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JOANNA CIECHANOWSKA




Lady Thatcher as I knew her
2013.05.22 /
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TOMASZ STARZEWSKI, famous for his haute couture, who “dresses royalty, and the establishment, not celebrities”. Among his clients was also Margaret Thatcher. He was ‘told’ (rather than gently advised) by Margaret Thatcher, The Rt Hon The Baroness of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS, ten years ago that he would be invited to her funeral. He tells MIREK MALEVSKI about his unique experience.

Tomasz’s association with Lady Thatcher started at the end of her political career, in 1991. Her historic, highly controversial eleven years as Britain’s first and only woman Prime Minister, saw her often tough epoch-changing, radical, populist policies, drag the country, UK Plc, shouting and screaming into the 21st century. With a begrudging public at home but admiring audience abroad, ‘steely’ Maggie, undefeated in three elections, was embarking on a new career – the demanding international political lecture circuit. Lady Thatcher was clearly a woman who was noticed, and who made difference! Says Tomasz: “ She was then the (first) woman ex-Prime Minister, or ‘President’ who went on the international political arena as a speaker.”

However, her renowned ’10 Downing Street dressing’ now needed re-inventing, but nonetheless had to remain strong, and identifiable. Every colour was to be permitted, except red. The introduction came through Lady Thatcher’s right hand lady, Mrs Cynthia Crawford MBE, “Crawfie”, her indispensable confidante, and companion. Tomasz’s designs, and dress sense were readily recognizable, and rested easily, and tastefully both on the eye, and on his (always female) clients who included; Princess (Diana) of Wales, The Duchess (Camilla) of Cornwall, Countess of Wessex, Duchess (Fergie) of York, together with the Duchesses of Bedford and Devonshire. In short, his impeccable sense of design, discretion, easy professional manner, and unwavering loyalty, were, and are qualities much valued in his clients. Qualities which had not escaped the attention of Lady Thatcher.

Contact was made between Crawfie, and Lorrie Edwards, Tomasz’s manageress, who has known Tomasz since he was thirteen. Lady Thatcher had an important trip to Switzerland to make, and a top was needed. A jacket – navy, with white polka dots, and orange trim – proved just the ticket. Some months later mid-1991, Tomasz’s Pont Street office received a further call, again from Crawfie, on behalf of Lady Thatcher. Would Tomasz Starzewski be interested in: “Creating a wardrobe for Lady Thatcher, for her forthcoming two-week American lecture tour?” The answer was immediate: “Of course he would”.

The US lecture tour, a big success, was demanding, requiring stamina reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s own draining but highly lucrative talk-tours on the American lecture circuit of 1842. Lady Thatcher is known to have made a huge success of the lecture tour, and The Thatcher Foundation, together with her favourite cause, an issue close to her heart, the Chelsea Pensioners were in the forefront of deserving beneficiaries.

The similar act of kindness, and consideration on her part befell Tomasz himself. Knowing that Tomasz was backed as the only fashion “element” within the Aspre Group, traditionally jewelers, Lady Thatcher also knew that the well known luxury goods house had fallen on seriously hard times as a result of its owner Prince Jefri Bolkiah brother of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, having been caught foul of obscure financial shenanigans involving multi-billion pound debts. The Tomasz Starzewski fashion house itself, was temporarily imperiled. Lady Thatcher made an extraordinary gesture which Tomasz will never forget. She offered in advance Tomasz’s standard deposit on her yet to be ordered and made attire so that he could keep his head above tricky financial waters. The Tomasz Starzewski haute couture business survived, no small thanks to Lady Thatcher.

Tomasz was to see another side of the Thatcher phenomenon in Poland. He was stunned by the awe in which she was held there – the admiration of the Poles for her impressed him no end. The Pole’s release from the shackles of communism which she supported, and the fight for freedom projected by her fiery brand of realpolitik, they will never forget. (Significantly, the St Paul’s Funeral Service programme-hymn sheet, carried on the front cover Baroness Thatcher’s crest, beneath it is written: Cherish freedom).

Rocco Forte, the hotelier, was (re-)opening the revived Bristol hotel, in Warsaw. Lady Thatcher was invited as guest of honour for the opening ceremony, 17 April 1993. Tomasz was invited as were Joanna Kanska, the actress, Adam Zamoyski, the historian, and Dan Toploski (Oxbridge rowing commentator, son of painter Feliks Toploski). In Poland Lady Thatcher was feted as nowhere else, says Tomasz. The Poles loved her. The Iron Lady, the one who (with political soul-mate US President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul’s guiding spiritual strength), had helped knock down the Berlin Wall, supported Solidarity, saw off communism, and made the head of the former Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev one of her “can do business with” friends, was in town. Tomasz, who had been to Poland only once before, saw on this, his second visit to his parents’ homeland, at first hand, the Thatcher ‘wow’ factor weaving its magic in the former Soviet oppressed, East European, communist totalitarian bloc country.

