I once met Mrs Thatcher at the British embassy in Paris. The year was 1989 and I was staying with my friend Iona, the daughter of the then ambassador. He is a lovely man called Sir Ewen Fergusson, who was and remains my idea of a perfect ambassador, tall and elegant with excellent taste in everything, who once played rugby for Scotland.
We were in what was known in the embassy as the family sitting room one evening when she knocked on the door. Iona’s mother barely looked up from her embroidery as Mrs T asked for permission to join us, as the room was so much cosier, she told us, than than the state rooms she had been allocated. Her private secretary was with her.
“I have a first edition of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities,” she told us. “I wanted to write a dedication to Mitterand, but don’t want to devalue the book.”
The ambassador smiled. “Prime Minister, I hardly think you would be devaluing the book by writing in it.”
Mrs Thatcher (as she was then) shook off her shoes and curled up on the sofa. I remember thinking “this old lady is in charge of everything” and being slightly amazed at how much she reminded me of my granny.
“Right, well then, what should I write?” She looked around the room. “You!” she said, pointing at me. “You’re studying English, what should I say?”
I stuttered something about ‘on this auspicious occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution’. I also remember thinking that it as a pretty classic book to be giving a French president but didn’t feel I should mention that.
“Good, good,” she said. “Now I need my pen.” She turned to her secretary. “Where’s my pen?”
“Prime Minister, I think it’s upstairs.”
“Right, well go and get it please.”
The secretary walked towards the door. Bear in mind please that ‘upstairs’ at the embassy was a walk about a mile long. When she got to the door the secretary turned to Mrs Thatcher.
“While I’m up there, Prime Minister, is there anything else you need?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Mrs T. “And if there is, we’ll just send you up again.”
I thought she was formidable, just fascinating and would have loved to stay chatting all evening. Iona, however, was used to state visits wanted to go clubbing, so we did.
But the most memorable thing about the week was without doubt Mrs T curled up on the sofa. May she rest in peace and I hope all the left-wing lunatics calm down soon, they really are beyond dull. Plus ca change as we would have said at the embassy….
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2013