Margaret Thatcher’s years in the dating trenches
23 years ago today, on November 22, 1990 Mrs Thatcher resigned. Daniel Hannan says that some of his colleague still refer bleakly to the anti-Thatcher Tory MPs as "the November criminals".
While the details of how she was betrayed are doing the rounds, I'd like to unveil the romantic side of Thatcher, which may sound a contradiction in terms.
She always said that there had been no man before Dennis, ‘that’s because in those days women had to guard their reputation very carefully’, said Charles Moore at a talk he gave at Waterstones, High Street Kensington. This was part of the London History Festival, and Charles Moore was interviewed by Paul Lay on November 18th, who took the conversation deeper into Lady Thatcher’s husband hunting.
Dennis was not her first love interest – my ears could scarcely believe it – when I heard that the young Miss Roberts had ‘various boyfriends’ and some real disappointments in the dating scene. Moore stressed that, ‘she needed a husband who understood her ambition’, and 'she would be seen through the prism of her husband'.
While Mrs Thatcher was keen that her travails as a singleton be veiled from public view, she did actually write the accounts of her dates and suitors – in her letters to her sister Muriel. Muriel entrusted Charles Moore with the stash of 150 letters.
The missives detail a ‘complicated’ relationship that Miss Roberts had with a boyfriend while at Oxford University, but which came to nothing.
The dynamic medic, Dr Robert Henderson held the attention of the young Miss Roberts, because he was a very skilled scientist who had developed the iron lung. She considered that being the wife of a notable doctor might be the right background for her rising star.
But Henderson was twice her age, and when she was 24, he was 48. Knowing the long years of climbing to power that lay ahead, the then Miss Roberts knew that the age gap could become unbearable. So, she did not develop this dalliance. Had they married, he would have been 75 when Thatcher defeated Heath to become Leader of the Opposition in 1975. And he would have been an octogenarian in her first year as prime minister.
Most amusing is the case of the 35 year-old Scottish farmer in Colchester who pursued her relentlessly, until she agreed to go to dinner with him. At the meal, he laid out all his credentials, including the fact that his farm was worth a small fortune (two million in today’s money). But she was not impressed that he gave a measly nine penny tip to the waiter. Remarking wryly on the evening to Muriel, the young Margaret said, ‘I’d rather like to see his farm as a matter of interest’. Knowing that he was not for her, the young Margaret introduced the farmer to Muriel, who was much more open to being a farmer’s wife, and later the two were married.
Miss Robert’s first impression of Dennis Thatcher were not exactly the stuff of Mills and Boon, he was not a heart-throb. She described him as, ‘not a very attractive creature’ who had ‘plenty of money’. On that faithful night that he gave her a lift into London, he was candid that he didn’t like mixing with people and was timid. He had been married before, to another Margaret but his first wife had run off with a Baronet.
In their very first meeting, the seeds of their lifelong relationship were sown – he would be the one to stand back, while she led, and he would be the one to encourage her without envying her success.
You can read about her romantic escapades in much more detail in Charles Moore's biography Volume One: Not For Turning.