A ground-breaking woman who spent the 60s and 70s chauffeuring royals, prime ministers and a US president around Britain has celebrated her 100th birthday

·5-min read

A ground-breaking woman who spent the 60s and 70s chauffeuring royals, prime ministers and a US president around Britain has celebrated her 100th birthday. 

Millie Forster was one of the first women to ever drive for the Government Car Service, an often-secretive agency that provides travel for politicians and other high-profile figures. 

Her colourful career saw Millie, who had to sign the Official Secrets Act at the time, ferrying a string of iconic figures including Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter and Princess Margaret. 

Millie drove the Iron Lady in the late 70s before she was prime minister and said the then education secretary received a frosty reception in light of her plans to abolish free school milk.

She said: "Mrs Thatcher received an unwelcome reception when she visited Darlington after abolishing free school milk for children aged seven to 11. 

"I got a phone call from the police to say there is a demonstration and a lot of people at the station.

"There were people there shouting 'Thatcher, the milk snatcher'."

One of Millie's best memories dates to 1977 when she was part of a cavalcade that drove Jimmy Carter, accompanied by prime minister Jim Callaghan, to Newcastle. 

The pair were met by 20,000 people and the US president famously greeted the crowd with "howay the lads" - a famous phrase among Geordie supporters of Newcastle United.

Although Millie transported a number of famous faces, she didn't interact with them personally. 

She said: "Due to the nature of the work and how busy it always was I didn't often get to speak to the very high profile passengers. 

"It's a bit of a shame but I was thrilled just to be part of something so big."

Millie, from the picturesque village of Melsonby, North Yorks., was also part of the team that transported the Queen in 1967 when the Tyne tunnel opened. 

Reflecting on her colourful life, the gran-of-four and great-gran-of-three said: "I loved working for the Government Car Service, it was a very exciting time. 

"I love driving, I always have done, so it was perfect in that sense. 

"On top of that I got to meet a lot of amazing people and the job itself was interesting too, partly because it was a bit secretive.

"I have lots of wonderful memories from that time, especially of the Queen and various well-known politicians."

She added: "I've had a very good life, I've enjoyed everything."

Millie's fascinating life story has emerged days after she celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday (Mar 21). 

Adoring friends and neighbours in her village treated Millie to a socially distanced party including cake, fizz and songs as well as a video call with her family - her first ever time using Zoom.

Millie said: "What a wonderful day. There was cake, bubbly, dancing and music. I enjoyed every minute of it.

"I had a lovely dance, although I didn't dare spin in case I fell over, that wouldn't have been good on my 100th. 

"Then the day was capped with a call from my family in America, it was perfect."

She added: "I think the key to a long life is to work hard and keep busy. 

"I've always done both of those things and it's served me well. I must have really good genes too!"

Millie was born in Dipton, County Durham, on March 21, 1921. 

She left school at 15 and moved to London in the mid-1930s, before returning to the North when it became clear war with Germany was on the horizon.

Midway through the WWII and at the age of 22, Millie married Reg Forster who worked in the steel trade and their son Keith was born in 1944. 

She said: "Just after the war, I learnt to drive and passed my test. I didn't ask Reg and did it all on the quiet.

"During the war, women had taken over men's jobs and even in a butcher's shop, you would see women running it. 

"We all became independent and liked mixing with people. I loved driving and I had always wanted to drive. 

"My instructor said to me 'you are a born driver' because I didn't need so many lessons."

Millie worked various jobs, including as a delivery driver, until the age of 44 when a friend told her about a vacancy with a regional branch of the Government Car Service. 

After travelling down to Leeds for an interview, she got the job.

Millie spent 16 years in the role until her retirement in 1980 but revealed she almost lost the job after just six weeks. 

One of her first assignments was being part of a cavalcade taking Princess Margaret to Gateshead for the opening of a hotel.

Millie made the mistake of talking to a reporter about the visit, whom she had wrongly assumed were part of the royal delegation.

Millie was quoted in the press at the time saying: "I only joined the service six weeks ago and this is my first Royal visit, usually I have to drive Inland Revenue tax inspectors about."

She said of Margaret's visit: "I was rather bothered about it all at first. But didn't she look nice in her blue suit?"

After a somewhat inauspicious start, Millie was happily kept on and she went on to spend years driving senior politicians and civil servants around the North-East.

After the chastening Princess Margaret experience, she kept her counsel about the things she heard being discussed. 

Millie added: "I used to hear lots of conversations but never dared to even tell my husband, I used to just forget about it."

Shortly after retiring in 1980, Millie and Reg moved to Melsonby and they celebrated their diamond anniversary in 2003 before his death in 2005.

Millie only sold her own car last year and remains very active. Only last year she painted her front room herself and later on this year she'd like to travel across the pond.

She said: "My son lives in America so I've never been able to babysit my grandchildren, that's something I'd like to do in the future."