Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1989 Nov 6 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Sun

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: The Sun transcript
Journalist: Kelvin McKenzie, The Sun
Editorial comments:

1100-1150. This interview was originally intended to be a "background chat". However, it was later agreed that part of the interview (on MT’s 'lifestyle') would go on the record for use in the New Year (Thatcher Archive: Ingham note, 3 November 1989).

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3088
Themes: Media, Sport, Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Autobiography (marriage & children)
Off the record material preceding the interview has been removed.

Kelvin McKenzie

Do you mind? I've brought one of these things along and I regret to say it's Japanese. I was going to ask you about something that you touched on earlier about how it was that people today are younger as they get older. Take yourself for instance. Nobody in their right mind would think you are anything near your age, and not only that, you probably work twice as hard now as you did thirty years ago. Would that be fair?

Prime Minister

Oh yes, I think I work in a more concentrated way. Because everything you do matters and it is much more concentrated, you're quite right. You couldn't suddenly come to it. You have to come to it through years of doing it. I think there are two explanations. First the ordinary housewife: a lot of the drudgery has been taken out with new technology. Beatrice RobertsMy mother [end p1] worked extremely hard, physically harder than I do, because there were no such things as washing machines, no such things as refrigerators, and in those days we didn't have vaccuum cleaners. The actual drudgery of housework was much, much greater. Now modern technology has meant that you can clean a house much faster and therefore you have other time, time to do other things. Secondly, we were brought up to work. It was a sin not to work. Idleness itself was a sin. We always did work. We were also brought up to be involved with people. Everything we did. We had a shop which automatically involved us with people, we went to Church you are automatically involved with people, you do all sorts of voluntary work you are automatically involved with people. I just suppose I've seen my Alfred Robertsfather work extremely hard, my mother worked extremely hard, we had to work extremely hard to climb your way up the ladder as education mattered tremendously. You had to work hard so you got into an early habit of working hard, a belief that you had to work hard. Even so, you still couldn't have done it unless, it's training over the years. I always worked hard and I tended to work late at night. I think working hard keeps you young, because I think it stimulates your mind. It's if on the other hand you are doing really physically hard work, then your skin out in the fields, your skin can get weather beaten and so on. Much work now is not so physically hard, it's mentally hard, mental approach is sometimes more stressful.

Kelvin McKenzie

You've got the most stressful job in Britain at [end p2] the moment by about ten thousand miles. How do you actually deal with stress? Everybody knows when they are getting over stress. Would you go and sit down or would you switch on the TV? How would you deal with that?

Prime Minister

Really by sorting out what I can do and what I can't do that is causing the stress. Then realising that what you cannot do you really mustn't get too much uptight about. Really sitting down and analysing it.

Kelvin McKenzie

For instance, supposing, I just didn't get it right, terrible paper that day, great story, I would pour myself a glass of wine. Would you pour yourself a glass of whisky or would you just sit and put your feet up? Is there something that you would actually physically do?

Prime Minister

No, that may be the difference between men and women. I would get on with the job next in hand which would take my mind off what was causing the stress and get on to something else. It might be the routine correspondence. It might be going down to make supper. It might be tidying up a cupboard but I would do something practical. I would get on with the job next in hand.

Kelvin McKenzie

You don't indulge yourself then?

Prime Minister

No, for a woman no. I go up in the evening and [end p3] Denis ThatcherDenis is there. “Yes, come on and have a sit down and have a drink.” I will have a whisky and he will have a gin. That's part of the day. You do go up and that does mean an awful lot. But if you've got something really worrying you, unless you do something different you will brood over it, and brooding over it doesn't help get it better. Mind you, I've a marvellous family and so have you and you know we had the problem of the Nigel LawsonChancellor resigning, Denis ThatcherDT wasn't here. He came in later. He just about got in, just about after eight o'clock not knowing quite what had happened and by that time we had got our appointments done and out. I went upstairs, phew, quite a day. He came in and we sat down and he asked what had happened and I told him. In a matter of minutes both my children were on the telephone. “Mum, we've heard the news. Are you all right?” Do you know that made me more cheerful than anything else. “Mum, are you all right? Do you want me to come round?” Just marvellous to talk to them. Mark ThatcherMy son had seen it in America. “Mum, Are you all right? Don't worry, you know we love you.” It means more to you than anything else in the world. Then I talked and Denis was in for supper. So I must have got some supper. Someone's got to do it. And then there's nothing that I could do about what had happened, about the day. I just had to get on. It was pretty busy day. I hadn't long been back from Malaysia and I had had about no more than four hours sleep. I think I must be the best adrenalin producer in the United Kingdom. I think I must have a super adrenalin producing system. I didn't feel tired. And the other thing about if you brood and brood and brood is to stick with doing something different. You [end p4] won't go to sleep.

Kelvin McKenzie

Rupert MurdochRupert says exactly the same thing. He says whatever else happens you must have a decent night's sleep. Let me ask you about your sleep. Do you go to bed before or after midnight?

