I met her once. We had been waiting expectantly for half an hour. She was late. When she finally entered the room, she surfed on a wave of power and authority – like the entrance of the Queen of Sheba without the music.
Calm, collected, nose in the air, she frowned with complete disdain for the cohort of journalists who were between us and the doorway. The flash-guns had fired like a set of uncoordinated fireworks as soon as the door had opened.
I remember vividly the soundman for the BBC camera crew who had a long, extended microphone covered in a sausage-shaped, fluffy sound muffler. He was lying on the floor to get out of the way of the cameras that were pointing at her. She virtually kicked him and made a comment (I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like) “that’s where you guys belong – on the floor”. She could easily have said “scumbag” – but I don’t think she did! It was all part of the drama.
She gave her short speech for the evening news and the twenty or so journalists were ushered out of the room with the sense of urgency that a hassled mistress of the house would want when letting her servants sweep the floor after a spill or a mess had been made by the dog.
She said “Are they all gone?” There was silence. A few nodded their heads to affirm they had all left. The atmosphere changed immediately. Less formal. Yet still quite tense. She was on a mission. She wanted answers to questions. She was impatient. Dennis just wanted a drink. He relaxed everyone by saying something like “Good, let’s have a drink”.
She was born the same year as my father, in another era, another age. What was important then is now no longer so important. What was pressing then is now, in hindsight, much less pressing – even trivial. Yet, at the time, she had the power. She had the authority. She had the sense of purpose. She got the attention and wanted change. Yet, for all the words, my longest-lasting memory was the feeling I had when she entered the room. Words cannot describe the electric presence she exuded. I’ve seldom had that feeling from anyone, man or woman, either before or since.