As Britain prepares for the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, as debates rage and opinions divide, I took the opportunity to dust down and open up my memory box of the day I met the Iron Lady.
The day I met Margaret Thatcher was June 7, 1989 and I remember it so well. I was a trainee reporter on the Newport Advertiser, and lucky enough to be the only newspaper reporter at Edgmond Village Hall that day.
It all came about the evening before, when I attended the monthly meeting of Edgmond Parish Council. As the local reporter I went to all the meetings, and knew the councillors well. But on this particular evening they were behaving a little strangely; they were talking about ‘access’ and ‘security’, and they were so guarded with their comments.
Next morning I told my editor, Terry Gilder, about the bizarre goings on and his nose for a story sniffed something out… It wasn’t long before we were buzzing with the news that a VIP was on her way to our patch!
The Tizer’s photographer at the time was Dan Arden. Dan, sadly no longer with us, was a legend throughout Shropshire. He’d seen it all and done it all – including photographing a young Maggie Thatcher on Newport High Street back in 1965 when she visited the town as education minister.
Dan tracked down the picture he had taken back then and printed it out. I was then entrusted with the job of securing an audience with the Prime Minister and asking her to sign the photograph!
Well, the day came, and Dan and I pretty much camped outside the hall – it was so exciting. There were big, beefy men in suits everywhere, talking into their lapels; the great and the good from the Tory party were milling about; and there was us, the little old Newport Advertiser.
I’m pleased to report that all went according to plan. Before her arrival, I was able to talk to Maggie’s people, who talked to their people who confirmed with security that I didn’t pose a threat.
Following a formal lunch-time stop-off during a busy day supporting European MP Christopher Prout, Mrs T emerged from the village hall and I was ushered forward. She looked at the photograph with genuine delight, and said she remembered the day well. She pointed out the coat she was wearing back in 1965 and said it was one of her favourites. Then she signed our photograph, posed for another – and moved on.
It really was the most amazing day for a young reporter, and I can only speak as I find. The Prime Minister was warm, charming and totally engaging and the scoop gave me an appetite for local news that stayed with me for the next 25 years.
No doubt as the ceremony of the funeral plays out, my mum will give her copy of my commemorative photograph an extra special polish!
Sam, account manager