Worshippers pay homage to the lost saviour

Baroness Thatcher's publicity tour has generated political heat and lucrative book sales, reports Steve Boggan
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The Independent Online
"I'm one of those Americans who worships at your shrine," said Jay Saccone, clutching his copy of the latest set of memoirs from the pen of his heroine, Baroness Thatcher.

The Iron Lady, immaculate in a navy blue two-piece by the late Jean Muir, bouffant sculpted to perfection, was wrongfooted for the slightest fraction of a second. Then she beamed. It was just like the good old days.

Four hours earlier she had returned from the shadows to haunt John Major, again to vilify his softening of her "No! No! No!" pledge on creeping European federalism. Her comments, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, marked the beginning of a frantic week of marketing for Margaret Thatcher: The Path to Power . By the end of the day, Classic FM and Radio 2 listeners, David Frost viewers on BBC1 and millions of newspaper readers had been given the benefit of Lady Thatcher's views on Major, Europe and everything.

But while flustered Conservatives set about rallying round the Prime Minister, here was Lady Thatcher, relaxed and composed, signing the first of 1,300 volumes of her book at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly.

A thousand people had queued for up to five hours to have the former prime minister sign their pounds 25 copy, and the fresh controversy appeared to have done sales no harm at all.

"God bless her," said Roger Katz, the store manager. "All the fuss is absolutely wonderful. It was tailor-made for us. Sales should be excellent."

Mr Saccone, Lady Thatcher's American worshipper and one of a hugely disproportionate number of foreign tourists lionising her, was not interested in the controversy. All he knew was that he had stood two feet away from his idol. "She was right long before her time," he said. "She called all the shots right. She is more revered in our country than anybody else in the world."

That was a view being fostered by Lady Thatcher's office all over the weekend and one repeated in numerous newspaper, radio and television interviews yesterday. And the message that she was right - and that John Major is wrong - will be repeated today and taken into the provinces at numerous book signings tomorrow.

Her aides, however, were busily denying that the timing of her outbursts was designed to boost sales.

"She is being interviewed because she is launching a book and the book is about politics past, present and future, so it's inevitable that what she says will be leapt upon," said one.

"But she isn't doing this just to sell books. She's a strong woman and she will say what she believes. She's not going to be gagged."

She is not going to be gagged to the extent that, on top of the myriad domestic interviews she has given, she spent all day Saturday being interviewed by Australian TV, a German magazine, two German newspapers and the South African Sunday Times.

In the Frost interview, which was screened last night, she openly criticised Mr Major, saying that she would never have signed the Maastricht treaty and claiming her "No! No! No!" stance had become his "Yes, yes" policy.

The plugging of her book continued at a launch party in a fashionable Kensington restaurant last night, ending a day that began with a trip to Broadcasting House at 7.25am. The Thatcher roadshow, the first public appearances by the former prime minister - aside from Conservative Party conferences - since the winter of 1993, will continue all week, but Lady Thatcher still appears to be in possession of her renowned stamina.

"She's in unbelievable form," said the aide. "She is still as enthusiastic as ever and is incredibly fit."

Yesterday, while controversy raged around her, she seemed more relaxed than during appearances in Dallas last year and at signings of her first book in 1993. The queue of people who wanted their copies signing stretched up four flights of stairs and 100 yards out into the street.

Hundreds said they wanted to compliment her on her period as prime minister; Americans, in particular, told her how wonderful she was; one Dutch East Indies man, Reinaldo Bibolini, 60, put off departing for home for five days so he could attend the signing. "I would like to see her make a comeback like Churchill or De Gaulle," he said, adding: "That would mean salvation for this country."

As her excited fans entered the bookshop, they were given instructions on what they were forbidden to do: no dedications or messages, no personal photographs and no autographs.

But the Iron Lady was in such a good mood that she relaxed the rules and, after being asked nicely, even dedicated the Independent's copy "To John" ...