Protector of the Iron Lady: Security officer for Margaret Thatcher recalls service
by Jon Gillooly
jgillooly@mdjonline.com
April 21, 2013 12:20 AM | 4490 views | 3 3 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Paul Morrison of Marietta served in the Diplomatic Protection Group for the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Paul Morrison of Marietta served in the Diplomatic Protection Group for the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Staff/Laura Moon
slideshow
Morrison is seen in a photograph in 1990 when he joined the London Metropolitan Police, where he served until 1994 before joining the Diplomatic Protection Group in 1994.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Morrison is seen in a photograph in 1990 when he joined the London Metropolitan Police, where he served until 1994 before joining the Diplomatic Protection Group in 1994.
Staff/Laura Moon
slideshow
An autographed copy of
Thatcher's autobiography that she
gave to Morrison.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
An autographed copy of Thatcher's autobiography that she gave to Morrison.
Staff/Laura Moon
slideshow
As part of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s security detail in the 1990s, Paul Morrison of Marietta was stationed in the basement of her London home near the washing machine.

Born in the London suburb of Kingston upon Thames, Morrison joined the London police force in 1990 before entering the Diplomatic Protection Group, the agency that protects Britain’s top politicians. The agency stationed him at Thatcher’s home during 1995 and 1996.

By that time, Thatcher was no longer in office, but still a major player on the world stage.

“It was a three-story townhome with a basement, and we had half of the basement as our operation center where we had surveillance cameras and all of the equipment that we needed,” Morrison said. “The other half of the basement was her laundry facility.”

Thatcher’s home was protected by three officers 24 hours a day. The officers would be rotated in eight-hour shifts. One was responsible for monitoring the security system, one was stationed outside and one was a spare just in case.

“Because you had to be extremely vigilant,” Morrison said.



Unions and the IRA



Thatcher, who died April 8 and was buried Wednesday, was hated by many groups within British society, but most vociferously by unions and the Irish Republican Army.

“You had the unions because she stood up to them and she beat them,” Morrison said. “And the other group was the IRA, the terrorist organization. She stood up to the IRA. Whenever they raided an IRA safe house, whenever they found any IRA paraphernalia, she was always No. 1 on their hit list. She was the one they were gunning for. That’s why we were there.”

Morrison said he was trained never to take the same route home, never to travel in uniform, and always to kick the back of the car before getting in it in case of a car bomb.

“When she went from the house to the car, which was only 10 paces, all three of us would be outside,” he said. Another security detail would travel with her.

“The thinking behind having the two branches was that the principal could be delivered back to the residence at any time of the day or night, and the residence was known to be 100 percent secure because we were there 24 hours a day monitoring,” he said. “That way they didn’t have to do a house sweep every time they entered, so the plain clothes could just deliver the principal, we would accept the principal, and then she became our responsibility.”

Morrison is bound by the Official Secrets Act, which prevents him from disclosing certain aspects about his service. Asked if there were any close calls, he paused before saying he couldn’t comment.



Coffee with the Iron Lady



On weekends, when Thatcher’s housekeeper was off, it was not uncommon for Thatcher to bring down a tray of coffee to the officers.

“It was a regular occurrence on a Sunday morning you would hear the feet coming down the stairs,” Morrison said. “You’d straighten up, stand to attention, and it was her coming down the stairs with a tray of coffee. She would just sit and chat with us about anything and everything, and occasionally she would pick up the iron and do a stack of ironing. I asked her one day, ‘Why do you do it? Why don’t you let the staff do it?’ And she said, ‘I find it very relaxing, very grounding to just come in here and do something ordinary.’ She was a very down-to-earth woman, she really was.”

During the Christmas season one morning, while he was monitoring the security system, Thatcher asked him to come in the kitchen, showing him a music box she had received. One of the carols the music box played was “O Tannenbaum.”

“That is the tune that the Labour Party, her opposition, set their party song to,” Morrison said. “So they open every conference with it, and it’s called, ‘Keep the Red Flag Flying.’ So every 15 minutes in her kitchen, she had to listen to the Labour Party’s song, and she thought that was just hilarious. She was laughing.”

