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10 Things I Didn’t Know About Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Three days ago, on April 8, 2013, The Baroness Thatcher passed away from stroke. 

Apart from being the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century and the only woman who held that office, I don’t really know much about this fascinating, yet quirky, woman.

She was famous for her uncompromising politics and strict leadership style. She had a knack for polarizing opinions. Either you loved her. Or you hated her. They even have a brand name for the kind of politics she so fervently fought for and implemented during her time as Britain’s Prime Minster as Thatcherism. She was a force of change who transformed British politics and economics with absolute conviction, passion and at many times, intense stubbornness.

But if you strip away the coat of politics, Margaret Thatcher was first and foremost, a lady (and I don’t mean the title Lady Thatcher she was given after serving as Prime Minister). How do I know?

Simple. She does not go anywhere without her handbag.

But what was she really, really like? For the sake of this post, I will refer to The Right Honorable Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven simply as, Thatcher.

#1: Her Handbag Had A Life Of Its Own
God only knows how and when Thatcher caught the handbag bug, but her arm champion literally had a life of its own. Known as the Asprey bag from London (where else), her handbag was always black and square. It was a symbol of her power as an uncompromising leader. A Conservative minister once remarked that ‘she carried the authority of the office in her handbag’. Though she has been witnessed countless times fishing through her handbag for the most momentous items at the best of moments, what the handbag actually contained remains a total mystery.

For instance, in the middle of her first leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1975, someone in parliament began quoting Abraham Lincoln. At that precise moment, Thatcher reached into her trusted handbag and pulled out a piece of aged newsprint with the same Lincoln quote. She was later quoted to say ‘It goes wherever I go’.

#2. She Loved Her Pearls
She has worn one particular set (or at least style) of pearl earrings and necklace since the early 1950s. More than 60 years later, those pearls were still where they had always been – on her. One reckons if she ever took them off, ever. Her attachment to pearls made a lot of sense – the epitome of traditionalism, expensive but not frivolous, classy but not decadent, the portray of reliability and conservatism. In many ways, she was what she wore.

#3. She Could Not Live Without Her Hairspray
There was a time in the 50s to 70s that Thatcher went through a few subtle style changes. But one thing that remained constant (apart from her pearls) was her perfectly coiffed hair. She almost always wore it like a helmet – swept up and back from her face held immaculately together by several cans of hairspray. Her hairdo has been said to withstand even a 4-hour nap on a plane!

#4. Daddy’s Girl
Her father, Alfred Roberts, who ran a grocery shop above where she was brought up was probably the single most influential person in her life. As a working class shopkeeper, he worked long hours with few holidays to make a living. His hard work gained him enormous respect from the community, and he subsequently became major of the town. He taught Thatcher the value of hard work, self-discipline and thriftiness. These character building values engrained in her younger days became the very foundation of the person she had become.

#5. She Loved Poetry
Although she was an accomplished pianist from a young age, Thatcher always loved poetry. She would often quote them in parliament, and her favorite poet was Rudyard Kipling, the patriotic poet of the British Empire. However in death, Thatcher chose William Wordsworth Ode: Imitations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood.

#5. She Changed Her Voice For Politics
One of the problems for being a woman in politics is that a man can shout, but if a woman increases her voice, she tends to squawk. For years, Thatcher took voice coaching lessons to lower her voice from its original rasping high pitch to a more commanding contralto.This was necessary to make her sound less harsh, and more feminine.

#6. She Embraced Being The Iron Lady
Thatcher’s greatest reputation triumphant came when she was busy criticizing the Soviet Union. The Russians later dubbed her ‘The Iron Lady’. What they didn’t know at the time was that they had branded a legendary icon into the books of history. She loved it so much that she trumpeted the role by addressing a public meeting saying ‘I stand before you tonight in my Red Star chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved as the Iron Lady of the Western World!”

#7. Margaret And Reagan
As architects of a golden age of conservatism, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were kindred spirits bound in the highest echelon of  political marriage. He has called her ‘the best man in England’, and she has called him ‘the second most important man in my life’. However, they did disagree on some things. For one, the former American President tried to persuade Thatcher to stop the Falklands war. Once, he interrupted a meeting in the Oval Office to take a call from her. Putting a hand over the mouth piece, he held up the phone so the others could hear her lambasting him. ‘It’s Margaret’ he said amusingly, ‘Isn’t she wonderful?’.

#8. Everyday Was Sunday
For Thatcher, everyday was Sunday when it came to fashion. She was never, and I mean never, seen in trousers. Her love for formal clothes has her wearing them even at home and to Sunday church.

#9. She Knew Fashion
Although she was not known for her cutting-edge fashion sense, Thatcher knew the technical aspects of fashion at the back of her hands. Her mother was a seamstress so she knew exactly how clothes should be made, how hems should be turned and how stitches should be done. She even named every one of her outfits according to the place where it was first worn. Madrid Pink, Prague Green and Waddesdon Navy all lived in her tidy, well-organised closet.

#10. And A Few Other Things Taken From Those Who Knew Her Best

  • She used to read the odd thriller novel, although she was most glued to CNN 24/7 (Not BBC?).
  • She was a fanatically neat person, and would spend a little time everyday tidying her wardrobe and cleaning her shoes.
  • Unlike Reagan, she had a real bone-dry sense of humor. It was so dry, it was always missed.
  • She lived a very serious life filled with serious conversations. She ate, lived and breathed politics.
  • Her personal motto was ‘Do your very best, and never follow the crowd’.
  • Though she could, she was never one to multi-task. She believed in doing one job at a time and with full and complete concentration. 
  • She regarded food simply as fuel for the body and never claimed to be a foodie.
  • Her home was very do-it-yourself. Don’t expect to be served when you visited.

On paper, Margaret Hilda Roberts had little going for her. Born a girl in a lower-middle class family who lived modestly in the remote Lincolnshire market town of Grantham and with very few (if any) influential friends.

Those strikes turned out to be her saving grace – helping mold this small town English girl who eventually became one of the most influential Prime Ministers of the last century.

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