by Alan Capper, President, Foreign Press Association, New York
Perhaps from 3000 miles away the news of Baroness Thatcher’s death seemed more of a shock. For me it felt a little like losing my mother, such was her presence in my life for 11 years and more. The Thatcher years transformed Britain, making it a tougher place, more successful and no more a laughing stock with strikes and excessive union power.
I had the privilege of meeting her on a number of different occasions during those years, and I am remembering them now. The first time was at 10 Downing Street at a fund-raiser for The Imperial War Museum. Many of Britain’s leading businessmen and women were there, mostly for the occasion rather than the cause. She came breezing into the Blue Room, and stood on a little blue velvet box so she could be just a head above her guests and quickly came to the point.
“Some of you may wonder why we need an Imperial War Museum, and I want to give you my view. After the First World War there was a book suggesting what England would have been like if it had been conquered by Germany. An underground movement was set up, non-violent called “Tell the Children.” The purpose was to tell the conquered children what Britain had always stood for, freedom, justice, fairness, bravery and civilization. That, ladies and gentlemen is why we need an Imperial War Museum, to tell the children what this country has always stood for.” She connected wonderfully with her audience, and after 20 minutes was gone. ”Sorry, I have to go and work on some dispatch boxes, but you stay as long as you want to, drink and be happy, but don’t forget why you were invited.”
On two occasions she came to visit clients of mine, DHl and Duracell. She simply took control of the events, telling the press guests to photograph her by the DHL logo outside the factory or not at all. I was most impressed by her impact on the DHL staff, and her use of humor.
With Duracell the company had just introduced a new torch, and she kept one in her handbag demonstrating its compactness in front of the cameras. She knew the best way her presence would help these British companies.
In New York my friend David Michaels and I worked on developing The Margaret Thatcher Lecture’ with the English Speaking Union. Her coming frailty was beginning to show when she delivered the lecture, but she was magnificent and greatly impressed the audience. What impressed David and I was her strong appeal to the younger members of the audience with whom she spent the most of her time after the lecture. It was an honor to work on this.
She had two seventieth birthday celebrations in 1997, one in 10 Downing Street and one in the magnificent Union Station, Washington. I had the honor of attending the one in Washington representing her long-standing spokesman, Sir Tim Bell.
I was accompanied by a guest, Russian Ooligarch Vladimir Goussinsky, enormously rich and powerful. It was his biggest ambition to meet the Iron Lady, but for all his power he was almost a gibbering wreck with nerves. At the end of her three- minute chat with him I said goodbye to her, and said that Tim was sorry that he could not be there that day.” That’s fine,” she said. “Just tell him I love him.” Perhaps not the way people would expect the Iron Lady to express herself.
That day was a magnificent celebration of Anglo-American relations, with a towering speech from her, and all the honor that America could give her. Not since Churchill’s visit in 1946 had the Anglo-American relationship been more richly celebrated. I am proud to have been there, and to have lived through her years, her history -making years where she changed the direction of the nation and probably saved it.
President, Foreign Press Association