For people who are so much in the public eye, it must be quite difficult to protect your private self from the public view. Have you developed a second skin that protects you? Prime Minister
No. It is practically impossible. You are quite right. Practically impossible to protect your private self from public view and you do not grow a second skin. Everyone says: “Well you must. You must kind of put on an armour!” No matter how tough some of my colleagues in politics, if there is anything horrid said about them it wounds them. You can see it does, and of course, it hurts and wounds oneself.
The only kind of protection you can grow is that if you know horrid things are being written by a particular paper or person, not to read them, because if you do, well you do think about it and you really have got other more important things to think about. So that is the kind of protection you build up. Dr. Stoppard
But you are public property now. Everything you do and say gets attention from the media and the public. How have you learned to cope with that? Prime Minister
Well you just have to survive. It is not only everything you say; it is how they twist everything you say. But you remember, Kipling had something to say about that in his famous poem IF. “If you can bear to hear the words you have spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools!” and that is just what you have to bear sometimes. But you have to. You have to remind yourself all the time that you are here to do the things you want to do; that you were elected to do. That is the important thing, and it is other people who do not want you to do those things, want to get you down, and they must not.
So well, you just bear it, but your family are marvellous; they help tremendously. Dr. Stoppard
What did you actually do to cope [it] with though? Did you find yourself having to think of little tricks or simply putting in sort of correcting mechanisms for yourself? Prime Minister
No. I had some experience, because when I was Secretary of State for Education it was a very very difficult time. You remember that all over the world there were problems on the university campuses. It was a very difficult time. Massive demonstrations, and I always said that having been through that, it was just about the very best training a Prime Minister could have, and I heard all the horrid things that were said then and I saw some of the things that happened. Well, I lived through that and so when I came here, I knew it was going to happen and that is some kind of warning mechanism in itself. It does not make it easy when it does, but it does enable you to get through it. Dr. Stoppard
If you did not have some kind of protecting mechanism, surely, there are things in the press like cartoons and parodies and caricatures, they would really hurt quite a lot. Prime Minister
Well caricatures are different, you know. I roared with laughter at caricatures of other people and I really think some of myself are rather good. Caricatures are different. They have something else. They are not just malicious; they have a cleverness about them, you know, a genuine cleverness, or a wit, and that is fantastic. Dr. Stoppard
And you like that? Prime Minister
When someone was interviewing me once and said: “Do you know that somewhere you are called ‘That bloody woman!’?” I had no idea, and it bothered me for a time and I thought: good heavens, whatever sort of picture have they got? But then, I just put it out of my mind and carried on. But it was not very nice at the time. Caricatures though, they are really funny. Dr. Stoppard
Do you find any difficulty in distinguishing them from personal criticism? That really gets to you? Prime Minister
No, they are distinguishable usually. One or two I have seen that had … but I do not mind them. Dr. Stoppard
Has it been hard to learn to have the self-confidence to deal with personal hostility? You do get a lot, and it does take self-confidence to sort of carry on as though nothing was happening. Prime Minister
I think it is just one of those things that you have to do. I think it is one time you have something in common with an actress. You know, whatever happens, the show must go on. Whatever happens, you have got to carry on doing your duties. You have got to talk to incoming statesmen; you have got to go down and answer questions in the House. And do not forget, those sessions of questions in the House, twice a week, are the most rigorous and fantastic training that any politician anywhere in the world has. They really are. You have to go and face the music and doing that enables you to face almost anything else. Dr. Stoppard
Now, can I just ask you in a little more detail about that. When you go and do your question sessions, what are the things that you have to overcome? What are the things that you suppress or things that you try to rise above? Prime Minister
You know that if you make any error it will be picked up immediately. You know that when you get up to make a comment there will probably be a tremendous amount of noise to try to stop you from saying it, and therefore sometimes you lean forward into the microphone so that you know you will be heard through it. All of that. You know that people are not interested in the answers. They are interested in trying to trip you.
Now, all that means that you have to have a tremendous amount of preparation, because I do not think people realise that I do not know what the questions are going to be. I am only on for 15, 16 minutes, but I might answer 14 to 20 questions in that time. It might be everything from East-West relations to something in South Africa, something in someone's local hospital, some particular social services case. How do you know what you are going to be asked? How can you guess? Well what you do is: early morning I start listening to radio because people will ask things topical. I then go very thoroughly through the papers, because they might pick up a case in the papers. You then look at the issues that are right before you that week and you try to think of what would I ask if I had the job of asking a question? What would I ask if I were hostile? And therefore, you try to prepare the answers and for about 15/16 minutes each day it requires three or four hours preparation. It would not require any more if I were on answering for an hour, but it is a thing which you prepare very carefully. But then really, you know, isn't it part of being professional, whatever is your job? You get through by very careful preparation and homework, a lot of homework, and then by a combination of that and building up experience, and it is really just the same with almost everything you do here. [“Small break” indicated in text.] Dr. Stoppard
We do become more confident though in the light of past performance, don't we? I remember when I was a junior doctor, the very first time I had a cardiac emergency and the patient did not die and I thought: my golly, I may have saved a person's life, and after that, you go away and think: if I can do that once, I can do it again, and there is nothing more nervewracking than saving someone's life.
Now, do you feel that about question time, for instance, or attending a summit or a particularly important speech to the Party? If I can get through that, I can handle anything! Prime Minister
I agree exactly with what you said. You do build up experience and you think: well I have done it before, so I can do it again. I have got through it all this time, so I can do it again, and so long as you keep yourself fit, that is correct. You always, I think, have to watch and see that you do not get too much under strain, because that is when things can snap. Dr. Stoppard
Right. Can we just go back to that thing about the caricatures we were talking about? Have you ever seen a caricature or a cartoon and recognised something in yourself that you really had not realised before? Prime Minister
What I notice is that whatever I wear, they will caricature. I am now always caricatured with quite large bows. I often wear bows; they are rather softening, they are rather pretty. So do a lot of other people wear bows. Always bows. Usually a large nose. I think a little bit larger than it is. A double chin. I have to watch that I do not get a bigger double chin. And I remember once, when I was Secretary of State for Education, I wore a rather smart hat. It suited. It looked, I suppose, a bit like a radar bowl with great big stripes on. It was a very smart hat. The fact was it would have done for an actress, but it was not quite right for a politician. I learned that lesson ever since. If you are going to wear a smart hat, wear a very plain … and for about six months after, if ever they caricatured me, it was in this blessed hat, this radar bowl. I have never worn one like it since. Now much plainer. Dr. Stoppard
Now the public security that surrounds you for your protection is fairly obvious. But I was wondering, do you have a kind of internal or personal security system to guard against emotional and mental hurt perhaps? Have you kind of built up that personal defence inside? Prime Minister
No. No, you cannot. Things do hurt and you have to bear them. We just do, and they do get you down sometimes, but you know, you and I are very busy, and when things hurt, for a few minutes they almost obsess you. The remedy is you go straight into work. Dr. Stoppard
Activity. Prime Minister
Something that demands … yes, activity. Straight into work. Something that demands your whole concentration. It may be you have got someone to supper and you have got to get something ready and you have got to lay the table and you have got to do the vegetables, and so on. Or it may be you have got something to be done before tomorrow, and you get down to it. And really it is distraction which is the therapy. Dr. Stoppard
It is like the old-fashioned idea of getting down and scrubbing the floors, really. It takes your mind off. Prime Minister
That is right. Or turning out the airing cupboard, tidying up. Dr. Stoppard
We have made it sound pretty bad, but are there sides of public life that you really enjoy, that you really like? Prime Minister
You have the chance to see some things that you absolutely love. I mean to go to things which you see on television which were a dream in your mind from a child. You go to great state banquets, to state occasions. I had always wanted to go to the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall. I never thought I would be there. Do you remember they were always broadcast when we were young, well when I was young, always broadc* no such thing as television. The Royal Academy dinners were always broadcast and we always listened to them, and one had a dream in one's mind of what they were like, these great people in the City who had so much power, and then you go. And I remember in my first speech saying: “Look! I remember how much we looked up to the City. How powerful, how great it was and then you go and you realise it is a lot of people like you and how other people are expecting things of you!” You go to great occasions; the great royal occasions, the great State occasions. You are able to see some of the world's most beautiful treasures in other Heads of Governments' houses. You are able to converse and talk to the people whom you always thought were so powerful, and somehow of course, at the beginning, you think: “Now, this is me, isn't it?” and then you slip into it. And then you look at each thing and say: “Now what are people expecting? Can we deliver?” And then you go on to another thing which is very very important. You realise that life is not only about what governments can deliver; it is about governments allowing enough freedom and responsibility for people to do things with their own lives.
