The poignant and rather touching tribute to the late Baroness Thatcher in this week`s Walsall Advertiser from, of all people, Councillor Pete Smith reminds me of my own encounter with the former Prime Minister.
The circumstances that led to me driving towards St James`s Park (the one in London, not the one on Tyneside) at six thirty on a spring morning in 1988 are too complex to describe in detail. Suffice to say that it involved a friend who worked for a television news company, a Ford Fiesta that refused to start, my reliable if battered Mini and a government photo opportunity. I pulled over at the end of The Mall near Admiralty Arch to let her out and find her camera crew then went on to find somewhere to park. By the time I joined her at the Horse Guards end of the park, a host of photographers and camera crews stood around looking bored and opening flasks of coffee. That was about to change.
From the direction of Whitehall, a group of six or seven young men in expensive suits approached and they seemed pleased at the number of cameras that had turned up so early in the morning. Presently, however, these “special advisors” detected a problem. Looking at a clipboard and the Rolex, one chinless wonder turned to another and said:
“Where`s the rubbish? Where`s the bloody rubbish? It was booked for seven. Find it Nigel, find it now.”
Nigel started looking in the bushes much to the amusement of the waiting photographers. Then, striding across the grass came the colossal figure of Nicholas Ridley, the then Secretary of State for the Environment. It could be that he was suffering from some illness or that he might not be a morning person, but given the ungodly hour, the minister appeared to be drunk. Surveying the scene, he lit a cigarette and turned the air blue with some very unparliamentary language. Spad panic ensued and two ran off in the direction of Great George Street and the others started screwing up papers from their clipboards and throwing them on the ground. The press, now openly guffawing, joined in by screwing up their briefing notes and throwing them at the Spads. Ridley contributed by flicking his cigarette end at the laughing snappers and sparking up another fag. (more…)