Ali Lochhead

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Cutting My Teeth on the Iron Lady

As a young journalist I cut my teeth on Maggie Thatcher. The first time I went to meet her I was a junior radio reporter in Scotland. "What should I ask her?" I looked to my boss for guidance. "Oh you're not going to get a question in!" he explained, "Just point the mic in her general direction." Being a feisty 19 year old I ignored his advice, in the scrum around the Premier I shouted the first question and her eyes locked on to mine. She was a formidable opponent, she seemed not to blink but not to be out-stared I managed not to flinch and so we went on for question after question. The TV cameras zoomed in on us and my arm started shaking. I had to steady it with my left hand because my mic had a big company logo on it and I realised my nerves would be apparent to all on the tv news that evening. When I got back to the newsroom I told my boss what had happened. "What? You got the shakes?" he marvelled. "I could understand if it was David Bowie but not Maggie Thatcher."

Maggie and I were to cross words several times over the coming years as she was extremely unpopular in Scotland at the time. By the time the photo above was taken I was working in television in London. I was reading the news and Mrs Thatcher came to view the station. I knew as soon as she'd entered the building. No-one said anything in my ear-piece but I could sense the atmosphere had changed in the gallery, such was her energy. In contrast when I was interviewing Prime Minister John Major a few years later I was sitting in the lounge in the Oval Cricket ground making notes when I looked up and saw he was in front of me. I hadn't noticed him walk in. Perhaps that's an admirable quality. In the scene above I'm wearing a burgundy coloured suit, Mrs Thatcher said she liked it and said she could never wear such a colour as it wasn't blue. At that time she only ever wore the conservative party colour. I said I thought she could as it wasn't a true red and after that she did incorporate some burgandy into her wardrobe. I don't know if I influenced her but still, she seemed like an unlikely lady to be having a girlie conversation with!