The great Pilgrim Fathers did not leave our shores to go to America to live on grants or governments doing things for them. They went for opportunity, to do things for themselves, and you always have to keep that. You must never say: “Government can do all this” or “Government will look after that”. Government, in the end, can only work through people and giving people the opportunity for doing things themselves, so you get through to that … Dr. Stoppard
When you were talking just now, I wondered if you had ever had a moment when you met someone who had been a great hero of yours and you thought: “Heavens, I am actually meeting them for the first time!” I remember when I was a medical student, there were professors who were very great in certain fields and I thought I would never possibly meet them and then suddenly one finds one is actually talking to someone who one has had such a great admiration for and one can hardly believe it. Have you had a moment like that? Prime Minister
I remember vividly meeting some of the astronauts, who came in here to deliver … I have two pieces of rock which came from the moon, which we keep on display here in the waiting room and people are thrilled to see them. And then, after the first walk in space, they came to deliver a small Union Jack, and then the astronauts came. You know that they lost two satellites … two of ours … the two who came in here went and recovered those satellites. I mean, they went out for a walk and went to recover them, and they came in here. And there was also a woman doctor with them and she had been also an astronaut and they sat down and they were such ordinary guys and you know, they took it all so calmly, and I said: “Would you like to go out again?” “Oh yes” they said, “It's marvellous!” And yes, it was astonishing that they had been out there and some of them had been on the moon and now they were here and that I really think is the astonishing thing of our times.
Yes, I did meet Winston . I sat in the House of Commons. That too was remarkable. Dr. Stoppard
Do you ever get fed up with private life, with public life? Let me do that again. Sorry. [“Break” indicated in text.] Are there times when you simply get fed up with public life? Prime Minister
No, I have never got fed up with public life. Sometimes, there is rather a lot to do in a day. I remember one day when I had, I think, 14 engagements in a day. I said: “Hey look! I just cannot give enough attention to each one. We cannot go on like that!” But I have never got fed up with it. It is such a privilege to be here that I can take all the burdens. It is such a fantastic privilege. Dr. Stoppard
Do you think that your upbringing prepared you for the kind of life that you have to lead? Prime Minister
All my upbringing was to instill into both my Muriel Cullen, né Roberts sister and I a fantastic sense of duty, a great sense of whatever you do you are personally responsible for it. You do not blame society. Society is not anyone. You are personally responsible and just remember that you live among a whole lot of people and you must do things for them, and you must make up your own mind. That was very very strong, very strong. I remember my Alfred Roberts father sometimes saying to me if I said: “Oh so and so is doing something; can't I do it too?” You know, children do not like to be different. “You make up your own mind what you are going to do, never because someone else is doing it!” and he was always very stern about that. It stood one in good stead. Dr. Stoppard
You have referred to the importance of your upbringing, to your politics and your philosophy. Can you tell me a little bit about your home? What was it like? Prime Minister
Well, home really was very small and we had no mod cons and I remember having a dream that the one thing I really wanted was to live in a nice house, you know, a house with more things than we had. Dr. Stoppard
When you say “no mod cons” what do you mean? Prime Minister
We had not got hot water. We only had a cold water tap. We had to heat all the hot water in a copper. There was an outside toilet. So when people tell me about these things, I know about them, but everything was absolutely clean, bright as a new pin and we were taught cleanliness was next to godliness, and yes, I often used to get down and polish the floor. We had lino on the floor, because both the floor and the old-fashioned mahogany furniture had to be clean. It was absolutely imperative and yes, everything had to be washed and washed and washed again. And we did a bake twice a week. My mother was very busy. This is why I learned to be busy. And my father was very busy. We used every hour of every day. We used to bake twice a week, a big bake, twice a week. Dr. Stoppard
What did you actually do when you baked? Prime Minister
Baking, you baked your own bread, you baked your own pastry, you did quite a lot of steam puddings, you would do quite a number of pies; you would always bottle fruit; you would do about twenty Christmas puddings just before Christmas and they would last you until Easter, you know, one or two a week. Oh yes, we had no such thing as a refrigerator. I only knew one person in our circle who had a refrigerator. We had no such thing as a vacuum cleaner—dustpan and brush all the time. No such things as sprays in those days, no hard polishing, but cleanliness was vital. Washday Monday, ironing Tuesday. Washday, no washing machine. Washed it in a great big dolly tub with a dolly and a great big mangle and then everything was very nicely mangled. A great big ironing day Tuesday, and so one was brought up really in a very regular way and my mother did all of that. She made our clothes. We would paint and redecorate our own rooms and she would work in the shop, and I was always used to being in and out of the shop, so that is where I got used to talking to almost anyone and everyone.
But I was used to my mother working hard and of course, she took over when my father went out to do voluntary things, and we did. We were very prominent in the church. We did things for the church; we did things for National Savings; we did things for what in those days was called the League of Pity … these days it is the NSPCC. You were taught to take part. You were part of something and you were taught to take part. And whenever we did a bake, then we always took out either a few loaves or some home-made cakes for someone who was not well. That was just part of doing the ordinary bake. Dr. Stoppard
Can you tell me a little bit about your father? Prime Minister
My father left school when he was 13 … 12, 13 … he really was very bright. In these days, he would gone to university, but in those days there weren't the opportunities and he went to work in a local grocer's shop and then he got a chance to better himself as you referred to in those days, and he came to Grantham because he was born in Northamptonshire, and worked in a grocer's shop that was still there in my time. And I remember him telling me he earned 14 shillings a week and 12 shillings went to digs, the cost of digs; the next priority was one shilling to be saved, and then you spent the next shilling. But note, one shilling had to be saved. You did not save what you have got left; there was a priority to save.
And then he saved and saved, and then my mother was a dressmaker and she saved and saved, and gradually they bought their own grocery business and I was born, and in those days you did not always go into hospital to be born. So I was born at home, and do you know, when I became Prime Minister, I had a lovely letter, right out of the blue, and it started off: “I have perhaps a special reason to write to you and perhaps more right than almost anyone else, because I delivered you when you were born”. Wasn't that marvellous? Dr. Stoppard
How extraordinary! Prime Minister
Wasn't that marvellous? Dr. Stoppard
Have you met the lady? Prime Minister
The gentleman was Dr. Tate . I think he is no longer with us, but I was so pleased to receive this letter. Activity always and we worked. My father read a great deal and therefore we read. Every Saturday, I used to go up to the public library, every Saturday morning, to get two books. One would be about the current affairs of the day. It might have been a biography, it might have been about politics; and one would have been perhaps a novel for my mother; and we always read those books, as I got older. We read the books and we always talked about them, every single Saturday, and the librarian knew I would come and say: “Oh I have saved this for your father and you to read!”
In those days, you know, the shop was open until 9 o'clock on a Saturday night, 8 o'clock on Friday night, and people would come in, and a grocer's shop was not just a place where you bought groceries. You talked. And so we talked about the affairs of the day and I can remember talking about the rise of Hitler and how worrying it was. Now, this is in a grocer's shop in a small town and when I hear politicians saying people will not understand that, I say: “Don't you believe it!” We understood it all and we talked about it. So really it was the most fantastic upbringing.
