Marlene Barrie remembers her good fortune in meeting Nelson Mandela when he arrived at his hotel, and her pride that Glasgow was the first to give Mandela the Freedom of the City.
“The night Nelson Mandela arrived at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow, I was the first person to shake his hand as he entered the hotel – a story I have dined out on for years.
I was really looking forward to going to see him in George Square the next day with my friend Nancy Dangerfield.
However the night before he appeared in George Square I was having an “after work ” drink with a friend in the Hilton Hotel Bar. I saw the hotel manager at the bar, and I went over to thank him for the way the staff had looked after my elderly Mum when we had visited the hotel for “Doors Open Day” in Glasgow.
He said the hotel was preparing for a very important visitor and told me he was expecting Nelson Mandela. I was surprised as it had been reported in the press that he was staying in the Town House – but of course as it had been on the news the hotel had to be changed for security reasons.
The manager gave me a shout and told me to come through – and made sure I was standing inside the door as Nelson Mandela arrived.
What I remember was that he came in alone – he was not surrounded by security. As he came to me he shook my hand, and for the first time in my life I was struck dumb and just smiled. I really wanted to just give him a hug!!
A piper was piping him in – and as Nelson Mandela got halfway up the stairs he turned round and came back down and shook the Piper’s hand. I thought that was a really thoughtful gesture. I also remember that before he left the hotel he invited the staff up to his suite to thank them for looking after him.
The next day in George Square was amazing. The square was packed despite the heavy rain – and people who had umbrellas up were told in no uncertain terms to put them down.
I just remember a real sense of pride in my city which had been the first city in the world to give Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city when he was in prison.
There were speeches, the music was wonderful – and then he danced and everyone cheered and we all smiled and were uplifted by his infectious joy.”