Home HRArt and auctions Two stories about being ‘hand-bagged’ by Mrs Thatcher; and a unique record of the former PM sitting for her portrait

Two stories about being ‘hand-bagged’ by Mrs Thatcher; and a unique record of the former PM sitting for her portrait

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My severe ‘hand-bagging’ at the hands of Mrs Thatcher

Dr Tony Heathcote writes:

I met Mrs Thatcher when I was Curator of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Collection, and she was making one of her triumphal tours of the various national institutions that had recently fallen under her sway.

As a principal-level Civil Servant (a grade equivalent to Colonel in the Army) I was required to conduct visiting dignitaries around the historical areas of Old College.

DSC_0100 (2)Mrs Thatcher seemed to me an abrasive figure, making no effort at the mutually insincere but polite ‘small talk’ normal during such visits. While I was showing her round the Indian Army Memorial Room, she spotted the stained glass window commemorating the Afghan War of 1919. Thereupon she at once launched into a denunciation of the Soviet contingent then operating in Afghanistan, particularly in its use of air power against the poor defenceless Afghan people. (This in disregard of the RAF having done the same thing in the campaign depicted in the very window that had sparked her comments). Having at that time just published my book on the Afghan wars, I ventured to say that the modern Afghan state is an artificial construct, with the regions north-west of the Hindu Kush having more in common with Soviet Central Asia, and those south-east of the Hindu Kush having more in common with Pakistan, than either have with each other.

I was then given a severe hand-bagging and told: “You can’t just divide other people’s countries up”, which in fact I had not been suggesting. As a good civil servant who was always willing to sacrifice his spine for the sake of his career, I at once expressed assent, thinking that if a Prime Minister did not know about the treaties of Vienna or Versailles it was not my duty to enlighten her.


To my dismay, I was lectured by Margaret Thatcher about public spending

Dr George Bailey OBE writes:

DSC_0053 (2)As the member of the Greater London Council for Hounslow, Brentford and Isleworth, I attended the 1979 Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. Whilst chatting with my constituency chairman, at an evening reception for London constituencies, I became aware of the new Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher moving towards me.  Not wanting to say anything foolish (her reputation was already well known), I said to her: “May I introduce you to Councillor Arthur Brazier, who made sure that Barney Hayhoe was re-elected.” He was delighted to talk with her, and I made my excuses to slip away.

In 1986, with my wife Janet, I attended a reception at No10 Downing Street for Conservative councillors about to leave office with the abolition of the Greater London Council. Going up to the Prime Minister to tell of my support for the Government legislation since being a candidate in the 1983 General Election, to my dismay I was subjected to an economics lecture as to why the country needed to bring public spending under control.

DSC_0006 (2)After being dismissed, we took the opportunity to look at the paintings on the walls.  Janet said to Denis: “You have some lovely paintings here” and he replied: “They’re not ours, they belong to all of us.”  After that evening I was no longer a fan of Margaret Thatcher and started thinking about “sell-by-dates” (strategic marketing being one of my professional specialities).

The photos accompanying this article are courtesy of Piotr Gulbicki, a Polish-British journalist and photographer whose work is published in several magazines and newspapers in the UK, Poland, and elsewhere in Europe.

Mr Gulbicki received special permission from Lady Thatcher to photograph her in her home in Chelsea, in 2009, to record Mrs Barbara (Basia) Kaczmarowska Hamilton painting her portrait.  This was the last portrait painted of Lady Thatcher. Mrs Kaczmarowska Hamilton by co-incidence also painted the last portraits of Pope John Paul II and of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.



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