I was the youngest and I loved talking to people about things which were the important matters of the day. Yes, we did talk about the terrible plight of people who were unemployed. Of course, some of them were customers to our shop. We knew some of them. We all helped one another in those days. Life was not something we did not know about. We were right in it. Dr. Stoppard
Can I just go back to your father again, because he was a strong influence on your life. Can you tell me any kind of examples that he set you, lessons that you remember? You have already mentioned a few, but do you have other things that he impressed on you? Prime Minister
I can remember some incidents really of how practical he was. First, when it came into the local council, whether the parks should be open on Sunday for swimming and for tennis. Now, he felt very strongly that you ought not to do those things on Sunday, and I think he voted against it. But then, along came war and we had a lot of people stationed in Grantham, a lot of Air Force men were stationed near Grantham and a lot of soldiers, and I can remember my father saying: “Now, I am going to take a different view. Those people must not on Sunday just walk around and have nothing to do. Yes, the swimming pool must be open. Yes, the tennis courts must be open. Yes, the cinema must be open. Yes, we must have canteens and places open for them on Sunday to come to and we must run some of the canteens for them.” And it was really astonishing that he could look at things and say: “Look! It is the lesser of two problems, that they have somewhere to go. No, I do not approve of people doing these things on Sunday, but nevertheless they must have something to do and it is better that they are able to do those things!” And it really was a very good practical lesson. His principles did not change at all. I mean, we did sew on Sundays, but there were playing cards in our house. You would never have played rummy or anything like that on a Sunday. But things have changed tremendously. You would never have done that. Dr. Stoppard
Where do you think your father got his ideas from? Prime Minister
Well, he was brought up very much in a family. They all very much went to church and we went to church, and he was a local preacher and I have still got some of the notes that he made in making up sermons.
He was a very staunch believer in Methodism; a very staunch believer in John Wesley and I knew some of the big names of those times: Leslie Weatherhead , Donald Soper ; these were common names to me and we met some of them.
I knew about overseas missions because we used to have some of the overseas missionaries from Africa coming and talking to us about it. We lived an astonishingly international life for people in a small town, but if you believe in things, you do. I mean, just look now. You have Oxfam, you have Christian Aid. You also have overseas missions. But this was all a part of our life.
We were also a very musical family and we loved the hymns of John and Charles Wesley . We also had oratorios in our church. Music is a fantastic part of Methodism. And so we had the great big oratorios which we all practised for; and then we would get the big singers coming down and they would stay, because you could not afford to put them up in a hotel, with members of the congregation, and so we all met them. Dr. Stoppard
What were, though, some of the faults that he criticised? What did he not like to see in other people? Prime Minister
Well, you always had to stand up for what you believed in. This was the most important thing. You did not compromise. You stood up for what you believed in and you decided what you believed in.
He was always very strong, I remember, on one thing: if you thought something was wrong or people were not having a fair deal—I remember him saying to me: “It is not enough! You do not get up in the market place and make a speech about it. That is not carrying out your responsibility. That is running away from your responsibility. That is running away from your responsibility. The question is: what are you prepared yourself to do about it?” So you can imagine some of the arguments we used to have between those people on the council who were of a different political complexion from us.
That was it. If you feel strongly about something, do not go and wave a banner to protest. That is not enough. You do something about it yourself. Dr. Stoppard
Thank you. What good qualities do you think you inherited or learned from him? Prime Minister
I suppose this kind of integrity. You first sort out what you believe in. You then apply it. You then must argue your case, but you do not say: “Well I am going to do it because someone else did it!” and always you do not compromise on things that matter. That is something you never compromise on; other things you do.
Sometimes I am called inflexible. I am inflexible about certain things. You are inflexible in defence of freedom. You are inflexible that the rule of law must be applied; otherwise there is chaos or anarchy. You help the police, because the police cannot do their job unless they get back-up. We … demonstrate. You do not strike. You discuss things. You pay your tax on time, and so on. Because this is how society is run. Very ordinary people like us made their contribution by living up to certain standards and doing certain things and you always always lend a hand to someone who needs it. You always are first to go and help, and you are always prepared to get involved. I mean, if by any chance there an accident … I can remember seeing an accident happen … we lived on cross-roads … a motor accident … yes, you must be prepared to go and give evidence as a witness.
You see, so many people these days say: “Oh, I did not want to get involved!” and do you know, that is how you miss so many things. If you do not get involved, well you are not really doing your duty. Dr. Stoppard
Do you think you inherited any of his faults? Prime Minister
I suppose I have a lot of faults. We all have. I think I inherited so much that was good from him. The other thing is, my goodness me, you never buy anything you cannot afford to buy, never. You save up for it first. If you get yourself into debt you never get yourself out of it.
I will tell you, you learn an awful lot in a shop, particularly a shop which ran accounts. You would see some people get themselves into debt and the worst thing is to get yourself into debt with something you have eaten. You know, never get yourself into debt with something that has disappeared, and sometimes you would find people who could not pay their bills. I'll tell you who always paid cash on the nail. It was the old-age pensioners, because they never had enough to get into debt with. You know, if they got into debt they would not have enough to get out of it, and they were some of the best managers. They could make ten shillings a week, it was then, stretch further than anyone else, and they would never never get behind. So you learned you have a duty to be a good manager. Some housewives are good managers, some not, but you live according to your means.
Many many is the time I can remember saying, when I said: “Oh my friends have got more”, “Well we are not situated like that!” One kicked against it, of course one kicked against it. They had more things than we did. Of course one kicked against it but when you grow up yourself and have a family and your children want things that others have, I can still hear my mother: “Well we are not situated like that!”
Or when you went out to buy something and you were going to actually have new covers for the settee. That was a great event; to have new covers for a settee was a great expenditure and a great event, so you went out to choose them, and you chose something that looked really rather lovely, something light with flowers on. My mother: “That is not serviceable!” And how I longed for the time when I could buy things that were not serviceable! I find myself now thinking, when I buy new covers, goodness me that will show the dirt too much. You know, you have had just exactly the same things. Dr. Stoppard
Reaction, yes. Did your father teach you to argue? Prime Minister
Oh we did argue. This was the great thing. You see television—we are on television now—gives you fantastic opportunities, but it stops so much. So often I think that people sit their children in front of television when they come home from school and they have got to get them a meal and the telephone is going and then you have got to get supper and you do not talk to them. Do you know the most important thing with a family is to have time for them, to talk to them, to listen to their problems. It is not money. Do you know, people think money will solve things; it will not. It is time. It is interest. It is letting them know that they matter; that they matter more than anything else. We mattered more than anything else in the world really to my father. My children matter more than anything else to me. But they always had time, however busy.
We learn things from talking to others, but we discussed the things of the day and, as I say, we always had these books and we talked about things. So I was a natural debater at school. The common arguments were natural and we always used to listen to talks on the radio. Sunday night, after the 9 o'clock news, throughout all wartime, there were talks given at 9.15. A.P. Herbert gave some talks, J.B. Priestley gave talks; there was a man called Quentin Reynolds gave talks and took Hitler 's original name and called him Mr. Schicklegruber ; and we used to listen to these, and then Winston Churchill Winston sometimes would give talks and we used to talk about them, because our greatest pleasure then, and it still is now, was to have to people in to supper on Sunday evening after chapel. People came in to supper or we went out to supper. So yes, we talked and we talked across generations and one of the dangers, I think, today is that young people talk only in their age group. You talk to your fellow pupils. You do not talk so much to an older generation. Of course, grannies lived with us in those days and there used to be other relatives sometimes about. Grannies lived with us and grannies had time.
I can remember every evening, granny always used to put us to bed. My mother was busy. And do you know, one did not want so much stories. I always used to say to granny: “What happened when you were a girl?” and she would tell us. You know, the visit to the baker, of the carts that went round in the streets drawn by horses and there were still some; and of the great events of the time and how they heard about them. And you heard them over and over and over again. Dr. Stoppard
In your house, how lively was the discussion? Did you actually argue with your father? Did you stand up for yourself? Prime Minister
Oh yes. Oh yes, we argued and we were taught to argue. This was part of it. Yes. Never forget you must make up your own mind. You must learn to examine things; you must learn to think about them. Oh yes, we were taught to argue, and we did. Sometimes it finished up with: “Well, you will learn!” and that is the worst thing you can ever say to a child because you feel very resentful then, and occasionally you find yourself saying them to your own children. “Well I cannot quite explain to you but you will learn!” “Why do I have to be in so early at night? Other people don't!” “Well it is better that you should!” “Well why is it better that you should?” “Well you will learn!” Of course, I sometimes wish now that parents would be a little bit more careful about what time their children came in, because there are so many more dangers about now. We were protected from them by parents who said: “Well now, who are you going out with and where are you going?” and you used to kick against it. You used to resent it. It was for your protection, and we did not realise it then. Dr. Stoppard
You are very nationalistic I suppose. You are very proud … Prime Minister
Very patriotic. Dr. Stoppard
You were a patriotic family, were you? Prime Minister
Immensely patriotic, but so were the people … look, we were patriotic. Everyone was patriotic. It did not matter how little you had. Dr. Stoppard
During war-time … Prime Minister
No, no. One of the first things I remember was the great Silver Jubilee of 1935. The Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary and our town was decorated with blue and yellow streamers, which was the colour of our town, and with red, white and blue, and we all listened in to the great service at St. Paul's. We heard the great commentaries of the great things going to St. Paul's. Everyone took part, and there was a great bonfire, and I remember a great occasion, because who should come to our town but a film star. Now this was quite something. A film star who was called Carl Brisson —I remember it to this day—and he knew Jack Buchanan . Carl Brisson , and we all gathered round listening and talking to a film star, and my father was on the council so we went in and we were lucky enough to meet him. We just listened to his experiences and then we went up and we lit the bonfire. Just the same when our Queen Elizabeth II Queen had her jubilee and we lit the bonfire. But it was everyone together.
You see, in a small town there were always things like that. There were sports among all the schools on the playing fields and you all went together. And I remember that our job, our little primary school, Huntingtower Primary School—and I still have letters from pupils who were with me—was to form the M of the Grantham. One school did the G, another did the R; we did the M, and we had to get it absolutely right, and we rehearsed.
But you see, there were always things going on, always things, so we were never bored.
Oh, do you know, I am so glad I was brought up that way. It is a much more wholesome upbringing. You know, you were not a spectator society; you were doers. You took part and you were a part of.
I have always hoped that I gave my children as much as my parents gave me in their time and in what was right and what was wrong, and that you must go out and do something yourself if you believe in something, and always to involve people. Dr. Stoppard
Do you find a natural bent always to do something for your country as well because of this kind of early upbringing you had when you were so proud? Prime Minister
Oh yes, yes. We were so proud of our country. We really were and we knew about Canada, we knew about Australia, and we knew about South Africa, we knew about New Zealand and we knew about India. I had an ambition as a child. I told you all the missionaries used to come and people used to come from India. I had an ambition. I wanted to be part of the Indian Civil Service, because our Civil Service was the best in the world.
Now, we were brought up that Britain was the best in the world because she had standards of honesty and integrity and law. The best in the world and the Indian Civil Service was part of our Civil Service and it was the best in the world and it was to do things for the Indians and it was to help them. I said: “I think, Daddy, if I manage to get to university”—if, it was a fantastic privilege in those days, a fantastic privilege—“If I manage to get to university, I think I'd like to go in the Indian Civil Service, because I will be able to do something for them!” I remember my father saying—this was before the War—“I do not think there will be one by the time you are grown up.” Dr. Stoppard
Really? Prime Minister
Wasn't that prophetic? But you see he was well in … don't you find you give your own children hellip; try to give your own children what you have not had. For us, it was rather a sin to enjoy yourself by entertainment. Do you see what I mean? Life was not to enjoy yourself. Life was to work and do things. My father had not had an education because as I told you, he had to go out early, but he was the best-read man I ever knew. We used to have something in our house called the “Hibbert Journal”, a very very learned journal. I used to read it. So he tried to give me all the education we could possibly have.
I was taught to play the piano at the age of 5 because I was musical and therefore I must be given every opportunity and they sacrificed to get me the best teacher. Tell you something else! Do you know at five I remember going with my music case to my first music teacher, Miss Tatham … a little person … and I went and I looked and I could read. I looked at the piano and on the piano was the name “Made by J. Roberts ”. I said: “That is my great uncle” and it was. My great uncle in Northamptonshire made his living by making pianos and he had got his own business and made his name so I started to learn to play the piano on a piano made by my great uncle. How did we get here?
My father gave me all the education in the world, really self-education. When a string quartet came to Grantham we went to listen to it; when a singer came to Grantham we went to listen to it. There were current affairs lectures, university extensions on a Thursday night. He took me. We asked questions; we learned to listen. He gave me the education … self-education … he had never had.
I tried to give my children, as well as the education, a little more amusement, a little bit more to play every sport so that everywhere they went they could play sports. We were not allowed to go to theatre very much. Well, that was one's upbringing. Dr. Stoppard
Can I just talk about your mother for a minute? Prime Minister
Mother was marvellous, yes, go on. She was very practical. You see, daddy taught me … we discussed with my father … I have always thought … again, there is a poem of Kipling called “The Mary and the Martha”, based on Christianity. Mary was the one who listened at the feet of Jesus and always was interested in what was going on and Martha was the one who always went “Now is there enough to eat?” “Do you want fresh clothes?” “Would you like to lie down?” “Would you like to wash?” This was my mother. Everything in the house, everything practical, and she was. I still retain it, because I can still make clothes and when we moved to a house, we had not very much money, when we moved to a big house and I started to cover the things which gave me enormous pleasure.
But she was very very practical and we gained a lot from her, but she worked. You say I work. I do, but so did my mother. We all worked. Dr. Stoppard
The kind of education that your father was giving you, did she take an equal part in that? Prime Minister
No, not so much. Mummy did not get involved in the arguments. She had probably gone out in the kitchen to get the supper ready, so that when we had finished we had the supper. But she did play the piano and she had quite a good contralto voice, and my father had a very good bass voice, and so all the songs, you know “Just a Song at Twilight” I knew … “My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown” … all the old-age pensioners will tell you. and we used to go out sometimes in concert parties … Again in war-time … to sing. You took part. Dr. Stoppard
What example did your mother set you, as opposed to your father? Prime Minister
Oh Mummy backed up Daddy in everything as far as you do what is right. She was terribly proud. I mean, she would just say to me sometimes: “Your father had a very difficult day in council standing up for his principles!” This again I knew. And he was Chairman of the Finance Committee and my goodness our town never got into debt. My goodness me, every money was spent carefully, nothing spent extravagantly. He was on the council for such a long time and eventually became an alderman. We do not have aldermen now. And eventually, when the political complexion changed they threw him off being an alderman … it was such a tragedy. Dr. Stoppard
Did your mother serve to protect him though? Prime Minister
Yes. He always got maximum support from his family. I remember when my father was turned off that council making a speech for the last time, very emotional: “In honour, I took up this gown; in honour, I lay it down!” That is how he felt. Dr. Stoppard
Religion has always played an important part in your life hasn't it? You have spoken about it already. You fulfilled a lot of social duties as part of your religion. Did you feel that the religion was a social duty or was it something much more fundamental than that? Prime Minister
Well, it was something much more fundamental because it was made fundamental and it went through everything in life, but again, it made one just a little bit apart actually from one's fellows, among one's school-fellows, because none of my school-fellows went to church as much as we did and that was one thing I remember. “Please can I go for a walk with my school friend on Sunday afternoon?” “Oh no, you go to Sunday school!” “Well, everyone else goes for a walk on Sunday afternoon!” “No, you go to Sunday school!” and to some extent, you know, it can be slightly overdone. I do not think my parents realised that you can be slightly overdone. To some extent, you kick against it a little, but I am very glad that I had it and I still believe the things which I was taught. Heaven knows, you try to live up to them but it is no more than trying. You must never be like the parable of the Pharisees as it were, because you just really know how far you fall short of your ideal. Dr. Stoppard
What are the main lessons that you did learn from that religious upbringing that you had that you have continued to use and adhere to as you have grown up? Prime Minister
Do you know, I think the most significant thing today is that people now do not universally accept what is right and what is wrong. The overwhelming majority of people do, but you will hear, sometimes people from universities, trying to undermine what is fundamentally right, I think by false arguments, by totally false arguments.
Not many more people go to church than did in those days, but then you recognised what was fundamentally right and fundamentally wrong. I mean, you recognised the truth of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, you may not always live up to it, who does? You try to, but of course you do not always do, but you just try again.
I think these days there is not such a universal recognition of what is right and what is wrong. I remember, again, when I was Secretary of State for Education, going to visit one of the teacher training colleges; actually it was a church teacher training college; and I was having difficulty with some of the teacher training then because teachers were not teaching children what is right and what is wrong, so I went to argue it out with them. I would. That was my upbringing. Off I went to argue. I thought: “I'll go to a church teacher training college!” and I sat down and we talked. We talked for a long time and I said “Now, are you prepared to teach children that this is right and this is wrong?” “Oh no” they said, “That is not our responsibility at all. It is for them to make up their mind what is right and what is wrong” and I said: “Well, how can they start out on the voyage through life unless there are some signposts to show them the way? How they can they ever recall what is right and what is wrong if they have never been taught? All right, when they are older, they might make up their minds but how are they to learn? How are they to have a basic structure of learning?” I mean, it is just in a way to me like your tables, only more fundamental. I do not know where I would have been if I had not learnt my tables. Equally, I do not know where I would have been if I had not known what is right and what is wrong. But do you know, we went through a very bad period when people turned everything topsy turvy. They tried to overturn everything without going to any new philosophy or belief and I came away and that is etched on my heart. I am not going to tell you the name of the college. Etched on my heart that even with a church training college the fashion—and you get fashions—the fashion was: no, you could not either stand up or teach what was right or wrong. It did not, mercifully, apply to many of the church schools, and of course, I am not Roman Catholic, always taught what was right and what was wrong. But it was just a fashion. Dr. Stoppard
So, in your religious upbringing, besides right and wrong, about which you seem … Prime Minister
It was do something for yourself. Dr. Stoppard
But it gave you a whole moral background? Prime Minister
Yes, you know what is right and wrong. You curse yourself when you fall so far below your own standards. You know, you curse yourself if you are unkind when you need not be. Dr. Stoppard
Did you ever doubt the existence of God or the correctness of Christian teaching? Prime Minister
I think we all go through that. Everyone doubts. I mean I have heard Ministers doubt, Bishops doubt sometimes, and then, yes, of course you question and you go on questioning. You would not sort of be true to your religion if you did not, because you have got to re-convince yourself. But life is such a miracle. It is the most fantastic miracle and the birth and the creation of a baby is such a miracle. It is the greatest miracle of all. It is one of the reasons why women are different from men, because the miracle of birth is something that only a woman can go through. Dr. Stoppard
One does go through a period of doubt when one is young mainly, or late adolescence. Have you gone through a period of doubt since while you have been holding office or when you have been a senior politician? Prime Minister
Periods of doubt. I do not think it is quite so much periods of doubt. It is when really terrible things happen. You get the Mexican earthquake. You know, some of the worst things happen to some of the most marvellous people. You will find a tragedy happening to a child. The most marvellous Christian man and woman and Christian child or Jewish or someone who believes in something and I remember there was an earthquake in Italy. I remember it well because I was Prime Minister, and that night I had a talk with the Italian Prime Minister. We had talks in Rome and all of a sudden the chandelier went like that and they said: “There is an earthquake” and it was that terrible earthquake they had in the southern part of Italy, in a particular village, and a person was there; all of a sudden the message came “the earthquake was in his constituency. He was the Foreign Minister at the time. He left and went straightaway and then we heard that the earthquake had actually gone through the church, Roman Catholic church and, of course, all the people who were there had suffered most grievously. And then, obviously, you do wonder and you think how could that happen. And then you think: “How am I going to explain it?” And then you think: “Well, the laws of physics, the laws of nature, are immutable.” You know that they were fixed at the beginning of creation and you know that when the laws of physics are fixed, when there is a cloud there it will rain; when the conditions are right and when the conditions of the earth have got such that it is unstable, it will slide like that and that is because the laws of physics are fixed and no-one can unfix them. We would not know where we were if we could. But you have to work it through each time. And then you tend to think because each of us is so vitally important we have a choice: this is the choice between good and evil. Every person has it, and because we have a choice someone is going to do evil and that is when these terrible things happen. So you have to work it out sometimes, of course you do. You cannot prove everything. Youngsters want something they can prove, but you cannot prove everything. Dr. Stoppard
When you were 17/18 you were preparing to go to Oxford, you were going to leave your home behind. Did you as early as that have a very clear view that politics was what you wanted to do? Prime Minister
No, because it was not possible in those days. You remember Members of Parliament were not paid very much. I was also going to have to earn my own living and so it just did not open up as a possibility. It was not really until Members of Parliament got enough to keep them that I could possibly have thought of becoming an MP. Although I remember vividly on one occasion when we were at university and home for the Christmas Recess and one of my school-friends was also at Oxford and we had a party in her house and after the party—you know, that stage when you always go into the kitchen and sit down and just talk about things—I remember one person, having been talking to me about politics, just saying: “What you would really like to do is be an MP, wouldn't you?” and I said “Yes, but I do not know whether it is possible!” But that was the first time, and I can remember it vividly. It sort of clicked immediately. Yes, that is what I would really like to do. But even then, I did not think it was possible, because I was just going to have to earn my own living and there was not enough in politics in those days. I think it was paid £400 a year and for that all your expenses had to be paid out and it was not possible. Dr. Stoppard
But you did put a lot of energy, didn't you, into the work? Prime Minister
Yes, a fantastic amount, because I was fascinated with it. People say: “Are you interested in politics?” “Were you interested in politics then?” I was more than interested in it. It was a kind of fascination and it was partly because we had done all of this reading and discussing, partly because they were cataclysmic times with the rise of Hitler and that war and how could it be that having learned so much from history, a tyrant had still come to power and we still had to enter upon war to beat him? So it was a total fascination. I could not get away from it. That is much more the real thing. Dr. Stoppard
Did you have a clear idea of the sort of man that you wanted to marry? Prime Minister
No, no. I wonder if one ever does or is it just that it is so long ago? A clear idea. No, don't you meet someone and fall in love with them? I do not think there is any point in going round with a specification, six feet two inches tall, nice dark curly hair, brown velvet voice, kind, tall, lean, athletic. That is no good. It is the person, the personality you fall in love with. Specification is no good. Dr. Stoppard
You say “fall in love with”. Was it love at first sight? Prime Minister
No, no, no. Denis and I knew one another a very long time I met him in my political work. I can tell you the exact night. I was adopted as a candidate for Dartford when I was 23, they having met me at the party conference, a friend of mine said to the Chairman of Dartford: “If you are seeking a candidate, would you consider a woman?” “Oh no, no, no. A woman would not do for Dartford at all!” “Well, would you meet her?” and so I was met at the party conference there on Llandudno pier and the long and short of it is that I went down, along with about twenty others, and I was chosen, and I was adopted. There was a meeting and I had to get back to London from the meeting and so I had supper with some of the helpers and they also had a man called Denis Thatcher to supper who had a business locally and who had a car and who would drive me back to London. That is how I met him, but it was three years before we decided to get married. So it was very much a communality of interests and was something that grew. Dr. Stoppard
What did Denis encourage you to do? Prime Minister
Well, of course, having met me doing politics and by the time we decided to get married I had fought two elections, I think he knew that I was still very keen on it and by that time I was also … I was a scientist, I was an industrial chemist … I worked in industry. I was also very interested in law and reading for the Bar, so he knew … well we had a lot in common. He was in a scientific business. We could talk science. We could talk business. We could talk politics. We could talk finance. Dr. Stoppard
Was there a kind of contract between you, not necessarily defined, but that obviously he was going to encourage you and that he would stand by you? Prime Minister
He was marvellous. He always did, because he thought it would be an awful pity if both that talent and experience were wasted. Dr. Stoppard
That is rather a modern thought for those times, isn't it? Prime Minister
I suppose so. But he did. He was marvellous. He never said: “Well now look, you will give up everything! Stay at home the whole time!” Dr. Stoppard
Do you think he was rather unusual in taking you on? Prime Minister
Perhaps very brave. Dr. Stoppard
It was kind of new to have a woman doing all those things and a lot of men said: “Oh, we want the little woman to stay at home!” so I suppose he was. Prime Minister
I think perhaps in those times he was. Do not forget we had come through a war-time period when women did a lot, and then you tended to get a reaction after the war that women should go home and do more in the home. But there had been tremendous periods when women had been able to do both. Do not forget a lot of women had to go out to work really as part of the family income. There were the mill girls in Lancashire. They did a lot of the factory work.
So yes, in one way it was unusual, but in another way it was very much part of life. But it was unusual, I think, for a professional man with women who also had a profession, to do it. Dr. Stoppard
Did marriage give you confidence? Did Denis 's sort of broader experience than yours give you confidence? Prime Minister
It is funny you should say that. I think it must have done, because giving a party, I had been married about six months, and one of my friends coming, and we automatically fell back into talking about other things and all of a sudden it dawned on me that this was the biggest thing in one's life now kind of sorted out, and therefore one turned one's mind to other things. Is that a strange thing to say? I was 25, 26 when we were married. It was, and one recognised, that to choose a partner for life is really the biggest thing in life. Now that is the biggest thing, I was going to say sorted out. It is the biggest thing that has happened and that is fixed for life. And now what we both have to think is what are we both going to contribute to life. We are obviously going to have a family. But what are we both going to contribute to life from our joint talents?
So yes, it did give one a confidence of a kind that you cannot get anyhow else. Dr. Stoppard
Right. Do you think you could have ever married a man who did not go along with the idea that you have a career? Prime Minister
I think there would have been a clash sooner or later. You have to work this out—as you known in your own life—you have to work it out between your husband and yourself who is going to do what, and I have always been very very particular that there was always someone at home if I wasn't. I am still absolutely rigid on that. Children must never go into an empty house, never. Either the grandmother, maiden aunt or friend. I had not quite thought of it in those terms before. Perhaps it is because you have had the same experience. Yes it did give one a new confidence, because there was still a feeling about at that time that if you did not get married you were a bit odd; I do not think that is true at all, but there was a feeling … you know your parents were a little bit perturbed if you did not get married. Must be something a little bit strange. And therefore, yes, it did give you a new confidence to have both and to have the prospect of also adding one's own talents to the ordinary duties of marriage as well. It is just marvellous. Dr. Stoppard
You took your Bar exams and were successful and became a barrister and you went back to work very quickly after having your twins. Did you receive a lot of criticism from your colleagues? Prime Minister
No, I did not but again, I remember that, because I had the twins. They were born prematurely. I did not know they were going to be twins until the day they were born, until two days before they were born, round about that time, and they ar, rived and they were very small and going to need a lot of looking after and, of course, you do change when you have had children. It is the biggest change which occurs to you in your life. Really, for the first time in your life, you and your husband are both living for another human being. Someone else matters to you far more than you yourself, far more. I mean you would give everything that they should have a good start and it is a great physical and mental and emotional change which comes over you and I remember, looking at these two, being so relieved that the doctor had managed to get both of them because there was some doubt whether he could and thinking: “Now this is fantastic. If I am not careful, I am never going to make an effort to get back to sort of intellectual pursuits. I am just going to be so overcome with his that I am not going to continue with the law or politics or anything and I really ought to be able to do both!” So in that hospital, after about three or four days, I wrote a letter to Lincoln's Inn and I applied for the Finals Examination for the Bar. I had done my Part I, the children were born in August; we won the Ashes that year too. I remember. Where was Denis when the children were just born? Listening to the match at the Oval. We won the Ashes that year. It was August 15th, and I thought I have got to do something to ensure that I do go back to work at the Bar and so from the hospital I wrote off to Lincoln's Inn for my Finals papers for my Bar Exam which was to take place in December, and I knew that once I had done that and entered pride would make me work hard for it to get them.
It was a fantastic emotional change and it was a conscious decision. I really must both look after the children and do something else as well. Dr. Stoppard
You made it very hard on yourself, but you made it even harder in fact, because you then became an MP when they were six. Prime Minister
Yes, I gave up the law. You cannot do three things in law. You cannot both pursue a legal career and be a Member of Parliament and run a home. You can do two things. Many men do two things, a business career and a Member of Parliament. A woman can do two things. You have a constituency and run a home, but you cannot do three, not when you have got a family. Dr. Stoppard
But I was going to ask you this. Most women who work do feel guilt about leaving the children behind. When yours were six, you became an MP. Did you feel guilty? Prime Minister
I was dead lucky. Everything in my life happened to go right. I am the first to say that had I been chosen to, say, fight a Yorkshire seat and my husband had a job in Yorkshire, I do not think that I could have left my home on Monday morning, come down to Westminister and returned on Thursday night. I was not that kind of mother. I could not.
I was lucky. My seat is 12 miles out of London, so up and down the whole time. We had a house in London or very near, so my constituency was near London, my husband worked near London, Parliament in London, so I was to and fro and so I could go home when the children were home from school and be with them for a couple hours and then back.
I understand why we have too few women in Parliament, because I would have missed the children, I hope they would have missed me and I would have felt that I was not quite carrying out my duty if I had not been there. I agree, I admit it. Dr. Stoppard
Did you ever feel then, as some working women do, that they are not quite as good a mother as they want to be, they are not quite as good a wife, they are not quite as good an employee? Any area of their life is not quite as near 100%; as they want. Prime Minister
No. You can arrange it, you really can. It is easier when a professional woman goes out to work. Then, out of her salary, she can in fact … the first charge on your salary … you cannot go out to work unless you can see that there is someone there whom the children trust. And can I say that if they have chickenpox or measles, as they inevitably do, or if there is some crisis, people at work always understand a crisis. They understand why you have got to be home. And do not forget, men have crises too if their father or wife is ill. Then they have a crisis and that is understood at work.
Crises are times when everyone understands and everyone buckles-to and helps. It is the things which are not a crisis which are really a strain. Then you really do have to make strenuous efforts or organisation always thinking ahead to get it right—and you can do that. You can. And I used to think: well what about a widow, because some of the very best mothers are widows, because they have got everything to do and they have to go out to work and they have to arrange for other people to come in to help. Other people, again, will help, but it does not stop a widow being a very very very good mother, and you can in fact arrange it. But always, always, you have to give time to your children. It is not that you must always do their ironing and get the cereals ready and everything in the morning, but you must give them time.
And then, of course, you do a great deal for them in any case, because you want to. Dr. Stoppard
Do you ever feel that your public life was a bit unfair or put a lot of pressure on your children? You have mentioned when you were at the Ministry of Education: that was a tough time. Carol , your daughter, was then a student, and she really had a rather rough time, didn't she, from colleagues and friends, and that might have been a great pressure on her because of what you were doing? Prime Minister
Yes, she did have a rough time. Children of MPs, let alone Ministers, always have a rough time, because the image of them is heightened, and it is not fair on them, and therefore they have to get something out of it to correspond to the rough time. You try to see that they do.
Yes, I remember. She was at the University College, London, and therefore she did not take so much part in university activities. She just went to classes and went to lectures and did the work, without taking so much part in the life of the university, which was a pity. Dr. Stoppard
Did it make you feel bad about it? Prime Minister
Yes, it does, it does. It still does. Because, you know when you are young, most of you can make your mistakes or do things out of the limelight. When you belong to someone who is well-known either locally or nationally, then the press is such that they take it out of you and you cannot do anything without it being in the press, and it is not fair and it does worry you. Dr. Stoppard
How did you rationalise it then? Prime Minister
You cannot rationalise it. I am afraid it is part of the price of being in public life and you try to make up for it in other ways: that they are able to see things and meet people that otherwise they would not. You have got to make up to them somehow. Dr. Stoppard
We are sitting in a room that has traditionally been the room for Prime Ministers' wives. Why are you particularly comfortable to be interviewed here? Prime Minister
Well it is my favourite room. You are quite right. It is every woman's favourite room in No. 10. It is this lovely cream room, these fantastic yellow curtains. It is the most feminine room. It is the room with most windows. It is the smaller reception room so it is not too big, and I have tried to make it as lovely as possible. Yes, I do love it. But you do not lose your feminine qualities just because you are a Prime Minister. Dr. Stoppard
Oh no indeed! Because of the public attendance that your appearance gets—your hair, your clothes—do you ever get annoyed that that is something you have to attend to as well really which a man would not, when you have to get on with running the country? Prime Minister
Again, it has just become part of the job, although I think men should sometimes give a little bit of attention to theirs, you know. I can remember, there have been occasions, when perhaps one or two of our people have … quite a long time ago I had to go to great big international exhibitions and I tell you something one learns in politics. The Russians, when they go out always come out in the most beautifully tailored suits and there is very considerable criticism if our men politicians are not in nicely tailored suits, nice ties, nice shirts. And they should, because they are representing their country. So theirs matters to me. Once you are representing your country it matters.
