I had the somewhat unnerving experience of getting up close and personal with Mrs Thatcher at the press launch for 'Spitting: Photographs by Andrew Bruce & Anna Fox' at the James Hyman Gallery this morning. Not quite as unnerving, however, as the story the James Hyman related from a friend of his who had worked with Thatcher. Apparently one of the first things she used to do when she got to work was to remove her shoes - which meant that she spent a large amount of the time padding around in stockinged feet. As a result she was always tiptoeing up behind staff and surprising them. I decided to research this little known fact about her predilection for going around shoe-free, and once you've been given the clue, it's everywhere. Gorbachev related that when they first met 'she took off her shoes and made herself comfortable in her armchair' just moments before he started discussions with her about how to reduce the nuclear threat. A Vanity Fair article chronicles how 'it's after midnight that Mrs Thatcher will slip off her shoes and curl up on the couch in her private flat at No. 10 Downing Street with a few of her favorite apparatchiks—not to relax, merely as a preliminary to asking how to kick Helmut Kohl, West Germany's chancellor, into modernizing his nuclear weapons, or how to teach the Third World to forswear aerosol cans.' Jonathan Aitken writes about the point when she was waiting to hear if she had become Prime Minister in 'Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality'. 'On television it was reported that Jim Callaghan had gone to Buckingham Palace to surrender his seals of office. Half an hour later the phone range. It was Ted Heath, wanting to offer his congratulations. Margaret Thatcher decided not to take the call. "Thank him very much", was her instruction. The phone rang again. Everyone stiffened. "You're not going to believe this," said Caroline Stephens. "Wrong number."
With the tension rising Margaret Thatcher kicked off her shoes and flexed her toes. Denis asked whether she had confused Buckingham Palace with a Hindu temple. She glared at him, but put her shoes back on. Just after three o'clock the call came from the Queen's Private Secretary, Sir Philip Moore.
"Right. We're off," she said as she replaced the receiver. "Prime Minister..." began Mark.
"Not yet, dear," reproved his mother.
"No," chipped in Denis. "The car might break down."