GARDEN ROOM GIRL
Born Tessa Jardine Patterson in Calcutta, India, her father, Sir John was the managing director of the Jardine Matheson Far East Trading Company. Her mother, Priscilla, was the daughter of a Calcutta shipping magnate.
Priscilla was the first Champion lady jockey of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club.
Tessa was one of the last generation of children to be sent back to the United Kingdom from far-flung places in the British Empire, to go to public school.
Whilst she was at school, her family relocated to Warminster.
In 1972 she got a summer job working in the kitchens of a summer music school based at Prussia Cove in Cornwall. What started as temporary employment was to become a lifelong passion.
The school was called the International Musical Seminar (IMS) and had been founded by violinists Hilary Tunstall-Behrens and Sandor Vegh, a virtuoso. Both were to become life-long friends of Tessa.
In the meantime, Tessa got a job working as a secretary for Ian Gow, the Member of Parliament for Eastbourne.
Gow led the campaign to make Margaret Thatcher the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.
When she became Prime Minister in 1979, Thatcher made Gow her Parliamentary Private Secretary. In return, he allowed the new Prime Minister the services of Tessa.
Tessa became Thatcher’s ‘Diary Secretary’, planning out meticulously the schedule for her new boss. She was one of a group of four women secretaries who the PM relied on totally. She nicknamed them her ‘Garden Room Girls’.
Tessa insisted on one page for one day in the diary. In those low-tech days, she wrote everything in pencil so that it could be rubbed out. She was always at Thatcher’s side, wherever she went.
She was totally loyal to the Prime Minister and said this was because the PM was exceptionally kind and generous to her staff. Tessa saw it as part of her job to rustle up meals for Mrs Thatcher and to do the washing up.
She even arranged the PM’s hairdressing appointments which were done in Downing Street whilst Mrs Thatcher kept on working.
But Mrs Thatcher ruled Downing Street with a rod of iron. When she went to bed, every worker had to leave. The occasional late worker was chased out of the property by the Prime Minister in her dressing gown.
During the Falklands War, Tessa was having lunch with Mrs Thatcher when John Nott, the Secretary of State for Defence, rushed in to tell the PM about a successful action in Port Stanley – the beginning of the end of the war. Tessa felt she was “At the seat of history.”
In 1982, Tessa married Jonathan Gaisman. They were to have three children, Nicholas (Nico), Clementine and Imogen. One of their children had severe medical problems.
But she kept working. She was at the Grand Hotel in Brighton for the Conservative Party Conference in 1984, when the IRA bombed it, trying to assassinate the Prime Minister.
She was not shaken by the bomb. Previously (1983), she had been having tea in Harrods when a car bomb went off outside. She considered herself experienced in bombs.
Tessa, along with Amanda Colvin (another of the Garden Room Girls), had the presence of mind to grab, from her shattered bedroom, the notes of a speech Mrs Thatcher was to give the next day.
Sitting in a draughty police station, she rewrote the speech to take into consideration what had just happened – and typed through the night. Mrs Thatcher said Tessa was, “Peace at the heart of the whirlwind.”
But bombs were to play a part in her life once more. She was absolutely devastated when her former boss Ian Gow was killed in 1990 by a car bomb planted by the IRA.
After Margaret Thatcher was removed from power in November 1990, Tessa began to dedicate herself to the IMS at Prussia Cove, being a trustee. It was dedicated to providing music master classes to residential students, primarily in the summer. Her husband Jonathan was also a trustee.
She was awarded an MBE.
But she never abandoned Margaret Thatcher. She continued to organise and run her private diary and was invaluable to her particularly after her husband Sir Denis Thatcher died in 2003. They remained lifelong friends. “She provided comfort long after the cameras and bright lights had departed.”
Tessa took over the role of Chair of the IMS in 1997, and was responsible for the funding, including regular IMS quiz nights. She enabled the cream of the musical world to visit and give lectures and classes. Their mission statement was, “To provide opportunities in beautiful surroundings for talented young musicians to have access to the acquired mastery and insights of senior players.” The IMS now has alumni all over the world.
Recently she was asked about a comparison between Margaret Thatcher’s time in Downing Street compared to another Conservative leader, Boris Johnson. She simply said, “A lot less parties and a lot less drinking.”
Noted for her dedication, calmness and good humour, Tessa never pushed herself forward. She never went to university, sought no publicity and had no political ambition for herself. Nevertheless, she was a deeply impressive woman in her own right.
RIP – Rescued Important Political (speech)