Thrusting Thatcher gives protocol a hammering

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 1994, 12:00am

LADY THATCHER tried hard not to upstage her former junior minister when she toured Sai Kung with Governor Chris Patten yesterday, but in the end she could not resist it.

Protocol came in for a hammering from the start. As Lady Thatcher and the Governor stepped out of the government Daimler in front of Sai Kung's Tin Hau Temple, they were met by enthusiastic lion dancers from the Kin Man Lion Dance troupe.

Like any self-respecting dignitary, Mr Patten paused briefly to acknowledge the accolade before moving on. But Lady Thatcher decided on the iconoclastic approach, and bowed to the lion several times.

The Governor then approached the outstretched hands of the members of the Sai Kung Rural Committee, but Lady Thatcher was there in front of him glad-handing the local suits without waiting for Mr Patten's introductions. After all, who did not know the Iron Lady? A brief tour of the temple, then the Governor and his guest were out and this time heading straight for the 300 people in the crowd.

It was an unscheduled walkabout and the legion of security guards, far more than usually accompany Mr Patten, hurried to fling a cordon around Lady Thatcher.

Hemmed in by her guards and a scrum of photographers, Lady Thatcher watched in anguish as her former junior minister scrambled up an awkward slope to meet the public, leaving her stranded below.

Would this be the moment when Lady Thatcher finally admitted she was a grandmother who turned 69 last week and could no longer keep up with the youngsters? A spasm of anger and determination passed across her face and then she was bursting through the bodyguards and pressmen and up the slope, reaching for the outstretched hands and once again getting in front of the Governor.

I last saw Lady Thatcher on a walkabout in her parliamentary constituency of Finchley in north London. It was a little more than a year since she had been ousted from office and she was depressed and lifeless with barely a word for the people who voted for her for 30 years.

But yesterday, like a rose that needs the sun and air, Lady Thatcher suddenly blossomed in front of the hundreds of eager faces.

As she came to the end of the crowd and aides ushered her towards the next formal event, she still refused to be tied down. She caught sight of the dancing lion and once again walked up to it, bowing seven times.

'Oh my God,' muttered one senior member of Mr Patten's staff.

After that she quietened down somewhat, but had a nasty turn on Sai Kung sea front when fishmonger Ho Wai-hung showed her what a 100 kilogram so mei fish looked like. She reeled back in surprise and looked set to fall if a minder had not grabbed her arm.

Was this a sign of the great health scare? Former Sai Kung district board chairman William Wan Hon-cheung who accompanied the two VIPs said: 'We read a lot about her health in the press and we wondered whether she was fit to come. But she was as fit as I've ever seen her, hopping and jumping. She was very energetic.' Mr Patten said: 'Lady Thatcher was, is and remains formidable.'