‘Margaret Thatcher is an utterly impossible act to follow’

09:06 17 April 2013

Simon O

Simon O'Neill.


Simon O’Neill is editor of the Oxford Mail. He began his career as a trainee reporter on the Barnet Adviser in 1982, three years into Finchley MP Margaret Thatcher’s time as British prime minister. Following her death, he told the Ham&High about his memories of Baroness Thatcher, the local MP.

“Finchley in 1982 was at the eye of a hurricane. All was calm and cosy in N3, while elsewhere the country was starting to tear itself apart over the policies of Margaret Hilda Thatcher, PM.

“This was my first ‘patch’ as a reporter and one I knew well, having grown up in nearby New Southgate.

“An added bonus was that the sitting MP was the hurricane starter herself. It’s been downhill ever since for me as far as MPs are concerned.

“No disrespect to some fine men and women, but Thatcher was an utterly impossible act to follow.

“During my 32-year career, I have met every prime minister up to and including David Cameron, who is MP for Witney, part of my current newspaper circulation area.

“They all had presence, except for Gordon Brown, who mainly just had the hump.

“But merge them together and they would not match Thatcher’s charisma and electric personality. Meeting her was like being jabbed with a cattle prod.

“As my career took me across London and then north to Derbyshire via the nationals, my perspective on her widened and the divisiveness that defined her time in office came into sharp focus, as did the devastating effects of some of her policies.

“But back then I was 21, new to the job, had no formal training and was, to be honest, rather shallow. I saw only what was in front of me; that Margaret Thatcher was a fine constituency MP who was incredibly accommodating to the local press, often at the expense of national newspapers and broadcasters.

“She was also unfailingly gentle and kind towards me whenever we met and even helped me with an interview on one memorable occasion (she asked the questions, I wrote down the answers). Dare I say it, she was downright motherly.

“Thatcher regularly included the three local papers covering Finchley at the time in her engagements. So I found myself wandering around a new shopping arcade with her, or opening a new school building, or memorably looking on one evening at Woodhouse Grammar School while she enthralled students with up-to-the-minute news on the progress of the Falklands War.

“Outside, behind a cordon, were the assembled hordes of the national press pack, panting like dogs for any scraps they could get their hands on.

“I remember covering a 100th birthday in Finchley Central. Mrs Thatcher served tea and cakes to me, the centenarian and her family.

“In her constituency, she was still the prime minister. But she was different, in voice and style, to the woman who handbagged her way through national and international politics.

“I will remember her as a woman who dominated in a man’s world, an extraordinary leader, a divisive politician and someone who could run a government, conduct a war and still find time to deliver tea, cake and kindness to a young journalist, a bewildered centenarian and her awestruck family.”


Latest News Stories

Squatters at West End Lane

Squatters are currently believed to have barricaded themselves into a former council building in West Hampstead after an eviction order was served.

London Ambulance Service has been recommended for special measures following a CQC report

The London Ambulance Service has been placed into special measures after being slammed by a health watchdog investigation as “inadequate”.

Tulip Siddiq challenged the Prime Minister in the House of Commons

Mothers’ maiden names should be listed on marriage certificates alongside fathers’ names, Hampstead and Kilburn’s MP has told Parliament.

Piers Corbyn, right, with the squatters in West Hampstead and Cllr Lorna Russell

Squatters who have occupied empty former council offices in West Hampstead will appear in court today.

Cllr Sarah Hayward

The leader at Camden Council has warned that the Chancellor’s comprehensive spending review may leave the authority struggling to carry out essential duties and place vulnerable residents at risk.

Crouch End Festival Chorus at St John's Smith Square. Photo: Emily Soppet

The Crouch End Festival Chorus is taking a deep breath and running a 12-hour sponsored singing marathon this Saturday to raise funds for a major recording project.

Flowers on Parkland Walk

Police are investigating after live ammunition was discovered in Parkland Walk.

The youth attacked the women in Parliament Hill

The parents of a woman who was robbed and sexually assaulted on Hampstead Heath stormed out of a courtroom in anger after her 16-year-old attacker was jailed for just one year.

Most read news

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot


MAC Makeup

MAC are renowned for their flawless, fabulous make up that is used worldwide by the stars. You too can have the chance to have the perfect makeup to suit your needs with £1,000 to spend on all the glam goodies you like!


You are never far from an Argos, wherever in the country you may be. They are like a magical cavern where whatever you need they seem to have it out the back behind the counter. So why not put them to the test with this great MyOffers competition to win £1000 to spend in-store.

Digital Edition

Read the Hampstead & Highgate Express e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder