The Real Iron Lady: Working with Margaret Thatcher by Gillian Shephard

The news today of the passing of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will affect you depending on what your politics are. For socialist diehards, there will probably be rejoicing at the demise of what they would see to be the death of one of this countries most vile leaders. For the Conservatives it will be a day of unbridled sadness at the passing of a great leader.

Margaret and Dennis Thatcher

Margaret and Dennis Thatcher: Picture: Tim Graham/Getty Images

Wherever your particular politics happen to lie, there can be no getting away from the fact that Margaret Thatcher was an predominating leader of this country, and more than earned the moniker – The Iron Lady. Indefatigable, she managed on four hours of sleep a night, and often expected her cabinet members to match her energy. Former PM John Major recalls: “I always tried to be home in time for the six o’clock news.

Oh yes. But Margaret had this way of making me stay up very late while she drank three-quarters of a bottle of scotch and set up arms deals for her son, Mark. She also had a very good eye for detail. She knew Arthur Scargill’s batting average to three decimal places, which impressed me no end.”

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: Picture: PA Archives/PA Images

In the book The Real Iron Lady, Gillian Shepherd has spoken to people who worked with Thatcher and collected memories from them, that illustrate her work ethic.

Margaret Thatcher reading political documents

Margaret Thatcher: Picture@ Herbie Knox/Rex Features

Charles Moore talks of the time Margaret Thatcher stayed with him for a weekend in the country, but how work came first: “I had arranged for her to go hunting with me and had acquired the finest horse in the county for her to ride. But she was unexpectedly called away to read through a briefing for the port and havens commission meeting about a new jetty being built in Bournemouth. She even declined to join the Pope and I for a sherry in the drawing room as she had to brush her hair. That was typical of her command and focus.”

And some of Margaret Thatcher’s old adversies have even spoken out to concede that she was a woman ahead of her time. The trade unionist John Monks says: “She was an evil old … Sorry, that’s an old piece. Maggie had extremely trenchant views that I have come to realise were by and large right, now that I have taken up my sinecure in the House of Lords.”

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: Reuters

Margaret Thatcher kept up her work in her constituency also, as Hartley Booth, who succeeded her as MP for Finchley, remembers it well: “Margaret had just finished a gruelling three days bullying Geoffrey Howe, and we all expected her to go home to bed with a bottle of scotch. Instead, she personally inspected every public convenience in north London. Any that fell short of her high standards, she bleached with Vim. That was the measure of the woman.”

The Real Iron Lady

The Real Iron Lady

And to some surprise, Margaret Thatcher had a sense of humour that could dissipate a difficult situation. Douglas Hurd recalls a conversation during a tricky negotiation process: “We appeared to have reached an impasse with the Soviets over the location of missiles in eastern Europe, when Margaret stood over an air vent and allowed her skirt to billow.

She then said in her huskiest voice, ‘Do you want a blow job or not, Mikhail?’ After that, tensions eased significantly.”

Finally, Virginia Bottomley, reminds us that Thatcher was a woman in a man’s world: “Not many people at Westminster realised Margaret Thatcher was a woman who always had women’s interests at heart.”

The Real Iron Lady by Gillian Sullivan is available from Amazon for RRP of £16.99





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