Prime Minister

Well, after midnight. Sometimes when you've been out for an enormously long walk which does not very often happen but when I'm on holiday I do. Then you get physically tired to an extent that you have to be. I tell you, after three decent nights sleep I would be slept out.

Kelvin McKenzie

Why is it you need less sleep? You come from a very hard working family. You must have naturally a strong constitution. To go to bed after midnight and presumably get up about six o'clock, 6.30?

Prime Minister

Usually about six. I'm alert at six. I start to listen to the day's news. I might have heard the world service news at 5am. These days I find it very difficult actually to sleep more than four hours. I might just lay listening to what the news is.

Kelvin McKenzie

So you don't wake up feeling grumpy in the morning? After five hours of sleep? [end p5]

Prime Minister

If I think I haven't had enough sleep you try to go to sleep. And then you find you are as alert as anything. You can't go to sleep.

Kelvin McKenzie

Were your parents like that? Your mother or your father, did they have that sort of sleep pattern?

Prime Minister

No, I think partly it's the training. I've said to people when I was younger I used to hear people say “I can't do with anything less than eight hours sleep a night,” and I said, “So long as you say that, you'll need it. If you want to do with less you'll have to start to train yourself.”

Kelvin McKenzie

That leads me to another thing. What about your eating habits? You've kept yourself in—I mean I've been the Editor of The Sun for ten years. I can tell you the one thing I'm most embarrassed about is my stomach—which seems to have got fatter and fatter, and I notice that you have gone in the reverse.

Prime Minister

The kind of life that I lead has not really got a terribly regular eating pattern, although I do see that I get some of the right amount of vitamins and minerals. I like good food like you, but I don't have anything in the morning except a piece of fruit and black coffee. That's a discipline I've learned over the years.

Kelvin McKenzie

Since you've become Prime Minister or before? [end p6]

Prime Minister

Before. It's got really quite rigid, although even then if I'm out somewhere and you're staying in a hotel and someone comes up with bacon and egg I will have it. Because it's quite the best thing. British people's culinary gift to the world. I will have it and then I will think gosh, you simply must not eat three meals a day. That's too much. Which you mustn't. But normally I don't have anything. I don't have biscuits. I have black coffee. Lunchtime, now Tuesday and Thursday we have questions in the House and so I wouldn't dream of going over to questions on a full stomach. I just have a bowl of soup and a piece of fruit.

Kelvin McKenzie

Is that because you believe that a full stomach will stop you being in good fighting trim?

Prime Minister

It's better not. It's better for the active who have got to be particularly alert not to have digestion taking most of the blood. So I now find that if you have one good meal a day you only need a second really light one. You just watch what you eat. Sometimes you eat too much and if you eat too much you don't feel good at all. And you come to learn that: don't overload yourself. One could still do with losing another half stone and ought to, but you can't do the other thing. You can't starve yourself. You can't. You'd be stupid to do so. So you've got to have enough good food. [end p7]

Mr Ingham

You also live in a field, Prime Minister, windows open all the time. You like fresh air.

Prime Minister

Yes, I like fresh air.

Kelvin McKenzie

We've talked about going for a walk. That's presumably down at Chequers is it, at the weekend?

Prime Minister

Yes, or on holiday

Kelvin McKenzie

Have you ever tried—for instance my wife swears by it and I'm sure there's nothing in it at all. She takes Royal Jelly.

Prime Minister

Yes, I did that for a time but it didn't seem to make any difference and I stopped it.

Kelvin McKenzie

That appears to be the trick actually. You tend to believe it. It works for a while and then it sorts of runs out of speed.

Prime Minister

Yes, mind you if you wanted something in the morning because you felt you'd got a strenuous day, a slice of brown toast with honey on is a very good thing. It really is. It's not much, it just gives you a boost. [end p8]

Kelvin McKenzie

In a way your life is mainly meetings, isn't it, essentially?

Prime Minister

It is not really enough exercise.

Kelvin McKenzie

Why, does this worry you?

Prime Minister

Well, rushing up and down the stairs, I find …

Kelvin McKenzie

Yes, but so do you find …

Prime Minister

… and when I'm out and about—I'm out and about quite a lot—I get exercise.

Kelvin McKenzie

How many times in a week would you actually be for instance going to a factory or opening something or …

Prime Minister

I should think we do—we're doing that at least once a week, and sometimes when we go out for the day we might be doing eight engagements in a day. Really dashing around.

Mr Ingham

Tours are quite exhausting.

Prime Minister

Tours are quite exhausting. I mean, we might [end p9] dash out and do something on a Wednesday morning, because I'm not across at the House, or dash out and do something on a Friday morning, you know we went up to the Mildmay mission once, we went down to do the Blackfriars Foundry once, something that can be done quickly and you do it for two reasons: First because you want to get out of here to see what's going on on the ground and second because meeting people stimulates you.

