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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 17:29 GMT
Thatcher statue unveiled
Sculptor Neil Simmons with the marble Thatcher
Sculptor Neil Simmons with the marble Thatcher
The huge marble statue of Lady Thatcher, complete with handbag, has been unveiled for the first time.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, known across the world as the Iron Lady when in office, is represented as a larger than life 8ft in the work commissioned for the House of Commons.

When I first met her I was very worried, rather intimidated, as most of us were, but meeting her she was a very human person

Sculptor Neil Simmons
The statue was carved by sculptor Neil Simmons in white Carrara marble. Mr Simmons is regarded as one of the UK's finest figurative sculptors.

It was commissioned in 1998 by the House of Commons Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art. It was paid for by an anonymous benefactor.

Currently there is nowhere for the statue to stand - because tradition demands it must not take its place in the Commons until after the subject's death.

Mr Simmons took two years to find the right size piece of Italian marble from which to create the 1.8 tonne statue.

Sculptor Neil Simmons with the marble Thatcher
A larger-than-life figure
He then had to face Lady Thatcher herself for six sittings.

"She was a very easy person to talk to - which I was very surprised at," Mr Simmons told BBC News.

"When I first met her I was very worried, rather intimidated, as most of us were, but meeting her she was a very human person," he added.

During the sittings Lady Thatcher had to sit in a chair on scaffolding - but "she was game for it" and was happy to do whatever was required, said Mr Simmons.

Where to put it?

A plan to place it in the new MPs' office building, Portcullis House, was abandoned when it became apparent it was so heavy the floors would have to be reinforced at huge cost.

An announcement on where it will be temporarily housed is expected next week.

There have been a number of offers, including from Lady Thatcher's home town of Grantham and the retirement town of Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

Thirty years ago, the US city bought London Bridge, reportedly believing it to be the landmark Tower Bridge.

"Baroness Thatcher's statue would be a wonderful addition to our tourism project," Bonnie Barsness, president of the Lake Havasu Tourist Board told the BBC last week.

She said a "spectacular" spot had been picked out for the eight-foot high marble statue in the city hall and its citizens would have no trouble recalling the former Tory leader because they were largely of retirement age.

Labour MP Tony Banks, chairman of the House of Commons works of art committee, describes the sculpture - which includes her trademark handbag - as a "a fine piece of art".

He has been trying to change the rules so that the statue could go on display before Baroness Thatcher's demise.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Even 12 years after she stepped down from power Lady Thatcher still has a star quality"

Thatcher statue
Where should the marble Margaret be displayed?
See also:

01 Feb 02 | Talking Point
Where should Margaret Thatcher's statue go?
21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
US city wants Thatcher statue
26 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Margaret Thatcher: Tory titan
24 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Lady Thatcher statue homeless
13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Thatchers celebrate 50 years together
03 May 99 | Thatcher Anniversary
Mixed record of the Iron Lady
26 Apr 99 | Thatcher Anniversary
Thatcher: Après moi
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