Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

July 23, 2008

Nicholas's new friend

The lifelong Liberal is an occasional dinner companion of the long-serving Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher!

This from The Daily Mail

She is just three months shy of her 83rd birthday and plans are afoot to give her the ultimate accolade of a state funeral.

But while the long-term proposals surrounding Margaret Thatcher may seem a touch morbid, I can reveal that the former Prime Minister herself is in good spirits.

So much so that she has taken on a new lease of life by embracing the company of an unusual and eclectic bunch of dining companions.

The colourful group ranges from veteran actors including Sir Donald Sinden and Robert Hardy to figures as notable as the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

Other admirers include broadcaster Nicholas Parsons and yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, both of whom have joined the dinners organised in Lady Thatcher's honour by the distinguished portraitist Michael Noakes.

The latest was held at the Garrick Club earlier this summer.

"I originally organised some get-togethers at my home in St John's Wood in London with people I knew Margaret would enjoy meeting," says Noakes, who became a friend of Lady Thatcher after first painting her while she was still in office in 1990.

"She had met nearly all of them before and enjoyed their company. Her late husband Denis knew and liked them all and that is a link."

Six years ago, Lady Thatcher was advised by her doctors to make no more public speeches after suffering a series of small strokes. But Noakes, whose portrait of Lady Thatcher as Prime Minister sold at a Tory fundraiser for £400,000, describes her as "very chatty".

He has now embarked on painting her for a third time in a commission for the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It is due to be finished next April in time for when the hospital's new Margaret Thatcher Infirmary is completed.

Says Noakes: "During our sitting she does talk about her time in government, but she likes to meet ordinary folk and takes pleasure in the company of actors and others outside politics.

"I don't think people realise how kind and considerate she is. When I took along Nicholas Parsons, Margaret got terribly excited after she discovered that his father was the family GP in Grantham and had treated all her family. She was so pleased."


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