On another occasion, Thatcher brought a box of books down, asking if any officers wanted them since she couldn’t bear to throw books away. On the top of the stack she had placed a pictorial history of sailing, saying that was for him.

“During one of our conversations, I had mentioned to her that I was very interested in sailing, I had been sailing since I was a young boy, and she said, ‘You keep that one, you’ll like that one,’” he recalled. “She had a very, very good memory because this conversation had been months earlier. She’d remembered it, and she signified that I should take that book because of my interest.”



House of Reagan



Morrison said it was fascinating to walk through Thatcher’s house and see all the memorabilia from around the world. He estimated 80 percent of it was Ronald Reagan-related.

“They had an amazing relationship,” he said. “They were firm friends and of one belief, and I think if the either one of them had not been in power at the same time, they would not have achieved what they did. It was the partnership that gave them the power to really change the world.”

While Morrison guarded her, diplomats would visit her at all times of the day and night, he said.

“Who knows what they were doing or what they were talking about,” he said. “From different parties, different countries, she was very much involved behind the scenes.”

Morrison said he was a fan before serving on Thatcher’s security detail and has been a fan since.

“She changed the country,” he said. “We were in the grip of socialism when she took over, and the unions had immense powers. A lot of the major utility companies were under government control. There was no private enterprise. There was no capitalism. And Margaret Thatcher changed all that.”

Morrison said he loved when she dispatched a naval task force to retake the Falkland Islands after they were invaded by Argentine forces in 1982.

“That was typical of her nature. They’re ours. You took them. I’m going to go kick your a--,” Morrison said.

“That did an awful lot for her popularity in the country that she stood up for us, and she wouldn’t take anything from anybody, and she did the same with the unions. The unions after a year of being on strike, they all went back to work with no deal. They called off the strike. It was a complete victory for the government and for Thatcher,” Morrison said. “And the unions pretty much crumbled. She let them know who was boss.”



No thanks, Meryl Streep



Morrison said he opted against seeing the recent movie “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep.

“They focused on her post-stroke and that’s not the Margaret Thatcher I knew, so I didn’t want to see that,” he said.

It was another woman who led him to leave the Diplomatic Protection Group and move to the United States in 1997, and while that relationship didn’t last, Morrison said he decided to stay in the U.S. and become a citizen.

He runs an airsoft recreational facility off Cobb Parkway near Barrett Parkway called SAS Black Ops. Airsoft is an activity much more realistic than paintball, where participants eliminate opponents by shooting them with plastic pellets from replica firearms in a staged battleground.

Morrison and his wife, Linda Drinkwine, have two children, one who attends the eighth grade at Pine Mountain Middle School and one who is a sophomore at Kennesaw State University.

With Thatcher’s death, Morrison said he had heard that her detractors took joy in playing the song “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” from the “Wizard of Oz.”

“That’s how she was viewed by the people that she beat,” he said. “The unions were all powerful before her. We’d gone through the Winter of Discontent. We’d gone through countless strikes. All of the utilities had moved over to government control. The country was a socialist country and she turned it around.”

Morrison said he will always consider it a special time in his life when he got to protect the Iron Lady.

“For me personally, it was to form a relationship with someone who changed the world,” he said. “It’s an indefinable feeling that I’ve sat and had coffee with this lady and just talked about ordinary things and was a confidant for her and she said can I run this past you, what do you think? That was special,” he said.
Comments
(3)
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Paul Morrison
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April 22, 2013
Thank you to everyone who has contacted me regarding this article. I was proud to be of service to Baroness Thatcher and I am happy to share my memories.

I have received many requests to hold a "bodyguard" class at SAS Black Ops- Hmm, still thinking about that one, but we do offer many other classes drawn from my experience- feel free to check out the website www.SASBlackOps.com.

Laura Armstrong
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April 21, 2013
Thanks much for your service! Really enjoyed your memories and glad you are a neighbor!
Barbara L.
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April 21, 2013
Brilliant. What a very a nice article and warm insight into a British icon.
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