It was a long shot admittedly. As a junior Scotland Yard press officer back in 1990, I met Bernard Ingham, the then Prime Minister’s press secretary, at a conference. In for a penny, I thought, and asked if I could come to observe the No 10 press office for a day. Mrs Thatcher was 11-and-a-half years into her premiership. And, it seemed at the time, pretty unshakeable.
So it happened that I turned up at 8am in Downing Street to walk through the famous black, shiny front door on the fateful date of 22 November 1990. The place was frantic. People were bustling up and down corridors and stairs, bits of paper in hand (in the days before email).
Ingham summoned all the press team into his office. The atmosphere was tense. One of the team didn’t want me there but Ingham prevailed. He told us that at 9am he was to announce that Margaret Thatcher was to stand down as Prime Minister. What a bombshell.
A preternatural calm ensued as the team went back to their desks. The statement went out, the phones went mad, the world’s media descended on Downing Street and more flowers than I have ever seen piled up on every surface inside No 10.
Many of the staff who had worked with Mrs Thatcher for 11 years were understandably quite emotional. For me it meant that, rather than being an observer at the fray, I ended up answering phones, giving out the statement and doing a real job.
The press officer who accompanied Mrs Thatcher to the door to go to the House of Commons was in tears, but the Prime Minister looked composed. Being in the convoy driving over to the House that day to witness Prime Minister’s Questions was unforgettable. It was a fantastic privilege to be a tiny part of a seminal moment in history.
It is perhaps no surprise that I ended up working in the No 10 press office some five years later, first for John Major then for Tony Blair. It is pretty hard to beat the excitement of working at the very heart of Government – although, in fairness, not every day matched up to 22 November 1990.
Siobhan Kenny is group comms director at HarperCollins Publishing