Margaret Thatcher funeral attended by 'Essex Man'

Bill Sharp holds a photograph of himself with Margaret Thatcher Bill Sharp cherishes a photograph he has of himself with Margaret Thatcher

Among the thousands who lined the streets of London to witness the funeral procession of Baroness Thatcher was a self-confessed "Essex Man" who has a picture of the former prime minister in his bedroom.

Bill Sharp, 65, was the the son of a unionised stevedore who loaded and unloaded the ships at the East End's Royal Albert docks.

He left grammar school at the age of 15 wanting something more. And he got it - a career in the City and the trappings which come with it.

Now living in Hadleigh near Southend, he continues to run his stockbroking firm and work as a consultant.

For Mr Sharp, taking his place outside St Paul's Cathedral to say a final farewell was a foregone conclusion.

Who is 'Essex Man'?

  • The so-called "Essex man" was identified in Margaret Thatcher's early years as prime minister
  • He was the creation of her political machine, the archetypal Thatcher supporter who had previously been expected to vote Labour
  • He was hard-working, determined to get ahead and make a better life for his family
  • Essex Man had typically moved out of London to the new towns in the counties around London, including Basildon and Harlow in Essex

He allowed BBC News to join him on his journey from Essex to central London as Margaret Thatcher was his political inspiration.

"She means a great deal to me," he said. "It was in about 1970 that I started to recognise her.

"I became a councillor back in 1978 based on listening to her.

"She wasn't the first woman prime minister to me, she was the leader of our party and she did a wonderful job."

Their paths were to cross a number of times.

Mr Sharp made three visits to Downing Street during her tenure, enjoyed a dinner in her company (with others) and was at the Conservative Party conference in 1984 at Brighton's Grand Hotel when five people were killed and 31 were injured.

An aspiring politician, Mr Sharp had put his name down to speak on five different subjects. He ended up speaking about the community charge (often referred to as the poll tax) - the subject he had prepared least for.

Bill Sharp has three signed copies of The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher Bill Sharp has three signed copies of The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher
Bill Sharp has a picture of Margaret Thatcher in his bedroom Mr Sharp has a picture of Margaret Thatcher in his bedroom
Bill Sharp on the train journey into London Mr Sharp thinks about Margaret Thatcher when he writes a speech
A man claps as Margaret Thatcher passes by Many clapped and cheered as the body of Margaret Thatcher arrived outside St Paul's
A number of people got a 'bird's eye' view of the procession from windows A number of people had a good view of the procession from windows
Union flag Some people brought flags with them as they lined the streets
Those in the crowds struggled to see the coffin cart through a sea of cameras Many of those in the crowds struggled to see the coffin through a sea of cameras
Many clapped and cheered as the body of Margaret Thatcher arrived outside St Paul's Many clapped and cheered as the body of Margaret Thatcher arrived outside St Paul's
Bill Sharp Mr Sharp said the funeral procession was a "very touching" experience

But it was the speech the prime minister delivered the day after the bomb that he remembers most vividly.

"The speech was magnificent. There was an explosion of support for her," he said.

"I am delighted to be able to say that I met her, shook her hand, listened to her and was told off by her, and followed her principles through my life."

Mr Sharp is proud of the parallels between his own humble upbringing and those of Margaret Thatcher, the grocer's daughter.

'Sympathy in my heart'

He said: "She was wealthy compared with my family roots.

"My father was a union man, I understand unionism but I didn't find socialism the answer. If you go out and work, you can contribute to your family."

While the then Margaret Roberts lost out when she contested the parliamentary seat of Dartford in the 1950 and 1951 general elections, Mr Sharp unsuccessfully fought the Barking seat just across the Thames in 1987.

His campaign slogan was simple: "She trusts him, why don't you?" The she, of course, was Baroness Thatcher.

Since then, Mr Sharp has focused on local politics and continues to serve on Castle Point Borough Council.

He said: "I will be standing there with sympathy in my heart, and gratitude for what she did for this nation, for what she did for me personally and for what she did for the party.

"People either loved her or hated her. A bit like me."

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