Shortly before the funeral of President Ronald Reagan, (11 June 2004), his wife former First Lady Nancy, turned to Lady Thatcher asking if the (electorally) undefeated Prime Minister would accompany the coffin. Lady Thatcher agreed unhesitatingly. Tomasz was again asked to prepare Lady Thatcher’s outfits, and dress for this visit, and momentous occasion. Says Tomasz of Reagan’s state funeral and the event itself: I had to make the appropriate clothes for that trip. I spend time in Washington. I am very interested personally in the international political landscape, and I know quite a lot of the people so I know the ‘players’. What one was again constantly reminded (of) was that Lady Thatcher was going to say farewell to a great, great, friend of hers. You know, it was an extraordinary moment of history – Reagan, Gorbachev and Thatcher…but the last thing she would ever wish to do is overshadow the person who was the most important there, and that was Nancy Reagan. And that was the amazing quality of Lady Thatcher.

Back in Britain the Starzewski design and fashion house, continued for the next nine years to provide Lady Thatcher’s with clothes and dress for various functions, including a sumptuous white gown for her ennoblement in the House of Lords. Other occasions included Lady Thatcher’s birthday, and Christmas parties, to which Tomasz was regularly invited. In fact Lady Thatcher expressed keen interest in Tomasz’s background, his Polish lineage, and often made him feel to be special, a courtesy he says she extended to all in her presence.Thatcher actually did care for (the) people.

But with time came change, ill-age, frailty and mortality; inevitability which never daunted Lady Thatcher. She had organized her funeral service with methodical un-sentimentality, and military precision, at a time when she was still in good health. Then she steadily succumbed to a series of mini strokes. These were harsh but not incapacitating. The last stroke, the final blow, was less merciful. Her short term memory was badly affected, as was the Baroness’s health generally. But her companions, and the team around her cared for Lady Thatcher protectively and lovingly like no others. Tomasz himself was included into a special inner circle, ‘sanctum’ to ensure as he says: “That she still had the ‘routine’ around her”. He saw her for the last time six months before her death.

Tomasz relates how he first heard on Monday 11 April, of Lady Thatcher’s death, by telephone, four minutes after it had happened. He was telephoned later in the week to be advised of the funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. Of course he would attend. The service details duly arrived in the post.

Late on the morning of Wednesday 17 April, he – in charcoal grey suit – accompanied by his manageress, Lorrie Edwards are picked up, and chauffeur driven to St Pauls. Arriving at Ludgate, the traffic had come to a stop. There was nothing for it but to walk. Tomasz describes in amused terms how simultaneously other car doors opened, and many dignitaries, and well know faces, followed suit. He saw one-time newspaper proprietor Conrad Black and wife Barbara (Amiel), appear. There was Joan Collins, and husband Percy. What he found very touching was how the crowds, did not harass the famous, but almost assisted them, dignified, in their walk to St Paul’s Cathedral, and Baroness Thatcher’s funeral service.

Inside the church vergers calmly ushered the two thousand guests to their seats. In the distance Tomasz picked out the now white moustached Lech Walesa, leader of the Gdansk Solidarity strikers of the early 1980s. In row fifteen, he found himself next to advertising guru Maurice Saatchi. The Saatchi agency had placed whole page ads in all the nationals, thanking Margaret Thatcher with just one headline: The Greatest Client we ever had.”

The service began, with the coffin draped in the British Union Jack flag bought to the front of the cathedral, under Wren’s great dome. First to enter of course were the Thatcher family. They were followed by The Queen, and Prince Philip. Says Tomasz; “She (Lady Thatcher) was an enormous admirer of the Queen”. The congregation settles, it is a multi-faith attended service but Methodist-Anglican in spirit and presentation, and being a service, not a mass is more austere”, stresses Tomasz. The hymns, all chosen by Lady Thatcher – who “insisted against” a State Funeral, being a ‘commoner’ – were beautifully sung, says Tomasz, by the St Paul’s Choir.

For him one of the highlights of the service was undoubtedly, Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter, nineteen year Amanda Thatcher delivering a remarkably confident lesson from Ephesians. “It’s sort of in the (Thatcher) blood” – the young Amanda later told reporters, still unfazed.

Tomasz was particularly impressed, his designer’s eye as always caught by the ‘pageantry’; the Armed forces, Choristers, The Chelsea Pensioners – whom Lady Thatcher forever admired, (her ashes are at rest at the Chelsea Hospital). Says Tomasz: “… The thing about these kind of funerals, there is a protocol about them and there is an order, and this is where the British are so spectacular, because it is military precision…”.

In all says Tomasz it was an enormously moving, sad, and spectacular farewell. Only when the monumental doors of St Paul’s are opened, and the gush of emotion from the cheering public outside, whooshes into the hitherto solemn, hushed cathedral, does a tear well up, and is shed… farewell Maggie.

Tomasz then joins the reception, held at the Guildhall. He stays for just an hour. And then back into the outside world…
life goes on.

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