In High School, which I attended in London, I was an editor of the school newspaper. I loved it and it’s a reason, I suppose, that I’m a writer. I’m certainly NOT a journalist. One of my fellow editors was Simon Sebag Montefiore, who has become a famous author in the United Kingdom.
Simon’s bibliography includes massive biographies of Stalin and Potemkin and you’ll read his writing in UK newspapers.
He wrote a book about Stalin; I wrote one about Caddyshack. Enough said!
During the early 1980s, for the school newspaper, we interviewed Ken Livingstone, who was essentially the Mayor of London. His nickname was ‘Red Ken’ and it was a fascinating interview. A little later, I told Simon we should try to interview Margaret Thatcher, who was then Prime Minister.
So we wrote to Robin Butler, now Baron Butler of Brockwell, who was Thatcher’s Personal Private Secretary. For those of you in the United States and elsewhere, perhaps, the Personal Private Secretary (PPS) doesn’t take dictation: the PPS is essentially the Chief of Staff and head of The Civil Service.
I have to admit we had an ‘in’ as Robin Butler had attended our school and Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, also attended the school.
So, in the Autumn term of 1983, Simon and I took the tube to Central London, and interviewed the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.
We went to the barrier at the Whitehall end of Downing Street where a policeman told us to see the policeman at the door of number 10. That policeman let us in and we were ushered into a waiting room. After a few nervous minutes, we were walking up the stairs next to the portraits of former Prime Ministers. Then we were there, in her office, sitting down with Robin Butler, Margaret Thatcher, and a tape recorder.
We had planned some ‘tough’ questions plus some easier ones. I’m not sure what the Prime Minister was expecting but she quickly realized that we were trying to be ‘big time journalists’ and treated us as such. Which meant she was in no mood to take any prisoners. I left with jellied legs.
The other day, while cleaning out some stuff in my house, I discovered the cassette of the interview and had it transferred to a CD. One of these days I’ll upload the full audio interview. I can barely listen to it—I’m so gobsmacked embarrassed. I can’t believe I was 18 and went into 10 Downing Street to ask The Iron Lady some ‘hardball’ questions.
WAS I OUT OF MY MIND?
Whatever your political persuasion, you’ll enjoy the interview. Please remember that I was just 18 and totally out of my depth. But with all the palaver going on over the movie, I thought it was a good time to write about the interview.
In the school newspaper, Simon wrote the piece after the interview—about going to #10.
Meeting Margaret Thatcher was enormously intimidating. She was at the height of her power and was rock-solid about her politics.
In the almost 30 years since the interview, a lot of people have tried to intimidate me during interviews or simply in the course of daily life. I’ve never been brave enough to say this, but here’s what I always think…
“Look, pal, if you’re trying to intimidate me, give up now. I once interviewed Margaret Thatcher.”