Tonight I am going to a reception at Number Ten. It will be the first time I will have been there to a social event since I was a mere political stripling at the age of 20, in January 1983. And that was quite a memorable evening.
Margaret Thatcher had invited all the different chairmen of university Conservative associations. I had only formed mine at UEA a few months earlier and wasn't really 'in' with the FCS crowd, so I turned up at the St Stephen's Tavern in Parliament Square with some trepidation. I had driven down to London in my yellow Ford Cortina Mark III and my three piece pin stripe blue suit (pic!), bought specially for the occasion.
I remember arriving terribly early and wondering how to pass an hour talking to people I didn't know. Believe it or not, I could be painfully shy in those days, and believe it or not, I still can be! Anyway, the hour came and we wandered down to Number 10 - no security gates in those days. My first recollection is of climbing the famous staircase with the pictures of former PMs. And there at the top was the Prime Minister and Denis. "My God, she's tiny," I remember thinking. She had clearly developed a well practised routine with visitors. When she shook my hand she almost imperceptibly moved me off to the left into the reception room.
Most of the Cabinet was there, including the party chairman Cecil Parkinson who at one point offered me a pair of running shoes. Apparently he had given an interview in which he spoke of his habit of going for an early morning run and was then inundated with free trainers. Sadly he was a 9 and I am a size 11.
I also remember speaking to my own MP, Alan Haselhurst, and while we were speaking Mrs T came into our part of the room, took off her stilletoed shoe and banged it on the floor to get attention. The division bell had just rung, so she barked out "Would all Conservative MPs kindly go and vote, while the rest of us stay here and enjoy ourselves?!" And with that, they did their duty.
My other recollection of the evening is not so happy. I have a very low propensity to alcohol - indeed, nowadays I don't drink at all - and after two or three glasses of wine I would be three sheets to the wind. Anyway, the Downing Street waiters were extremely proficient and kept plying us with drink. After two glasses of white wine I decided to stop, but you know what it's like at receptions, you feel a bit of a prat without a glass in your hand, so I took another. Just as it reached my lips, I saw Margaret Thatcher approaching. But as I took a sip, and as she walked right past me, I started heaving. It wasn't white wine, it was whisky and water. I honestly thought I was going to be sick at the Prime Minister's feet. Luckily, I managed to keep it down, but it was a close run thing! Imagine it, being sick on the very stiletto she had just used to bang the floor!
Anyway, I am greatly looking forward to seeing how the building has changed in the intervening 27 years.