The song ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’ from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ soared to number two in the British charts following the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death as many of her devoted supporters were shocked by the display of hostility and disrespect unleashed by a large section of the British public. Even a former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, said that the negative comments were in bad taste and that “even if you disagree with someone strongly, at the moment of their death, you should show some respect.” No doubt he is anticipating his own passing and the vitriol with which it may be greeted.
Personally I was devastated by the news of, not her physical death, but her political one in 1990, when she was voted out by her own party. But it’s not what you think. From 1980 to 1990, I regularly dressed in a blue suit and smart court shoes, coiffed my hair into a blonde helmet and clutched a large handbag to impersonate the Iron Lady at various events in Denmark and the UK. She was my bread and butter. Imitating the Iron Lady paid my bills, and when she was forced to step down, so was I.
My ‘Thatcher Show’ always started with these words, spoken in her measured and carefully elocuted voice: “I am the prime minister of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and all of our colonies, including our jewel in the crown, the Falkland Islands. My name is Mrs Margaret Thatcher, but you can call me SIR.” I then proceeded to inform the audience of all my hard-won achievements during those eleven years − including breaking those nasty rotten unions, particularly the revolting miners, and starting important wars against evil enemies like Argentina who dared to try to take back the Falkland Islands – and about the necessity of privatising public services, the destruction of industries, and the atomising of communities. Furthermore, as Maggie, I recognised Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and that charming gentleman Pinochet not as a dictator and a torturer, no, no, but as a friend whom I invited to come to tea at Chequers.
“In government matters, I always enjoy a good exchange of views,” I used to say as Maggie. “They come in with their views and they leave with mine. All those in favour of the motion say ‘Aye’. All those against say: ‘I resign’.”
The British Embassy, to put it mildly, was not keen on my Thatcher Show, which I performed to their guests on the occasion of the queen’s birthday, and I have never been invited back since. What did they expect from a comedienne doing a spoof on Thatcher I wonder?
“I am not called the Iron Lady for nothing and I am certainly NOT suffering from metal fatigue!” I wanted her to go on forever. She was an endless source of comic material. She was the headmistress of the nation, a strict and fearsome figure with a strident voice, telling everyone off and selling everything off. When the National Union of Miners eventually succumbed to the military onslaught and starvation over which she presided, she said: “We broke not just a strike, but a spell.” That “spell”, as she put it, was a community.
In 1984, the year of the Miners’ Strike, I wrote and performed a Crazy Christmas Cabaret in Copenhagen called ‘Big Sis is Watching You’ based on Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ and the story of Robin Hood. A group of miners, hearing that there was an anti-Thatcher show being performed in Denmark, came over by boat from Newcastle and, with my permission, collected money outside the theatre for the miners’ starving families.
So it was not surprising that celebratory parties, particularly in Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool, were held on her funeral day. But if anything, the biggest insult was handed to her by her own supporters. After all, haven’t they ignored her beliefs by deciding that her funeral be paid for by the tax-payer! The English filmmaker Ken Loach summed it up best when he said: “Let’s privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted.”
But in the end the tax-payer footed the bill, both for her expensive state funeral and her stay at the Ritz Hotel where she was fortunate enough to end her days (unlike so many old people with Alzheimer’s in Britain today who die, uncared for, in her privatised nursing homes). May the Iron Lady RUST in peace.