Ian Hamilton Fazey (1980-2000)
When Mrs Thatcher travelled around the UK, she viewed us all from a secure
bubble protected by police, aides and her PR troupe, led by her formidable
press secretary Bernard Ingham. Bernard had little time for scribes like
me, who wanted to ask serious questions; he only wanted TV clips and
soundbites. The only hope was to catch her away from the media pack and
hope for a word.
Early in December 1988 the opening of Asda’s new HQ in Leeds was the
usual PR circus, with the PM praising Asda as an exemplar of UK enterprise
and accepting a white teddy bear called Snowflake to put under the Downing Street Christmas tree. Asda put one in every press pack.
The FT wanted her comment on the closure of the last shipyard in
Sunderland, due to be announced in the Commons that afternoon at 3.30pm. I
stalked her motorcade until the TV crews and other reporters fell away and
found myself alone in the car park of York Trailers in Northallerton,
North Yorkshire, waiting for her arrival from lunch with party activists
An aide came over. I was invited to tour the factory with Mrs T,
provided I asked no questions until she was ready to speak to me. After
nearly an hour we emerged into the car park. “So, Mr Fazey, what can I do
for you?” she inquired.
As I mentioned the name of Sunderland, she interrupted, suggesting I
wrote instead about the great British success stories she had seen that
day. And she couldn’t comment about Sunderland ahead of the announcement to the Commons that afternoon. “But that’s in less than 30 seconds from now,” I protested, looking at my watch. ”Precisely!” she exclaimed, as Bernard’s arm shepherded her into her car. The convoy glided off into the gathering winter darkness in a flurry of tail-lights. I rang the newsdesk on my carphone to report being bested and picked up the white teddy bear. There was a little label protruding from a seam. It said: MADE IN CHINA. We mentioned this foreign interloper next day in Men & Matters, as the diary column was still called in those days. Snowflake never appeared under the Downing Street Christmas tree.