Norma still haunted by that blue suit

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The Independent Online
Like the Princess of Wales, Norma Major was once the silent woman, a shy, smiling presence never known to utter more than a few conventional sentiments. After Dianarama, we've heard more than enough of the pushy princess. Norma Major: Behind Closed Doors, her first full-length TV interview, which is broadcast this afternoon on BBC1, forms an interesting companion piece to Diana's on-air baring, though not because you'll hear any revelations akin to "I adored him ... but I was terribly let down". In place of Squidgygate, we get the affair of the White Plastic Boots. Instead of bulimia and suicide attempts, there's the Blue Suit.

A clip of Norma in the hideous outfit she wore the day she joined her husband on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street after his elevation as premier six years ago presents a telling contrast with today. In a virulent shade more associated with haulage wagons and toolboxes, it hung in ungainly folds, a featureless, droopy jacket and too-full skirt. The hair was shaggy and of indeterminate colour, the make-up and jewellery minimalist, the demeanour mumsy and possibly bow-legged.

Now, in the conservatory at Finings, the Majors' country home, she sits poised amid the rattan and pot plants in a pale pink, exquisitely tailored ensemble set off with emphatic gold jewellery and expert make-up. Unlike Diana's, her deep-set eyes are lightly shadowed, not prickled with spiky mascara; the lips are just touched with raspberry gloss, the hair is frosted and upswept. Only the no-colour tights and black court shoes remain unchanged from 1990.

There are signs that even now - just when the Tories are apparently promoting her as an electoral asset - she is not at ease in front of the cameras. The fingers are interlocked, the thumbs nervously caress one another. She screws her mouth up into fleeting moues of apprehension; one foot nods up and down. And this despite David Frost's best unctuous manner - even when the paparazzi snapped her on holiday from a quarter of a mile away she looked, he oozes, "terrific".

It is Frost himself who provides the bizarre moments in the interview, while Norma appears to be suppressing a faint "get away with you" expression. She recalls in the interview, broadcast to coincide with publication of her history of Chequers, that she was at the Prime Minister's country residence on the phone to his secretary in Downing Street when the IRA mortar attack occurred. Norma "heard this enormous explosion" down the phone and the secretary said hastily: "I think that was a bomb; I'll call you back."

Laughing delightedly, Frost calls this "a female version of the stiff upper lip". That would be a stiff upper lip, then, but the outlines of a delightful personality can be discerned beneath the greasy protective film of Frost's smarminess. Summing up, he asks if there is anything she'd have done differently if she had her time again. "Yes: I wouldn't have worn the blue suit."