Margaret Thatcher suprised us in a way that stayed with me all my life

Aged eight, Dominic Prince's dream came true thanks to his local MP

As an eight-year-old schoolboy, I had a somewhat quirky desire to visit Big Ben and I wanted to look out through the clock face over London. There was only one problem: it wasn't open to the public.

I was told by my mother to write to our local MP, one Mrs Thatcher, then on the back benches of the Opposition. My mother's political affiliations were clear. She was not a supporter, and her sympathies were with the Labour Party, a position she made no secret of.

With not a great deal of hope, I wrote to Mrs Thatcher, who swiftly replied saying that she would be delighted to arrange a visit for myself, my brother and a phalanx of friends, all under the age of nine. After further correspondence, a date and a time was arrived at and we were told to present ourselves to an official at Westminster one morning during the Easter holidays.

It was joyful affair, with us wide-eyed children climbing the 334 steps to the top of the building and being deafened by Big Ben in action. The panoramic view had us glued, we had photographs taken in the clock face. Aged eight, none of us really had much of an idea what an MP was. All we knew was that Mrs Thatcher had fixed it for all of us and that she was frightfully important because she had very posh writing paper.

That might have been that, but when we arrived home my mother sat us all down and told us to write to Mrs Thatcher and thank her for arranging our trip.

We were of no use to her electorally. Did she perhaps think that she could sway our parents to vote for her the following year? I doubt that very much, and anyway she could have had little doubt about my mother's political leanings.

We all regarded the chapter as having come to an end. But a few days later, I received a hand-written note from her on House of Commons notepaper thanking me for thanking her. It read;

"Dear Dominic, Thank you for your letter. It was very nice of you to write to me. I am so glad that you enjoyed seeing Big Ben. It is much bigger than it looks, isn't it? My children have always enjoyed walking round it – except for the climb up the stairs. Yours sincerely Margaret Thatcher (Mrs)."

She wrote similar letters to all my friends. I say similar because they were all different, telling a different story to each of us. I often wondered about her motivation and, as a low-minded journalist, I am still wondering.

In a similarly sceptical vein, I had some nagging doubt about her children having visited Big Ben, but as I had no way of establishing the truth it went to the back of my mind. Nevertheless I treasured the letter, and in my teens I had it framed, and now it peers down at me in my office.

Several years ago, I wrote to our local Labour MP, Martin Linton, telling him how much I had enjoyed my trip and enquiring whether he could arrange the same for my children. I didn't even receive a reply. And about a year ago, for some bizarre reason, I found myself at a lunch with Mark Thatcher. I asked if it were true that he and his sister, Carol, used to visit Big Ben. In a sort of sullen, graceless way, he confirmed that it was, but went on to say: "But of course you couldn't visit nowadays; it's been banned by the bloody health and safety."

He was nearly right. Visits are still undertaken, but you have to be over 11 to attend.

I don't know what the story tells us, except that maybe people don't always fit into the boxes it is convenient to place them in. There is, though, one final act to the story. According to collectors of Thatcher memorabilia, the letter is now worth around £1,000.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...