Commentary (The Times)

MT: “Maggie, the born queen of the desert” (Carol Thatcher has 24 per cent Middle Eastern DNA)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 30 October 2006
Journalist: Maurice Chittenden, The Times
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 887 words
Themes: Autobiography (marriage & children), Defence (general), Foreign policy (Middle East)

Maggie, the born queen of the desert

Maurice Chittenden

Carol is a quarter Arab

WE have become an Arab. A secret that has lain dormant in Margaret Thatcher’s family for generations has been unrobed: the Thatchers have roots hidden deep in the deserts of the Middle East.

A laboratory test on a mouth swab taken from Carol Thatcher, daughter of the former prime minister, shows that 24 per cent of her DNA is Middle Eastern.

She is now searching family trees and old photo albums to see if there is a long-lost uncle in bedouin clothes.

Middle Eastern is defined as coming from an area that includes modern-day Saudi Arabia, Iraq, parts of Iran, Syria and Jordan and the Arab countries of north Africa.

The disclosure may shed light on why her twin brother Mark has an apparent affinity with the Arab world. He was drawn to the souks of Saudi Arabia in his business dealings, and the deserts of north Africa, where he famously got lost in 1982 during the Paris-Dakar rally.

Mark has been dogged by allegations that he received secret commissions from the Al-Yamamah arms deal to sell jet fighters to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. There were new claims this weekend that the price of the Tornado jets was inflated by £600m.

The family’s blood ties to the Middle East will be revealed next month in a Channel 4 programme, 100% English, which explores the DNA of eight people who considered themselves completely Anglo-Saxon.

The results of the £210 test on Carol Thatcher show that her ancestry is 76% north European and 24% Middle Eastern. The quotient is much higher than for most Britons. It adds piquancy to the “Margaret of Arabia” photograph of Thatcher in a white Arab headdress.

The Arabian bloodline may stretch back thousands of years when the Thatcher ancestors were farmers on the fertile plains of ancient Mesopotamia.

Scientists have been unable to determine whether Carol Thatcher inherited the DNA traces from her mother or from Denis Thatcher, her late father.

If it comes from the maternal line it throws up the intriguing possibility that Britain’s first woman prime minister, once dubbed Thatchertollah by Neil Kinnock, might be remotely related to the Queen of Sheba.

Thatcher struck a rapport with the monarchies of the Gulf and once related how she had to have clothes specially made for a visit to the Gulf states “because it was important to conform to the customs of these conservative Muslim societies”.

Lord Tebbit, the former Tory party chairman and critic of a multicultural Britain, was also tested for the same programme and was deemed to have a “boring” DNA profile which showed that he was 100% European.

The Thatchers might have expected a similar result. The surname Thatcher is as medieval as straw roofs and the family traces its lineage through funeral plaques in St Mary’s Church, Uffington, in Wiltshire. The oldest is of a farmer born in 1712.

Likewise, Margaret Thatcher’s father Alfred Roberts, a grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was one of seven children of a shoemaker, Ebenezer, himself the son and grandson of cobblers.

The only cloud on the horizon was Phoebe Stephenson, Margaret Thatcher’s maternal grandmother. The late Woodrow Wyatt suggested that Beatrice Stephenson, mother of the future prime minister, may have been the product of an upstairs-downstairs dalliance between an aristocratic rake named Harry Cust and Phoebe when she worked as a domestic servant. That would have put blue blood rather than oil in Thatcher’s veins.

Carol Thatcher, in Australia filming a new I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, the reality TV show that she won last year, said: “Do I know if any of my great-grandfathers had any associations or came from the Middle East? I haven’t got a clue. I will do what research I can. I am now very curious.

“My brother did once compete in a motor rally across the Sahara desert and rather famously got lost, so I think he will be astonished to know he should have done better.”

Lou Charlton of DNAPrint Genomics, the Florida-based company that carried out the tests, said: “People forget that the Romans ruled Europe for 1,000 years and brought in all types of people. Anyone who ever migrated, raided, invaded or traded eventually mated.”

The tests use 176 markers to detect someone’s racial ancestry.

Mark Thomas, a human evolutionary geneticist at the department of biology, University College London, who acted as a consultant to the programme, said: “It is a lottery which genes you inherit from your parents. But a proportion of the European population is made up of neolithic farmers who originated in the Middle East. The DNA could date back 10,000 years.”

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University and author of Blood of the Isles, about Britain’s genetic history, said: “This racial profiling is based on the premise that there was once a people who were 100% pure. All of us are temporary mixtures of DNA from all over the place.”