Mummy, you must carry on
My family tell me there's no one else by Jean Rook
I first interviewed Margaret Thatcher a dozen years ago when she was Minister of Education. I predicted in print, to the jeers of male colleagues, that she would become Britain's first woman Prime Minister.
I interviewed her again on the eve of the 1975 fight for the Tory leadership, when she gave me the prophetic quote “I'm very fond of Ted Heath, but …”.
I have had five sittings since.
And yesterday I went back to No 10 at a time when she has never been under more pressure. Never less popular in the polls. Never more backed against the wall.
I wanted to find out what goes on INSIDE the woman, Margaret Hilda Thatcher. …
Let me start with a nasty one. Denis is 70, and there have been stories that he's fed-up with it. Is he dreading another five years?
No. He will support whatever I do. He's marvellous to me, and he's been very upset by some of the things in the papers. He has his own life and work and that's been very important to both of us. He's not my second fiddle. He's first fiddle in his own orchestra—in fact he's his own conductor.
His work has been more in the limelight because of me, and he's sometimes been criticised because of me. But if we daren't go on and won't go forward, then those people who sometimes pillory us will have done their worst, and succeeded, and they mustn't.
When the new house at Dulwich is built—sometime this year—we shall move our furniture out of store, and that will be Denis's refuge—and he must have a refuge.
The house is 15 minutes from here, and overlooks a golf course. I feel Denis will feel much surer when we've got back into a house of our own again. I shan't spend much time there, obviously, but it does mean quite a lot to him.
CAN you honestly tell me he has never asked you to pack it all in?
NOW and then he says, ‘Oh love, how much longer?’, but it's not serious. It's always in the same breath as ‘Look, I don't think there's anyone else.’ He's supported me all the way: right from the start. He wants every bit as much as I do for me to achieve the things I believe in and he couldn't possibly bear the thought that he'd hindered me in any way.’
WHAT were his last words to you just before you went in to Question Time on the Westland affair?
YOU'LL be all right, love. You'll be all right.
IS yours a great love story? (After a long pause, when the PM did not look at me).
YES (another lengthy pause). As well as a great love story, It's a great friendship story, and a great common interest story. It's everything. It's been 35 years.
YOUR daughter, Carol has won her place in the public's affection. Your son, Mark hasn't. Some tough things have been written about him. I've written some of them myself. In fact, if I'd had to read those things said about my own son …
… YOU'D have been heart-broken. You'd have felt just as I do. Most young people are able to make their own mistakes in private, but they have to carry theirs out in the public limelight, and it's very difficult for them.
Do you get incensed when your family is criticised?
INCENSED isn't the word. Incensed is a sort of surface thing, and it's deeper than that. You expect horrid things to be said about you in politics, because I'm afraid that's the way it works. You don't like it when it's extended to your family.
“Denis cares enormously when they say nasty things about me, and I can't bear it when they say them about him and sometimes they do. We both care, but it's part of being here. You do have to build up a kind of armour against it.
WOULD you like to be a grandmother?
OH yes! I feel deprived. I'd be a very good grandmother, and a great baby-sitter, and I'd love to have the grand-children here if their parents wanted to get away.
But isn't it extraordinary, they're nearly 32—no. nearly 33—and Carol's such an attractive personality. But CAN I get them to …
COULDN'T you chivvy them up a bit?
NO you mustn't chivvy them. And anyway, it's something they have to decide for themselves, so it won't do any good.
HOW do your twins feel about you going on to the next election?
OH. they say, “Well, Mummy, there's no-one, else.” It sounds dreadful for me to say that. But that's what they say … ‘Mummy, there's no-one else who will have the same sort of purpose, drive and direction that you have.’ In fact I think they would be horrified if I thought of giving up. WHICH I DON'T.
IS it hell to be called a liar with the country listening on TV?
Yes, It's absolutely hell, but you know that's the sort of people some of them are. And, as my father would have said to me. If they turn to personal abuse, they've lost the argument, they've no case, and don't let that sort of person bother you'.
I WAS deeply moved when you spoke so emotionally about your late father on TV. because I feel the same about my own. You in fact cried when you mentioned him. Do you cry often, and are you a deeply emotional person at heart?
DEEPLY, yes, of course. I often think of my father, and often think of my family, in the same way. Because there are two riches in life—one is family, and one friends. And the older you get, the far more these riches mean to you. When you're young, you want money. When you're older, you want permanent friends.
It's very difficult to pass that realisation on to young people. It's something that has to come to you from experience. I learned so much from my father, and I'm eternally grateful for it.
MALE writers, especially in overseas publications, have said that you are fantastically beautiful and sexually attractive. Not in a sloppy way, but as a serious analysis of your charismatic quality. What do you make of that?
