What an ordinary Scottish housewife made of Margaret Thatcher

The late Iron Lady had some surprises in store.

My four children were eating fish fingers and beans at the kitchen table. “We want you to go to London next week to interview someone” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

“The Prime Minister. You’ll have an hour with her in Downing Street.”

I was stunned.

“We want to hear what an ordinary Scottish housewife makes of Mrs T.”

One week later, I was in a taxi with our photographer being driven into Downing Street. The famous black door opened and Mrs Thatcher’s secretary was waiting in the hallway.

“She’s running a bit late” she told me. “Sir Robert Armstrong is briefing her.”

This was the Cabinet Secretary who coined the phrase “economical with the truth.”

I looked around the hallway with its black and white patterned floor and saw a box with slippers. Hers were fluffy mules, Denis had a pair of grey checked slippers.

Denis came in, beaming widely.

“Old dear keeping you waiting, is she?” he said jovially, changing into his slippers before whistling as he went upstairs.

I was beginning to worry about the interview being cut short because of time. Nervously, I checked the questions in my notebook which should I ditch if I wasn’t getting an hour with her?

Her secretary took us through the hallway to Mrs Thatcher’s study the door opened and an ashen-faced Sir Robert Armstrong shook his head, looking very much like a man who’d had an almighty dressing down.

I felt sick with nerves.

Minutes later she was there, bustling across the room, shaking my hand and rather briskly telling our photographer to get his pictures taken quickly, insisting he take it of her good side.

It’s such an ’80s photo.

I had Deirdre Barlow specs and a frizzy perm. Not a good look. I’d bought a blue jumper with matching silk scarf from M&S. She was wearing a tailored green suit and cream silk blouse.

We sat in her study on comfy armchairs.

“Before we start,” she said, “you don’t need to take notes. Every interview is taped and you can come back this afternoon and get the transcript.”

Excellent, I thought.

So we talked about Ravenscraig and why closing it had been a body blow to so many Scots. Did she know how unpopular that made her? Did she care?

“It was the right decision” she said firmly. “I’m not in this job to be popular. I’m here to make choices that’s what being a leader means.”

Her voice was soft in tone. Her head inclined to the side as she spoke but the smile when she didn’t like the question was forced and glassy.

We talked about how she managed on five hours sleep a night, about how supportive Denis was and how her children, Mark and Carol, were adapting to Mummy being Prime Minister. It was clear Mark was her golden boy.

She frequently crossed and uncrossed her legs during the interview and they were rather terrific legs.

She spoke about how hard it had been for her to be taken seriously at the start of her career in politics.

“You have to keep pushing” she said. “I learned that from my father.”

Despite my political views not matching those of Mrs Thatcher, I was beginning to appreciate the enormity of what this woman had achieved to become Britain’s first female PM. And I was even warming to her forceful personality.

My last question was which book are you reading right now?

“Come up to the flat and I’ll show you,” she offered.

We climbed the famous staircase where the portraits of every British Prime Minister hang. She pointed out her predecessors and had a special fondness for Sir Winston Churchill.

In the cosy sitting room of the flat, Denis was sipping a large glass of malt.

“A bit too early in the day for that,” she said briskly.

“Just a snifter before lunch, darling,” he replied.

She took me through to their bedroom and on her bedside table were three books. A heavy tome on chemistry (she’d studied chemistry at university) a political biography and a Dick Francis thriller.

“I like three books on the go at the one time” she said. “When I’ve finished with my boxes Denis pours me my nightcap of whisky and we read our books and chat about the day.”

“These damn boxes . . .” Denis grumbled.

My hour was up. Mrs Thatcher walked me downstairs, hoped I’d have a good journey back to Scotland, and we shook hands.

My taxi drove back along Downing Street (no gates back then) and some tourists were taking pictures.

I could hardly believe what happened to a very ordinary Scottish housewife. I’d met a Tory Prime Minister and actually rather liked her.

My shopkeeper aunts, who were all staunch Conservatives, framed that awful photograph of me with Mrs Thatcher, their heroine, and when their church minister came to visit told him: “That’s our niece, you know.”

Later that afternoon, I collected the transcript of our interview. My questions were two lines long and Mrs T’s answers were half a page.

The Lady could talk.

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