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Former weekly editor recalls rare Thatcher interview

A former weekly newspaper editor has shared his memories of how he once landed an unexpected interview with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Don Hale, who was editor of the Matlock Mercury for 17 years, was given a rare regional press interview with the then Prime Minister when a Conservative Central Council Conference was held in Buxton in March 1988.

Following her death at the age of 87 from a stroke, he told HTFP about his experience of interviewing Lady Thatcher and the “electric” atmosphere at the conference.

Don’s piece is published in full below.

I can recall being almost summoned to attend the Conservative Conference in Buxton many years ago and being granted an extraordinary interview with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

As a high profile editor with the main local paper, the Matlock Mercury, I was taken to and ushered into the event by a series of high security measures and watched in awe from the sidelines as the rally reached an incredible stage-managed crescendo of noise awaiting the arrival of their leader.

The atmosphere was electric and by the time the ‘Iron Lady’ finally appeared, numerous hand-picked overloud support groups were already on their feet encouraging a mass hysteria of fan worship to the backing of some powerful, stimulating and deafening background music.

It reminded me of the old newsreel footage of Hitler’s Nazi rallies in the 1930s and any minute I expected the standing ovation to be matched with straight armed salutes.

I have never seen so much security in all my days and the police and military presence was amazing with low flying jets, helicopters and a large and heavily enforced, armed no-go zone.

Despite all this, and the fact I almost accidentally flattened the PM after emerging from the wrong door onto a security corridor, Margaret Thatcher kept her word and gave me a brief 8-minute plus interview where we discussed a few important local topics but it was hard to get her away from the Tory script, and after deflecting several questions about her expensive presence in Derbyshire and the Conference’s military precision, her minders escorted her away.

At the start of the interview she was still fired up from rallying speech but she soon settled and despite an air of arrogance and an obvious and unfortunate condescending manner, she eventually mellowed to give some honest, responsive replies.

A few years later, Mrs Thatcher became a sort of stalker, as we saw each other again twice, once at Buckingham Palace after a garden party when she arrived to greet a large Russian flotilla containing Soviet leader Gorbachev, and again during a holiday to Venice, when the area was again suddenly closed down for her personal entourage and another Summit meeting with world leaders.

I also wrote a piece once about the IRA outrage during the Brighton bombings, and she must have followed my articles closely for out of the blue she sent a handwritten personal letter of thanks to me for the sentiments expressed.