Sizing up the Tories' blonde bombshell—and discovering the beauty secret she's been keeping under those hats …
Now—the untinted truth on Margaret
On the blood-letting day Margaret Thatcher announced that she'd go for Ted Heath 's head, she and I had tea in her tiny cream—painted Commons office.
Yesterday—eight headlined, arc-lit, much-televised weeks later—we had coffee in Ted Heath's 30-feet oak-lined office. Without Ted.
At our first interview, when baby—blonde Mrs. Thatcher was taking her first wobbly steps towards the Tory leadership, she told me winningly—and I could see then that she meant to: “I haven't got the job yet. Edward HeathTed may get in.”
I wrote: “She looked like an angel cake as she said it, but God help Ted Heath all the same.”
Now all that's left of Heath is his name, still spookily painted on the corridor wall outside the Opposition Leaders door, under a phantom hand pointing to it.
“Haven't we taken it off yet?” says Mrs. Thatcher, seating herself firmly in the Leader's red leather chair (I remember. Ted having it reupholstered.) “I'm afraid we haven't had time for little things like that.”
Little things like wiping out a man's career with a spot of Vim, and the lady says she isn't “really ruthless.”
Has Margaret Thatcher changed since she's come nearer than any woman in British history to the P.M.-ship? Now the blue eyes don't merely flash steel. They could spit you to her oak panelling at 20ft.
She uses “we” a lot, but maybe she just means her staff, and I'm being edgy about sitting on what used to be another of Ted's seats.
“Denis ThatcherDenis [her husband] says I've changed,” she says. “He says, I've a new confidence in my own judgment. But it's not really change, you know.
“It was in there all the time, but now I've nothing to lose by showing myself as I really am. Do you think I'm different?”
Yes. A lot stronger, a bit tougher, cleverer with cameras and quite a drop more of the old acid.
I'm so convinced that, one day, Mrs. Thatcher will be Prime Minister, I wonder what marble flower she'll be wearing in her marble lapel when they put up her stately bust among the Pitts and former P.M.s in the House's Corridors.
“It's early to think of that,” she says, blushing the colour of the “light coral rose” she'll wear for her statue if she has her way. And she'll have it all right.
Is she supremely confident that she'll eventually get the job that's been going to the boys since Simon de Montfort?
“I'm quietly confident.” says Mrs. Thatcher, who's always at her most dangerous when she's sitting quietly, watching Harold. “I can't predict just when it will be, I'm nudging 50, but I think a woman's at her peak between 50 and 57.”
She doesn't note—but I do—that Barbara Castle is 63.
Mrs. Thatcher has twisted the tails of male chauvinist pigs, and broken through for women's leadership. “And it really is just like breaking through the sound barrier and tremendously inspiring to realise you're accepted for yourself, woman or not.”
But, in a General Election, will women who still won't have a woman doctor vote for her?
“Of course, of COURSE,” she says in that new, slow way she's developed of reasoning you into believing that everything she says is bound to go, or else. “Women are a lot kinder to one another than most men believe.
“Women like one another because when everyone else walks out on the job, it's women who are still in there, coping,” says this astounding woman who got up at 6 a.m. yesterday to cook her husband's breakfast before she went off to have hers with Henry Kissinger.
“And you should see my letters of support from women. Not just women like us, but ordinary working women.”
Careful, Maggie, careful. You're slipping back into your old sugary Tory lady way of sounding like Marie Antoinette telling them to eat cream buns.
“Don't forget I'm the grocer's daughter.” she twinkles—and she still can. “Remember I lived over the shop. Never mind the typical Tory voice and just think that everyone has to go to the grocer's to buy food, so I met all sorts. And I can cope with all sorts.”
Northern sorts? Mrs. Thatcher was born in Grantham. I come from Yorkshire. Above the Humberline, even the Tories are still wondering just what's in the Lincolnshire lass with the South Kent accent for them.
How will Mrs. Thatcher dig herself out of Wilson 's deeply sincere reminiscences of his days down the mine, eating coal-dusty sandwiches with the man on the next upturned bucket? Won't she look like a pale, frail flower when they plant her on a Barnsley slag heap?
“Don't you believe it.”—her hardened and sharpened voice [end p1] jabs you like a pick. “Invite me into these people's homes and I'll show them I'm made of the stuff people are beginning to see now they're showing me as I am, thank God, on telly.
“Why shouldn't I dress neatly and look and sound my best? You don't have to turn out like a sack to gain people's respect.” (In fairness to her pledge to be “pointed but never wounding” to Wilson. I don't think she meant her remark to take his Gannex to the cleaners).
But, if and when Prime Margaret, surely Mrs. Thatcher must rise above hemlines and hairdos?
“Why?” says Goldilocks, whose “deep admiration” for Golda Meir has its limits. “One thing they're not used to in this office—and they'll have to get used to it—is that I must have an hour a week to get my hair done.”
What one newspaper, stroking the new Leader, described as “Mrs. Thatcher's softly natural blonde hair.” So why, on those early pictures of her at the bottom of the ladder, does it always look dark brown?
“Because it was dark brown until it went grey at the sides,” she says. “I have it tinted.”
That remark could get her more women's votes than anything she's said in the last three weeks.