‘But Margaret I take longer to dress than you…’

Lord St John of Fawsley

Last week, I attended the memorial service for Lord St John of Fawsley (Norman St John-Stevas).  Lord Lamont gave the address and Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor gave the tribute.  Both recounted stories reflecting the wit of the flamboyant politician.   Even on his death bed he retained his sense of humour.  The Cardinal recorded that he was visited by a nun who, forgetting he was not a priest, said on leaving ‘Goodbye Father’, to which she received the response ‘Monsigner please’.

Norman Lamont in a superb speech recalled the story, variously re-told, of Norman St John Stevas rising to leave a Cabinet meeting, explaining he had to go and change in time for another event.  ‘But Norman’, said Margaret Thatcher, ‘I’m going to the same event’ .  ‘I know’, came the response, ‘but I take longer to dress than you do.’

After the service, one former Conservative MP saw me and was very keen to set the record straight.   The exchange did take place, he said – he was present at the meeting – but it did not occur in Cabinet but rather in Shadow Cabinet.  I have not yet had an opportunity to verify it with anyone else who was present, but I thought it worthwile putting it on the record.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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One Response to ‘But Margaret I take longer to dress than you…’

  1. Nathan P. Bridle says:

    When Lord St John recounted this story, and he did so regularly, he always said it was a Cabinet meeting, not a shadow cabinet meeting. However, this might be rather like his humurous faux recollection- when someone accused him of name-dropping he replied- “yes the Queen said that to me just the other day.”, but then this sometimes altered to- ‘his Holiness said that to me just the other day”.

    I was also at the service, and I am glad a member of the Lords has recorded it it here. To my mind it was not only a delightful service, but the extra layer of pagentry was very ‘him’.

    Thank you again Lord Norton.

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