Commentary (The Times)

MT: “‘Bush Oysters’ and nature&#146s call prove route to a nation&#146s heart” (Carol Thatcher on “I&#146m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!”)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 26 November 2005
Journalist: Andrew Pierce, The Times
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 959 words
Themes: Autobiography (marriage & children), Media

‘Bush oysters’ and nature’s call prove route to a nation’s heart

By Andrew Pierce

Carol Thatcher's iron resolve - a famous family trait - could prove to be a winner

MARGARET THATCHER was loved and loathed in equal measure by the people of Britain but now her daughter, Carol, appears to be the first of the family to unify the nation.

Ms Thatcher, 52, has become the unlikely star of the reality television show I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!, which is attracting audiences of about eight million a night.

She has not had the easiest of debuts in the jungle. First she was sick as she was parachuted into the camp and then she was twice filmed at night, by infra-red camera, answering the call of nature close to her tent. As part of a bushtucker trial, a blindfolded Ms Thatcher was presented with fish eyes, worms, kangaroo’s testicles, known locally as bush oysters, and a wallaby penis. She had to eat the lot.

But, displaying some of her mother’s renowned steely determination, Ms Thatcher has survived the first week in the camp and is developing into one of the most popular contestants.

Not that the former Prime Minister, who has always been closer to her son, Mark, Ms Thatcher’s twin, is aware of the heroics. She is pointedly not watching the programme.

At a party at Guildhall to promote an illustrated book of her life, an aide made one thing clear: "Don’t mention the show. She’s not seen it and will not watch it."

But the Iron Lady softened and said: "Carol would not want to be thought of as the Margaret Thatcher of the series. She is her own woman. To thine own self be true."

Ms Thatcher never told her mother in advance that she was taking part in the series, astutely sensing her disapproval.

A friend of the family said: "Everyone who knows Carol likes her and finds her good fun if not a little bit batty these days. Like every daughter, Carol craves the approval of her mother. But Margaret will not approve of this, which does hurt her."

Baroness Thatcher was puzzled that her daughter had chosen to subject herself to nightly humiliation with the usual failed pop stars and resting soap actors desperately seeking to relaunch their careers. But Ms Thatcher, a freelance journalist, needs the money and she also needs something to do.

Her fee is thought to be about £50,000. Although she is not poor, her income is derived mainly from dwindling royalties from a book about her late father, Sir Denis, Below the Parapet, which she wrote in 1997. He left £255,000 in his will to be divided between his two children, the maximum amount before incurring inheritance tax. She has not had a proper job since Max Hastings sacked her from The Daily Telegraph in 1986, a dismissal that made front-page news.

Since the fall of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990 there have been fewer commissions for journalistic work; these days the Thatcher byline is usually confined to travel articles about skiing. For years Ms Thatcher lived in Klosters with Marco Glass, a skiing instructor, but they have split up.

As Lady Thatcher has gradually withdrawn from public view, the demand for TV appearances by her daughter has begun to dry up. It has led her to pursue a new role. If, as is possible, she wins the jungle show, not only will she clear £100,000 in endorsements but she could also be reborn as a darling of the small screen.

She is hoping that broadcasters will want her to speak for the first time in her own right rather than as the daughter of a former prime minister. The friend said: "It is an interesting challenge for her. She needs one. She is bored. Her life is much emptier since the split with Marco."

Although mother and daughter are close, they have never got on well. Ms Thatcher always felt more at ease with her father, about whom she has talked warmly around the camp fire. She had an often lonely childhood, brought up by a succession of nannies. Her mother became an MP when she was 6 and she was sent to boarding school at 9.

Her brother, Sir Mark, whom she is said to loathe, had the glamorous lifestyle, the gorgeous wife and two children while motherhood passed his sister by. The friend added: "Margaret would probably have preferred it if it had been the other way round, if Carol had married and had the kids."

She read law at London University, qualified as a solicitor, then switched to journalism. It was an almost defiant choice as her mother was Leader of the Opposition at the time.

In the programme Ms Thatcher can be bossy, like her mother, but she has displayed a warm and affectionate side. As one of the oldest contestants she has also appeared at times vulnerable, a feeling intensified by her eccentric taste in clothes and jewellery.

When her mother was in power it was easy to secure a restaurant table. Nowadays Ms Thatcher complains that she has to spell out her name when she makes a reservation. That may change if she wins the battle of the jungle.

Sir Mark Thatcher has turned down an invitation to join a Celebrity Big Brother household on Channel 4. But if Carol wins I’m a Celebrity, and strikes it rich, he may change his mind in the hope of turning around his own financial fortunes.