Kelvin McKenzie

Gives you ideas …

Prime Minister

Yes. Because you see what's happening and you don't have to rely on anyone else's judgement—you make it yourself. And then, you know, you do go round at a fair pace and meet people and you are giving out energy the whole time. And then there's the constituency day. Who came in last week? Oh, it was the Sunday Correspondent: “So you get isolated?” Isolated? You should see the days I have here. First, there was the Thursday. I come back from Malaysia, had just very little sleep, had Nigel LawsonNigel come in, Cabinet meeting, Questions Briefing, Nigel coming in, Questions, statement, Questions, back here, Nigel. Get things sorted out. And then on the Friday we had several things to do here. And then we had the whole of Trilateral Commission in here—150, 200 people coming in for a reception, speech, going on, all Europeans.

Mr Ingham

And then your constituency thirtieth anniversary. [end p10]

Prime Minister

Then the next day it was my thirtieth anniversary with the constituency, I was doing my boxes here all day, went up—about 550 people there, went up, started to receive at 6.30 and we left after midnight, going round all the time. So that was Friday, then on the Monday we had our general reception here—you know what those are?

Kelvin McKenzie

Yes.

Prime Minister

You've been to those. That was giving out again. It's absolutely absurd to describe me as isolated and so we go on.

Mr Ingham

The most open bunker in Britain.

Prime Minister

It is the most open bunker in Britain.

Kelvin McKenzie

That's a good one. So in fact you are … so it's the adrenalin that keeps you going.

Prime Minister

And then you go out, and there'll be, as you go across to Questions, quite often they'll let the schoolchildren come and there'll be a whole load of schoolchildren. They've got their cameras ready, you know, and so out you go. So you want to get out to make your own judgements and secondly because people stimulate you. I don't know, I don't know when people ask me how. I think the secret is you never really have the time to stop to [end p11] think how you do without sleep—you do it. If you eat up to your appetite you'll feel overloaded, so you don't do it. You know, also, that if I'm not across at the House and I'm in here and I'm working and Denis ThatcherDT is out then I won't bother to get myself a meal. You get yourself a cup of coffee and some small snack, so it works itself out, you see, with the meals you eat out and the meals you don't have in.

Kelvin McKenzie

Well, I won't delay you any longer, Prime Minister, but can I just ask you one thing? I saw you on Walden last week, you looked nervous—you seemed to be nervous right up to the minute when you blew your top basically, not quite blew your top but there was a sort of rising tension, and then you looked much more like you look now. Do you get nervous? Are there things that make you nervous?

Prime Minister

Of course, when a television camera—I couldn't do this interview as I've done it, talking to you with a camera there. Yes, I do get nervous. Even with radio, although with radio it is easier, you haven't got to worry about what you look like or whether there are any mannerisms you don't know about. You can concentrate your whole mind on thinking. So yes, I do find television cameras unpleasing, but then when you've got so much into it you've forgotten the television camera. It would be better in a way if we did a work-up. You know, you do a work-up on a tennis court or … if we did a work-up and then said, “Come on now, we'll do half an hour question and answer.” But then you [end p12] can't, because the sponteneity has gone. And so yes, always at the beginning I will look nervous.

Kelvin McKenzie

Is there nothing else that makes you nervous? Supposing when you meet a president of the United States or something … some major figure. Mind you, I suspect they might be more nervous of you than you would be of them?

Prime Minister

There is never any reason to be nervous of me.

Kelvin McKenzie

Right.

Prime Minister

I am far more interested in them and what they have to say. Never!

Kelvin McKenzie

So, yes, I didn't, yes I didn't mean that. Were you nervous? Is there any sort of circumstance …

Prime Minister

Yes, you are nervous if you have got a very tricky negotiation to do. Madrid was very difficult, but I had worked extremely hard. You must, if you are to get over that, have done your homework. Really hard. And have people hurling questions at you. You know, get someone to come and be a devil's advocate. Hurl the questions at you as if they were a real left-winger. You know, hurl them! And then you start to think, “What is the answer [end p13] going to be to that?” And then you start to think, “Well now, who have I got to persuade?” And the only thing that gets you through then is the minute preparation that you've done and the fact that your mind has already been prepared for many of the questions that you will be asked. We do work hard.

Kelvin McKenzie

Oh no, no, I wouldn't doubt it, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

But I think the other thing is, I sometimes say to sportsmen who come in here when we have our receptions, whether they are golfers or cricketers or boxers, hockey players, footballers, rugby football—Denis ThatcherDenis' religion—there is something very similar between sports and politics. You'll all have bad days. What matters is not the bad days but how you can pick yourself up and recover. That you just have to do.

Kelvin McKenzie

Just get on with it.

Prime Minister

Because no one, but no one, can be on top form the entire time. I mean we all just have days when somehow you seem to go into orbit—you know, everything goes right and other days when you don't. I must say that it matters tremendously having a marvellous family. There you know you have fantastic support.

Kelvin McKenzie

I won't keep you.