaged in such profound levels of domesticity and yet later when discussing the incident with Norris he chuckled and said that as I’d discovered the great Margaret Thatcher could be extremely down to earth.
I mentioned to my Majorcan friends that the British Consulate in Palma had opened a book of condolence for expats to sign and had flown the Union flag at half mast. They nodded with approval. Furthermore I told them that Sir Giles Paxman, the British Ambassador to Spain, had described Margaret Thatcher as ‘one of the greatest peacetime leaders of the 20th century.’ Pep smiled. ‘Well I heard that she wasn’t considered a peacemaker with everyone in Britain but at the end of the day she was a patriot and refused to bow to the EU. If only we have followed the same path here in Spain.’ Another eyed me keenly. ‘So did you ever meet her, then?’
I decided that it would be impossible to discuss the prime minister’s tights and tea drinking etiquette with any sense of gravitas so told them that regrettably our paths had never crossed. After all, some memories can get mischievously lost in translation.
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