The Roy Strong Diaries; Thatcher Was in Floaty Chiffon, Every Inch the Boss's Wife. How She Gotthis Far? Mercifully We Were Spared Husband Denis

Article excerpt

FOR MORE than 20 glittering years, Sir Roy Strong was a darling of the Establishment. He became a confidant of Britain's intellectual and artistic elite, aristocracy and, above all, the Royals.

He was admitted to this privileged inner circle after being made director of the National Portrait Gallery in 1967. Later, in 1974, he took charge of another of our great cultural institutions, the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Throughout this frenetic era, during which he married eminent theatre designer, Julia Trevelyan Oman, Strong kept a set of fascinating diaries.

They are often indiscreet, gloriously waspish and remarkably perceptive.

Yesterday, in Part Two of the Mail's exclusive serialisation of his diaries, Strong recorded his thoughts on a series of leading public figures, from members of the Royal Family to Jackie Onassis. Today, he recalls his meetings with senior politicians including Margaret Thatcher

1968

MAY 18

MY TOUR of Northamptonshire's country seats with Desmond Fitz-Gerald - the 29th Knight of Glin and then an assistant keeper at the Victoria & Albert Museum - began at Althorp.

There we were ticked off at length by the portly and extremely tetchy Lord Spencer, father of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Loathed by the county, as we were to learn at our other ports of call, his lordship has never recovered from not being made a Knight of the Garter.

The house was freezing cold and we hung on to our coats. We ended up in the lived-in part of the house where a decanter of sherry and two glasses stood on a silver salver in the middle of an oak table.

Made to feel like servants, we drank the ritual glass which betokened aristocratic hospitality before moving on.

1970

JUNE 16

LADY Diana Cooper - in her day a famous society beauty and widow of diplomat Duff Cooper - is one of the few originals that I have ever met. Somehow, she has a timeless magic which cuts across the generations and makes differences in age irrelevant.

She's still beautiful, with that delicate bone structure and those huge pale aquamarine eyes which always slay me.

It is difficult to put one's finger as to where the magic lies. Rather it stems from a delight in life and people and taking things as they are and never looking back. I'd put her high on my list of the least snobbish people I have ever met.

When I arrived at her house she was making one of her specials, a lethal mix of vodka, grapefruit juice and mint of which I have learned to beware.

Before I could say anything she grabbed me by the arm, saying: `Such a disaster. At 12.30 pm I went to check that everything was in order and found that the cook was coming tomorrow, and,' she added with a grimace, `such a distinguished luncheon party.'

The result of this catastrophe was that the party ended up in the Maida Vale Steakhouse, a typical hostelry of the late Sixties with tartan on the walls, plastic table-tops and imitation-leather banquettes.

The manager was taken aback by this invasion headed by Diana and former prime minister Harold Macmillan, or `Horse' as she calls him, bent double over a stick, deaf and complaining of a cataract. The manager said he was used to having all the pop stars, but not the politicians.

So there we were - a party which included an ex-prime minister, a marquess and marchioness and an ex-American ambassador.

By the evening news of this bizarre gathering had reached the London Evening Standard. What it showed was that Diana was unsinkable.

1970

JULY 3-5

VIEWING Boughton from the road, the average person would wonder what kind of institution this vast pile now was. But, oh no, every bit of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch's house is lived in.

The house front is late 17th century, yet the rear is rambling, cosy Elizabethan. …