Marie, Garden Rooms Secretary at 10 Downing Street
The history of the Garden Rooms, which is a team of elite secretaries, can be traced back to the First World War. We are lucky to have in our possession a short journal written in 1918 by a secretary to David Lloyd George. My own story starts much later, when I joined the Prime Minister’s Office in November 1988. I have been privileged to work in the Garden Rooms ever since, serving 5 Prime Ministers.
The team operates a 24/7 service from Downing Street but we also accompany the Prime Minister when he or she travels, both abroad and within the UK, at Chequers and on constituency visits.
My earliest recollection of a visit by an overseas Head of State was when President Gorbachev visited Mrs Thatcher at Number 10 in April 1989. They had their photograph taken in the front hall surrounded by staff and I remember he remarked on how many women worked at Number 10. I was on duty again over 20 years later when Mr Cameron invited Gorbachev for afternoon tea to mark his 80th birthday – and we showed Gorbachev the original Evening Standard front page that I’d kept, picturing him with Mrs Thatcher – and me in the background of the photo.
I also came face-to-face, unexpectedly, with President Vaclav Havel in 1990 on an official visit to what was then still Czechoslovakia. Mrs Thatcher and he were having talks at Prague Castle and I was tasked with getting an urgent message to Mrs Thatcher, before the joint press conference. Now this was in the days before mobile phones or blackberrys so I raced off, message in hand, down numerous corridors which were lined by the Prague Castle Guard, looking resplendent in their uniforms. I realised I was not going to hand the message over before the press conference when I saw Mrs Thatcher, the President, Bernard Ingham and a rather startled looking Ambassador bearing down on me along the corridor. Quick as a flash I dived to the side, between a suit of armour and a living guard and, nodding courteously to President Havel as he swept by, I managed to stick my hand out and make contact with Bernard Ingham. Message safely delivered!
I remember being on night duty when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The night Duty Clerk was relatively new and the Prime Minister was overseas in the US. I recall having to persuade the Duty Clerk that yes, an invasion of Kuwait was worth waking the Prime Minister up for.
I famously once asked Mrs Thatcher to resign. Spotting an error in a document, I re-submitted it to her Red Box with a covering note saying “Prime Minister, grateful if you could please re-sign this minute”. My writing was very small and the hyphen seemingly went unnoticed but luckily Mrs Thatcher had a good sense of humour – and I learnt to type my notes for the Box and not to hand-write them.
Other memorable events that I recall during my time at Number 10 include:
• the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the freeing of Nelson Mandela in 1990 • John Major’s involvement with the 1991 Gulf War, which was the first time I had experienced UK Forces deployed overseas in hostility. I was also part of the Number 10 delegation while he negotiated the Maastricht Treaty and I remember his work on bringing about peace in Northern Ireland • I remember visiting Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast on numerous occasions in the run-up to the constitutional reforms of Tony Blair’s government, with devolution of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as being in Belfast for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 • I was also involved in many of the overseas visits which Gordon Brown undertook following the global financial crisis of 2008, and in advance of the London G20 in 2009 • More recently, I was on duty at Chequers when the White House telephoned my colleague in Number 10 at around 2:15 to ask for an urgent call between President Obama and David Cameron regarding the successful raid on Bid Laden’s hideout.
In the years I have been at Number 10 the main changes have been in technology and communication, although a...