Saturday, 19 June 2021

Day that Mrs T exploded at aides

A RETIRED businessman has told how Margaret Thatcher apologised to him after publicly blasting her aides during a visit to

A RETIRED businessman has told how Margaret Thatcher apologised to him after publicly blasting her aides during a visit to his Henley firm.

Keith Barker, 80, recalled the incident in March 1985 following the death of Britain’s only woman prime minister on Monday.

He said she “almost exploded” in front of him and his staff when accusing her officials of not briefing her about airline technology firm Videcom, which Mr Baker founded.

Mrs Thatcher was on an official visit to the company in Newtown Road but the employees were not told she was coming until that morning.

The Prime Minister was half an hour late after having problems with her helicopter forced her to switch to the road and she apologised on arrival.

She was then taken on a tour of the building, which had been opened by her Defence Secretary and Henley MP Michael Heseltine two years earlier. She also talked to staff.

Mrs Thatcher told the Standard that Videcom was a “very impressive” business.

“It is a young company employing graduates and increasing its workforce,” she said. “It is keeping ahead of the market and its one objective is to satisfy customers. They are British and successful.”

A plaque was put in the reception area of the building to mark her visit.

Mr Barker, 80, recalled her attention to detail and enthusiasm for helping businesses.

He said: “We were a successful international company then and 30 per cent of our business was done overseas. It was incredibly valuable to us because everyone around the world knew who Margaret Thatcher was and we were selling all around the world.

“She was looking at the work we were doing in the laboratories when an engineer made a remark about how we dealt with Egypt. She almost exploded at her staff, saying ‘why hasn’t anyone briefed me about how this company works with Egypt?’

“Eventually, she calmed down and apologised to me. It turned out she had met Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, the previous evening. He had come to get permission for Mohamed al-Fayed to buy Harrods.

“I could see she was so annoyed because she had that opportunity to talk to the president about us. I felt sorry for the guy from the Department of Trade and Industry.”

Mr Barker, who lives in Rotherfield Greys, and his wife Mary were later invited to No 10 Downing Street and dined with a delegation from Finland.

He said: “She came in on the arm of the prime minister of Finland and his wife was on the arm of [Lady Thatcher’s husband] Denis — it was a nice procession. We were one of many guests. I met her about three times because she had groups of businessmen who were advised. She always wanted to know when she could help.”

On another occasion, Mrs Thatcher had been meeting Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, and afterwards told Mr Barker and his wife why Britain needed four nuclear submarines. Mr Barker, whose son now runs Videcom, said he could tell the meeting had tired her out, adding: “I thought ‘why don’t you have a rest?’ She was so determined to get things done.”

He was “surprised” by the negative reaction to Lady Thatcher since her death, saying many of her critics weren’t born when she was in power.

“Everyone thought she was a fabulous prime minister,” said Mr Baker.

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