Mrs. Thatcher, 1991
Margaret Thatcher had always fascinated me. There was a woman who was strong and powerful, and as she became more successful and more powerful, she seemed to me to become even sexy.
Shortly after she abdicated, she came to Anaheim, California, to give a lecture before hundreds of people. It was the year 1991, and Tina [Brown, then editor of Vanity Fair] arranged for her to sit for me. I drove there very early in the morning, arriving at the hotel where Thatcher and her entourage was staying, around 8:30 a.m. The hotel gave me a large suite which would serve as my studio, but my idea was to photograph her beside the pool.
For a long time I had a kind of crush on her; all that power had a strong effect on me, and I wanted to show my admiration by presenting her with the most gorgeous roses I could buy. I raced to the hotel’s flower shop. It was closed - too early. I returned three times; at last the door was open, and inside were lots of tired roses. I bought every one in the shop, raced upstairs, and waited for my prey. Every time I heard somebody coming down the corridor toward my suite, I raced to the door, carrying armfuls of tired roses, ready to open the door and confront my goddess.
At last she arrived, wearing a nice suit, with her legs nylon-clad, her hair coiffed in a bouffant style, and not one hair out of place. I was sweating with excitement and nervousness; she was cool and collected. I presented my roses, which she graciously accepted and handed to her aide-de-camp, a very nice young man. I suggested we should go to the pool; she declined, in a rather stern voice. There was a gale blowing, and she was not going to get that hair out of place. I asked her would she please sit on this [end p28] chair and cross her legs. Her legs were not bad at all. She sat down but did not cross her legs. I put my little old Fuji camera on my tripod, she cocked her head and smiled kind of sourly at my lens. I asked her to straighten her head and please be serious. She replied, “Oh, but one looks so disagreeable when one does not smile.” At last she stopped smiling, and I clicked the shutter. Everything was over. She left royally.
Five minutes later her aide-de-camp returned and I asked him to sign the release which gives the magazine the right to publish a person’s picture. He said, “Mr Newton, we never sign, you [end p29] may print any of the photos you have taken of the Prime Minister.” Mrs. Thatcher was so much in command of the event, she would never make one wrong move or give anything away.
As it turned out, she hated the photo and reminded me of that at every meeting that we later had . I loved the picture - she looked like a shark, her head was straight on her shoulders, and she was unsmiling. The photograph is now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, a large print, two metres high.