With the demise of Lady Thatcher we’re re-running a piece by Richard Lutz from January 2012.
With that Margaret Thatcher movie now on our screens, Richard Lutz remembers an interview when Maggie’s spin doctor lost his spin.
Downing Street was adamant. If I was to interview the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, during a sweep through the Ukraine, her press boss Bernard Ingham had to have the questions in advance.
In advance? It was a month before the trip and things do change a lot in four weeks. Things emerge. Explode or diminish. Things can disappear. I slapped a half dozen questions to the Prime Minister’s office and let it lie.
A month later I was in Kiev. The tv interview was scheduled and Ingham prowled on the sidelines like a grumpy dog. He had a list of my pat questions and indeed things had changed a lot in the interim.. He waved the questions at me and reminded me what the deal was. ‘The Prime Minister wants a word’ he said.
I walked into a side room. Mrs Thatcher wasn’t at her desk, nor in a chair reading briefing notes nor on the phone. She was doing her make up and peering into the mirror.
‘I was always do my make up before an interview’ she said. ‘It does help.’
She noted my American accent, seemed bemused for a second– as I was too- that a Yank should be interviewing a British PM for UK tv in Kiev. It did seem odd.
I asked if she wanted to go over the agreed questions. After all, that was the agreed, though uncomfortable, commitment . ‘I just wanted to know if you wanted to review the material Mr Ingham had me send to your office.’
She was still looking in the mirror, applying a finishing touch: ‘Ask me anything’ And with that she dismissed my obligations and the demands of her preposterous curmudgeon of a press secretary. Here’s a much younger me, the Prime Minister with an edgy Ingham forlornly lurking on the sidelines:
The interview went ahead according to my own agenda. The questions were more robust about the pressing issues of the day. As any battleworn pol should, she enjoyed a knock down bunfight (which I think I won on points). Bernard Ingham, I like to believe, must have been flipping his lid.