I AM absolutely amazed I thought I was supposed to be so cold and marble-like. It doesn't tie up!
YOU irritate most women who can't keep up with you by looking better—seven years after taking on a job has aged strong men—than you looked at the start. How do you do it?
WELL, you've got to do it. When you go abroad, the first thing the people at the airport look for is ‘How does she look?’ It's discipline, really. Just habit. You have to make things like looking after your skin and your diet. IF you put on weight, take it off at once or you'll just pile on more and more—a habit like cleaning your teeth.
Does someone run behind you with a comb?
My hair was done on Monday, as always, that's why it looked quite nice on Panorama. And you know it's tinted. I told you that years ago. On Thursdays it's rollered and combed out. The rest of the time I manage myself.
IF you don't mind my saying so, you have one physical habit which annoys me.
LET me have it.
YOU walk too fast, with your head way ahead of the rest of you.
I ALWAYS AM. especially since I stay until the last minute at places, and hate being late for the next. If you had my schedule, you'd look as if you were in a hurry.
WHAT would you like as your epitaph?
I HONESTLY haven't given it a thought. Ask me after the next five years. After all, President Reagan is 75, and he's doing all right.
IS there one thing about Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the woman that the country can't see in you which you wish they could?
WELL, I'm absolutely amazed when some people say I am either hard or uncaring, because it's so utterly untrue. I can't say it because, if you say you are caring, it's like saying, ‘I'm a very modest person.’ Nobody believes you.
Just the way our team works here—now could we work together, and so hard, if I was hard and uncaring and thoughtless of their concerns. To work together, you have to like and respect one another.
When people meet me, they say ‘You're not a bit like I thought you'd be.’ But you can't meet everyone, more's the pity.
I can't say anything when I'm accused of being uncaring, as I say … (a very long pause, the PM's voice falters for the only time during the hour-long interview) … But it DOES hurt, because it's just not true.
And I don't know how to get it across. And I know that I CAN'T get it across.
NO, I'M NOT THE GREAT DICTATOR
ARE you schoolmarmish and dictatorial?
I DON'T think I'm either of those, but it's an awful insult to some marvellous teachers, to whom I owe a great deal, to apply the word “school-marmish” In a nasty way.
My teachers deliberately taught; they were concerned about their pupils' future; they deliberately gave the advantage of their experience; they had tremendous prestige; and you could go to them with all sorts of little problems for all sorts of wisdom. I wonder if pupils can still talk to their teachers as I did?
ARE you The Great Dictator?
No, I am not. We could never have the arguments and clashes of opinion that we have if I were. But I DO know my own mind, I DO know the direction in which I want to go, and I DO try to influence argument with argument.
Dictate? No. There is no room for a dictator in democracy. But there is room for leadership.
And, yes, it may be hard to make strong decisions, and give a strong lead, but if you believe in Britain as I do, then you stick to it. That's not being a dictator. That's belief!
SPITTING IMAGE IS HORRIFYING
WHAT do you think of your puppet on Spitting Image?
I DON'T watch Spitting Image. I did watch it once, but they had some things on the Royal Family which so horrified me I haven't watched it since.
IS it true you avoid the “horrid bits”, about you in newspapers?
THAT'S right, though I'm afraid my eye catches something now and then, can't resist it, and then it's “did you see that stuff in the paper today?” If you become absorbed about worrying what's been written about you. It could fetter your ability to make decisions, so you have to put it right out at your mind.
Section in box
I HAVE NO TIME FOR FUN
THE years between 50 and 60, (the P.M. breaks in with “they've gone in a flash—but 60 isn't nearly so old as I thought it was going to be”) … are felt by most women to be the Last Fling—the last chance to do something stupid, buy a mad swimsuit, or a crazy pair of tights. Do you ever get the urge to do something stupid?
NO! When the children were young and we all learned to ski—I loved that. Quite mad, aren't we, we British, going off ski-ing for a fortnight in the year, using every muscle, and then not using a muscle for months?
Since I became party leader I've never done anything like that. Because nobody would have any sympathy for me if I came in with a strained ankle or a broken leg.
If I took those risks, I couldn't carry on here at the pace I do. So, I'm very dull. I'd love to be able to play tennis, because two can play.
WHY don't you take up tennis, it's not too late?
A LONG, long, long pause. ARE you making the point to me that 300 cameras would be focused on Maggie's shorts ?
DO you ever wake up in the morning and think, “My God, is all this WORTH it?”
NO, because, although I've been at No 10 for seven years, It's still a daily thrill to be here. There's something about being in the centre of things, and in this historic place. AND MY TASK IS UNFINISHED.
CAN you categorically confirm to me that you WILL lead the Tories into, the next Election?
YES. Well, I hope so. That is my intention. I would fight for the leadership if I had to. As I said, I am still going uphill. And I believe we will win.