In the late Spring of 1983, I was a Canadian actor touring a play throughout the United Kingdom and currently playing in Edinburgh.
One soggy afternoon, as I slogged through town in a downpour that hadn’t stopped in a week, a voice called from behind, a high pitched, “Haallooo. Halloo!”. I turned to find Margaret Thatcher leaning out of a taxi window, waving happily as she passed and the cab swung into a hotel driveway.
I recognized her, of course, aware as anyone back then of “The Iron Lady”, “The Fighting Lady of the Falklands” or “Attila the Hen” as the Scots at the theatre called her; then in the midst of an election campaign that dominated the papers and the telly.
I had been bound for the hotel to do an interview in the bar and when I ducked under its awning and shook off the wet, Mrs. Thatcher, who had been supervising the disposition of her luggage, despite the carloads of security and supporters who had preceded and followed her up the drive, immediately strove over with her hand outstretched.
“You need to find an umbrella.”
I smiled and shook her hand, letting her know I was a Canadian who couldn’t vote so she shouldn’t waste her time on me. She laughed and insisted there must be someone I could influence.
As it happened, I had a great uncle and aunt who lived in her riding and had, on a previous tour, recounted how odd it was that the girl who used to help them bag produce at her father’s green grocer shop was now the Prime Minister.
I mentioned that and she asked their names. Although they weren’t at all politically active, she knew them and her next question was “And how is Millie?” Millie being the sickly maiden aunt who had recently moved in with them.
I was astonished that this woman, mostly known for battling Russians, Argentines, coal miners and the IRA was aware of the most minor goings on a few blocks from where she had grown up.
“I’ll be campaigning there next week and expect to hear you’ve put in a good word for me”. She smiled again and was gone, swallowed up by security and campaigners.
When I mentioned my encounter to the journalist I was meeting, he suggested I wash my hand before any infection set in. The Scots at the theatre were equally disdainful and on election night a couple of weeks later in Glasgow were cheering the fact that Scotland hadn’t sent any of her candidates to Parliament.
I’m sure they had good reason for how they felt and it was clear that among the artists and theatricals I encountered on the rest of the tour she was despised.
But I’ve never shaken the feeling that under that iron, determination and lack of compromise was a very nice lady.