My friendship with Mark Thatcher.
I phoned Mark up just after Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street to ask him how she was and his reply was “she’s taken it really badly”, so I had to think hard on what I should release of my Downing Street years. Out of respect for the late PM and her family I have decided to give a couple of humorous stories only as the friendship was built out of confidentiality and trust and therefore I believe it should remain so.
So here we go: I often phoned Mark at Number 10 and would usually be put through to Joy Robilliard the PM’s PA. One memorable time I phoned, and the switch board lass put me through to the flat above and often the phone was answered by the PM. Every time we spoke she was always so kind to me. It was the same on this particular occasion when I asked her if she could pass a message on to her son. Her reply was along the lines of “it’s a little bit difficult at the moment as you have phoned on the first ever day of televised Prime Minister’s Questions so I’m really rather busy”. I apologised and put the phone down in my car – (one of the first phones in cars in those days – huge machines were put in the boot and you had a telephone lead on your phone – how crazy it seems today). Anyway, following Monaco, which is where I first met Mark, we attempted to all meet; I would send invites and he and his wife Diane would send invites that we both couldn’t make. Mark was either in America, at Number 10 or around London conducting his business affairs while I soldiered on in my music life. One thing we never ever did during conversations or meetings was discuss his business. He was more interested in my music career, that‘s probably how I ignored press about him. I took him on face value and from the day I met him and Diane we were good friends and that’s how it stayed. Having said that, I used to rib him quite a lot about getting lost in the Sahara which he took in good spirit. That’s why I liked Mark. The PM, his mum, as I’ve already said was always kind to me even to the point that I became known affectionately as “Brighton Bobby” at Number 10.
We – being myself, Mark, Diane and H confirmed a solid booking for the 30th December 1988, 9.15pm to go to Stringfellows Hippodrome for an evening meal. After arriving at my hotel, I then went to Claridge’s with a bottle of Dom Perignon in hand ready to Rock’n’Roll for the night. How Rock’n’Roll did this turn out? As we left the hotel I noticed that Mark and I had exactly the same winter coats on. We were escorted in to one of three cars. At that time Diane was six months pregnant - do you remember the famous quote the PM gave on the steps of Downing street “we have become a grandmother”? Seated in the car we sped off down the Mall and I noticed a police escort in front, one behind plus police outriders – I couldn’t quite get my head around how much protection they needed but I presumed this was the norm. We arrived at our destination and were shown in through a side entrance and whizzed upstairs for our meal. All very pleasant except on the next two tables were four security on one, four security on the other – plain clothes of course. After our meal, we partied, drank, chatted well in to the evening. When it was time to go four fabulous bouquets of flowers were presented to us, courtesy, I presume, of Peter Stringfellow. Exiting Stringfellows again the walkie talkies came out and a protective corridor was made by the security leading to our car. Mark ran straight to the other side of our car and got in and I shouted, “Oi Mark you should open the door for your lady” so ignoring protocol I walked behind Diane and opened the door for her. Once she was safely in I walked round and got in and the minute the doors were shut the convoy sped off at high speed back to the hotel. After a nightcap we said our farewells and I was taken back to my hotel. The next day I ordered breakfast and the papers and sat bolt upright as appearing on the front page of nearly every paper was “Mark Thatcher in IRA death threat!!” So that’s what all the security was about and why he hadn’t helped Diane in to the car. Before I left my hotel, I phoned Mark saying, “You could have told me! I was wearing the same coat as you, they could have thought I was you!” but he brushed it aside. In his defence on this matter, I myself had a death threat many years ago in my previous band. I was threatened with being shot on stage and it was a very scary experience. The gigs I did in between that period needed extra security specially hired by me to take out anyone looking dodgy and performing knowing that you could be shot was not easy, but you carried on regardless. After filing a police report I did tell my band who understood the dangers I was in but they too weren’t too keen to hear about it. Luckily the perpetrator was caught, and I resumed life a lot easier on the road. I can understand how Mark kept it quiet as I too didn’t really want to talk about it.
We all still remained friends for several years and we had good times. The staff at Number 10 were always pleased to hear from me and calls to Number 10, America and my house were always a good laugh (even though we had to have the calls screened at one point). After Mark and Diane got divorced this friendship forged through music petered out.
Next time – rocking in to the 90s with a little help from my friend Phil Collins. Band number 3: Artful Dodger - going solo again.
Letter to BW from Phil Collins