Celebrities share the stories behind their favourite photos. This week it’s veteran politician Norman Tebbit, 88
Norman Tebbit (pictured) has shared the stories behind a selection of his favourite photos
1936: This is me aged five, and my older brother Arthur, to whom I’m still close, in the garden of our home in Enfield, in north London – I’ve also got a younger brother, Peter, who’s still alive too. I don’t remember much about my childhood until war was declared in 1939, when I was eight. I dashed to the window to see what had changed, but nothing much did for a while, until we started getting bombed
1950: After training during national service I flew as a fighter pilot with the RAF, in planes like the Vampire and Meteor. They were among the happiest days of my life, even if in 1954 I had to break open the cockpit of a crashed and burning Meteor 8 to escape. Theresa May famously said she ran through a cornfield when she was younger – I set one on fire!
1956: I met my wife Margaret, a nurse, at a party in London organised by a pal. I arrived late, was introduced to her and we quickly realised we were the only two sober people in the room, so we got talking. Six months later, by which time I’d joined BOAC as a pilot, we married at Westminster Congregationalist Chapel. At our silver jubilee wedding party, a friend asked me the secret of our happy marriage and I joked, ‘Being on separate continents!’ Coming home after being away as a pilot for up to three weeks at a time brought us a succession of honeymoons!
1970: I was first elected to Parliament as the Conservative MP for Epping, and this rather nice photo – of me, Margaret, our three children, Alison, John and William, and our dachshund Biddy – appeared on my election address. The constituency’s Labour MP, Stan Newens, had a 7,500 majority at the previous election so no-one expected me to win, but to everyone’s surprise I did
1984: I’ll never forget the IRA’s bombing of Brighton’s Grand Hotel which left my wife Margaret disabled. The two of us were buried in the wreckage, I was bleeding badly and she was losing the ability to move her limbs as the blood supply to her spine was cut off. The firemen at first assumed a chip fan had caught fire but when they got there they realised what had happened. ‘You know the rules – if it’s a bomb, we can’t go in until the Bomb Squad have cleared,’ Fred Bishop, the lead fireman on the first engine, told his crew, adding wryly, ‘But I think it’s a gas explosion, don’t you?’ If it hadn’t been for that, we would almost certainly have died
1985: I’m sure the creators of Spitting Image were not trying to do me a favour when they came up with their leather-clad skinhead puppet of me, but it did me no end of good, and made me more approachable. People often joked, ‘Where’s your knuckle duster Norman?’ I still chuckle when I think about some of the sketches
1987: To my delight as Conservative Party chairman, this was the year we won our third election on the trot – and this is Margaret Thatcher and me waving to well-wishers in Smith Square after the news of our victory. Of course, we were helped by the fact we were up against Neil Kinnock as Opposition leader! I don’t think Mrs Thatcher could have won a fourth election if she’d not been toppled. I’m sure she was also showing the first signs of the dementia which was later diagnosed, because she was making some odd decisions. That said, she was undoubtedly the greatest prime minister since Churchill
2017: Two years ago I joined the Queen and a number of other distinguished guests at Hampton Court Palace to mark the 100th anniversary of the Companion of Honour award, founded by George V in 1917 to reward achievement in the arts, science, medicine or government. There are only 61 incumbents, and it’s a tremendous honour. I’m now the third most senior Companion, hence the fact that I was parked on Her Majesty’s right to look after her – although if anyone thinks she needs looking after in that setting they don’t know her!
The Game Cook by Norman Tebbit is published by Grub Street Publishing. As told to York Membery