Now it has just become second nature. Yes, you do have to watch. That is why I told you this radar bowl of a hat was not really quite right. But what you do is decide the clothes in which you are comfortable. You must be comfortable. You are going to a great occasion. It must be a style that you are comfortable in. Must be a fabric that you are comfortable in, that hangs well, and you must know that you look appropriate for the occasion. Never flashy, just appropriate, well-tailored, and it is not unfeminine to be well-tailored. Indeed, it often perhaps concentrates on what you are going to say if you have got well-tailored things on because people no longer look at your clothes. Dr. Stoppard
Right, but do you find it a bit of a bore that you have to do that? Prime Minister
You have got to watch. Yes, you have got to watch and you have got to watch that everything is really pretty well right. That you have got the right colour shoes on and the right colour hat and there is not a ladder in your stocking. And if you are going to a great occasion—just a rule. If you are going to do something that is particularly nervewracking as, for example, when I had the great honour of addressing the United States Congress—an honour that comes to you but rarely—never go in anything new. Go in a classic that you are comfortable with and so I did. So I did not have to think about that at all. And the person who was with me looking after the television, knowing that I would be terribly nervous and I was using autocue, which is these two things, the script flashes up on and you are worried about looking from one to the other and will it be all right, and do you know what he did? It was so touching. He knows that I get nervous if I have not got water beside me when I am making a speech. Throughout the last election I had a particular kind of sparkling water. Everyone knows, never offer me sparkling water from any other country, always British. He took over with him from this country three bottles of British sparkling water and when I got up there in front of Mr. Speaker O'Neil and the Vice-President to make the speech and the whole of Congress laid out, I looked down on to the desk in front of me, on to the podium; there was a glass and a bottle of English sparkling water. So I felt all right. It was going to be all right. One English and one Scottish … there is one called after a Scottish name as well, so it was fine. Dr. Stoppard
In what ways does the fact that you are a woman affect the way that you see the job? Prime Minister
You know, that is a question I find very difficult to answer. I have never been a man prime minister, so I do not know quite what it would be like, but I do think women take a slightly different approach.
First, women by their very nature—I spoke of the miracle of birth, I spoke of the birth of your children affecting your life more than anything else because your children matter far more to you than anything that happens to you—therefore, you automatically thing long-term. Not only what is immediate, but long-term. What sort of world are they going to grow up in? What can I do to influence that world? What can I do to train them for it? What can I do to see if their education is right? What can one do to see that they are good citizens? Automatically. Partly one's own upbringing, partly this thing. Women have this special relationship with life. You automatically think not only of the immediate, but you automatically want a home, you want to buy a house, you want to leave your children something. I automatically think long-term. I automatically think long-term policies. What sort of world are the children going to grow up in? How can one defend them against that war which had so much influence upon my own life? Automatically. That is one thing.
Then too, you are very practical, very practical. Now, don't just talk about it. Don't just talk about what we have got to aim for, but how. Tell me how. How are we going to do it? It causes roars of laughter sometimes when I say to Geoffrey Howe : “How, how?” And they say are you saying “how” with an “e” or “h-o-w?” How are we going to do it? Not just what but how. Got to have a method. Will it be practical?
Even now I automatically, if I am entertaining people to lunch, automatically I clear their plates away or say: “Do you mind stacking?” because it is just second nature. Dr. Stoppard
Do you think then, going back to this analogy of the home and also the special feelings that mothers have, that in a way managing a home is not that different from managing a country? Prime Minister
You have got to manage a home. There is a good manager and a bad manager of a home. There is a good manager and a bad manager of a business. But whatever income you have got, you have got to manage it and if you cannot manage one income you will never manage another, you will never live within another. The same is true of business. The same is true of the country and I noticed that if people ever get used to the thought “Well, that is on the State. If I have not got enough money I have only got to go back for more!” they will not use that money to good advantage. There is no Government money. I have to take it from people's pockets. So there is a duty to be a good manager of it.
In some ways it is absolutely the same. In some ways it is different, but if you are not a good manager in one thing, you will not be in another. Dr. Stoppard
You are very much working a man's world. Do you ever feel like an outsider? Prime Minister
No, I don't. I don't. I think it is always that I worked in science, I worked very much in what is called a man's world although thank goodness there are more women scientists now—there are not enough women engineers; they are very good at it—and then I worked in law, which to some extent was a man's world and then in Parliament. I do wish there were more women in Parliament, I really do, and then here.
I think it is that having been trained for whatever subject I was in, whether it was science, whether it was law, I have always felt the equivalent of anyone else who was trained in that subject and so I have not noticed it. It does not bother me. The only thing, it can be advantage wherever I go in the world, even though I just walk down the street, people will recognise me. I went to Indonesia. I did not think I would be known there. I went to a university there and the students were shouting “Thatcher, Thatcher, strong leader! Thatcher, strong leader, Thatcher!” They knew … folk on the streets. I remember in Italy someone saying, delicious … “Mama Thatcher, Mama Thatcher!” Wasn't it marvellous? Mama Thatcher. Simply wonderful. And then here in the English-speaking world saying: “Look, it's Maggie!” So you are known and you are really rather pleased, rather surprised, still, because, frankly, you know they can have quite a line-up of men politicians and they will not be able always to say which one was which, but they do know, and in that sense it gives you an advantage. Dr. Stoppard
Well now, even in the Cabinet though, it is still a one-woman band in the Cabinet, isn't it? Prime Minister
No, no, no, it isn't. I don't know where people got this idea from that they are all yes-men. Believe you me they are not. I wish they were a bit more sometimes! No, partly because we have always argued things through, very much argued things through, and still do. Dr. Stoppard
But would you like more women on the Cabinet with you? Prime Minister
We have got to have more women in Parliament first. Yes, I know exactly who will be the next one to come on. She is doing very well. Yes, I have Janet Young for some time, so we had two women. But do you know we haven't any more women in Parliament now than we had in the 1930s. One tries to make amends for it by putting more women in the House of Lords. We have far more women in the House of Lords proportionately. Dr. Stoppard
Do you see any contradiction in saying that women are equal, that sexes do not matter, best person for the job, and you then are saying that women have special knowledge, special experiences that enriches their contribution? Prime Minister
No, I do not see any contradiction, because I think there are two things. One is in your professional capacity; then there is another in your fundamental nature. Because of the fundamental difference between men and women there does have an emotional difference. Now, whether it is an emotional difference between women who have had children and men and others, I do not know, but there is a biological difference and I always think it is really rather silly to try and act as if there weren't. In a way, we have immense privileges that men don't and immense responsibilities, and yes, it has an emotional difference in two ways: first, as I say, we go through the miracle of birth and are particularly near therefore to children, but secondly, you know, so often women are left having to cope and that has an effect because women always somehow, if they are left to cope, can cope. So there are these two factors. In a way they are both related. But somehow women cope and you know, the whole world can be falling around your ears and someone will get up and carry on. “Well I'd better make a cup of tea now! Come on, get up, dust yourself down!” You start dusting the children down, wiping their face, stopping their tears, finding a chair. “Have you had enough to eat?” and you set about setting the world to rights again. You will find it in every disaster. Promptly go to help someone. So will many many men, but it is the first instinct of a woman. Dr. Stoppard
Do you ever find that makes it difficult for you then, that maybe you do have an emotional response to a situation, maybe it might even be such that you want to cry, but you feel that because you are a woman in a man's world you just cannot do that, you have got to be stiffer than the stiffest upper lip? Prime Minister
While there is a crisis on you will get on with it. Haven't you always noticed, no matter what the crisis, you can cope while it is on. You can keep going day and night and day and night. You can keep going through big conferences even if there is a crisis. It is when it is over that all of a sudden you feel tired and feel “Oh, goodness me!” but you can cope during a crisis.
I have often said it is the ordinary daily load which in a way can take more out of you than a crisis because in a crisis the adrenalin flows and the test is whether you can take the ordinary daily responsibility and that in the end is what you have to do here, and I am always very pleased when people say to me that “there have been many many men who have come in and they have looked a bit more worn and torn after six years than you do!” and again, I think, well, if you have been looking after children when you are young and keeping a house going and everything else you do just keep going. And there is a difference between men and women in that way. Just be proud of it. Dr. Stoppard
You did say that there are moments when the crisis is over or when the work has taken its toll that you do think “Oh, I am very tired!” What do you do in those situations? Prime Minister
Well you just come in and you just flop down and you just talk to your family. When Falklands was over, never will I forget that night. You did not realise the enormity of the burden until it was over. Dr. Stoppard
Can you remember what you did? Prime Minister
Yes, I can, because the news came in and we were not sure that it was true. The news was coming in they were negotiating and yet we had not got confirmation and we decided to go across to the House and on a point of order announce what we knew. Then I came back here and there were people outside waiting and cheering and so one went to be with them and then I came back in and went straight upstairs to our little sitting room and just flopped, just flopped. The fantastic relief that there were not any young men whose lives were at risk, because that is what one had lived with. 257. There weren't any more. There weren't any more days when someone was going to suddenly ring up or come up with terrible news. I cannot tell you the relief, because you realise the strain you were living under. You see, when you get war it is always the young who take the burden. I went round the Commonwealth War Graves They are beautifully kept. We really do honour our dead and always must. Each headstone has something on it from the families. You know: “We long for household voices gone. How much is missed!” and you go along each one of them. Aged 19. Aged 20, 23, 21. Possibly someone 35. Mostly young. Then all of a sudden you will come to a headstone with no name on it because there was some unknown one. “Known to God!” That I think is one of the loveliest things of all.
And all through, one had to live through that. All of a sudden, no-one else was at risk, and you sat down and realised the enormity of it, and that really is when you just flop, and you see, while it was on, nothing else mattered. You had to carry on with other things. People perhaps do not realise the whole strain you are under because of the young and people's lives at stake. And because of their courage and because we would not be free unless through the ages there had been people who were prepared to lay down their lives for it. Dr. Stoppard
Can I just be a little more personal about that. There was a time when your Mark Thatcher son was in danger and he was lost in the Sahara. Did you find any conflicts about your worries as a mother, but you had to go on and do your job as a Prime Minister? Prime Minister
Yes, one went on doing it and I remember again the agony in the back of my mind and I remember I had to do a Cabinet and I remember just quietly sending down a message saying: “Would you please go to everyone before I go down and say ‘Please, do not mention anything to me’”. Then I went in and carried on with Cabinet as if nothing had happened. If anyone had mentioned anything to me, I would have found it acutely difficult.
And then I remember waking up, and I had received a telegram … waking up one morning when Mark had been lost five days … and we had a telegram: “You will be delighted that your son's car has been seen going across the boundary into Mali” and I felt fantastically relieved and the next morning I turned on the 6 o'clock news and the first news was the rumours that Mark Thatcher had been found were not right. It was not him. He has not been heard of for now the sixth day. Six days in the desert and they had not found him and I simply said to Denis “Now look, one of us has got to go. Until we actually get across there we will not know that everything is being done that is possible” and do you know, within half an hour, one of our great family friends also heard the news and said: “Look, we have an aircraft. It is ready. Would Denis like to go? It is ready to fly down there!”
Do you know, some people, their kindness … they had the ability to get an aircraft ready and they did and, as you know, he went down and was found. But the days when I thought I was never going to see him again, and that is how I knew what the Falklands mothers were going through, and that is how I knew how, although they kept hope alive, how terrible they felt. I was lucky. They were not. Dr. Stoppard
One of your most famous sayings is that you thought there would never be a female prime minister in your time. Prime Minister
That is quite right. I did. I could not see people choosing a woman Prime Minister, but you know, we talk far too much about labels. They never choose a man Prime Minister. They choose John Smith or Alfred Bloggins . They do not choose a woman Prime Minister. They choose a personality and I never thought I would have the opportunity, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to serve in a Cabinet. As I said originally, I never thought I would have the chance to be a Member of Parliament.
In life, you know, some people try to map out their lives. I can remember some of my young contemporaries at Oxford saying: “I am going to be Prime Minister!” That was the one thing I never said, because I did not think I would have the chance.
You just take what opportunities are available to you and grasp them with both hands. Dr. Stoppard
Are you excited though by the idea that you are the first woman in No. 10? Does it still excite you? Prime Minister
I am terribly excited to be here. It is the most fantastic privilege. I still, every time I come in, I am still thrilled to be here, still thrilled. I do not think of myself as the first woman Prime Minister. I am still thrilled to be the person who is in here. Dr. Stoppard
You say you never thought of being Prime Minister. Do you ever get moments though when you kind of come to your senses and think: “Gosh, it is me! Heavens! I am doing this job!”? Prime Minister
I think I did not[sic:?at] first and I still fully appreciate the immense privilege. I no longer think “Gosh, it is me.” These days I am so constantly thinking of the problems that I do not matter, if you see what I mean. It is always the problems and what can we do about them. Dr. Stoppard
Were there times when you did think that though, at the beginning? Prime Minister
I think so, at the beginning. I have always had just an immense advantage that I did not have physically to find the money for looking after my children and therefore I always have had a degree of freedom. It did not matter. I could resign if I wanted to, without thinking “What is going to be the effect on the standard of living of my wife and family?” I could always walk out at any time if I disagreed with … you do not walk out at any time. You try to get agreement, but if … I never had to think … “Well now, would the impact on the standard of living of the family be so terrible that I have got somehow to compromise in what I believe in?” I have never had to do that, never, and believe you me, it is a fantastic strength. I have never had to say anything in an election which I did not believe in, never, because, all right, what I believe in was more important than that and it was not going to impact on their physical standard of living.
That, I suppose, is why I eventually got the sort of reputation of being inflexible. It is not inflexible. It is just standing up for what you believe in. Dr. Stoppard
I mean, that is rather important, because what you are saying is that if women can have this freedom they are really the most forthright, the most honest … Prime Minister
Some men have it. If they have a business as well. If they have a career as well as being a Member of Parliament, then that is something they can always return to, but I never forget, it is constantly in my mind. If a man makes being a Member of Parliament his career, he may lose his seat through no fault of his own and it worries me and it must worry them. These days of course sometimes their wives also have a career and can step in and the thing that worries me most about a reshuffle which I do … is really does worry me … I know I have to do it because young people have to have the chance to come on and that is how we get a chance. Some come on, some have to go out. It really worries me when they walk in that door to see me. They have position; they have done their job well. They have a salary commensurate with their position; they have a car. When they walk out of that door, that salary stops that day. However good they have been, the press will say they have been sacked which is cruel and you know that day, their car leaves them and goes to the new Minister. Last time I said to my Secretary: “Please, do me at least this favour! Send out an order to the car pool, that car is to take them home tonight and it is not to move until the next day! At least get them home!” And I think it is terrible and I would very much wish that they could have at least three months' salary after that, because it must have an effect. Heaven knows, there is the loss of salary and the loss of prestige, and just imagine, at an election it is even worse. Please. Mercifully, many people come to serve, even though they may face that, but it must worry them. Dr. Stoppard
Do you feel that that makes you stronger than the average person? Prime Minister
It means that I never have to think “Is it going to cost my family anything?” It does not and that is why. Dr. Stoppard
So you do not have to compromise? Prime Minister
No. I would not compromise anyway, because that was one's upbringing, but it does have an effect on them, but it is not going to have a fundamental standard of living effect. Dr. Stoppard
Because you are a woman and a mother and therefore must react in certain ways, as you described, to your son being lost in the desert, do you think that makes you more vulnerable than a man might be and if you are, are there any advantages to that? Prime Minister
No, I don't think it makes one more vulnerable. You know, if anything happens to your child, to a son or daughter, the father is just as distraught, just as distraught. The loss of a son or daughter in war-time, the letters I have … there are two parents … a father feels just as much. As I say, parenthood is one of the most wonderful experiences in life. We both did react the same way. Dr. Stoppard
Do you think, in that respect, the sort of compassionate response of a woman could be useful in your job? Prime Minister
Yes it is. This is why I have always … the one thing I cannot stand or understand is cruelty to children. I cannot understand it. I can understand if a child cries and cries, just hitting out, just like that once, but really, the very person to whom they look for protection is the person from whom they receive cruelty and a calculated cruelty, I cannot understand and really is the one thing which makes me want to get at people who behave that way. It is the only time I feel: “God, I would like to take the law into my own hands and deal with that person!” It is the most terrible thing on earth, cruelty to a child and having being through … experience as a parent … I cannot understand it and it is the one thing which, if ever I lost my cool and there was someone who had been cruel to a child, I really would need supreme self-control … at that moment.