Twilight of a Titan: An insight into Margaret Thatcher's autumn years
Last updated at 2:55 AM on 28th May 2011
Fragile: Margaret Thatcher's children rarely visit and was too frail to attend the Royal Wedding
The Queen will lead the celebration of the oldest and highest order of British chivalry founded more than 650 years ago.
The Knights of the Order of the Garter, created by Edward III in 1348, will gather in their ceremonial feathered hats and robes at Windsor Castle next month for the annual procession to St George’s Chapel.
But there will be one conspicuous absentee from the line-up of 26 knights, who include Prince Philip, Prince William, the Duke of Westminster, former Prime Minister Sir John Major and Lord Sainsbury, president of the supermarket chain.
Baroness Thatcher, who was elevated to the Order by the Queen in 1995, five years after her fall from power, will remain in her elegant Belgravia home rather than make the short trip to Windsor.
It will be the second time in recent weeks that Britain’s greatest modern peace-time Prime Minister has withdrawn from a high-profile royal engagement.
Lady Thatcher, unlike Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was on the guest-list for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. But because of her physical and mental frailty, her advisers reluctantly decided that the 85-year-old should not attend.
It was a tough decision. Unlike Mr Blair, Lady Thatcher’s good relations with the royals were underlined when the Queen and Prince Philip attended her 80th birthday celebration.
Her absence from the Royal Wedding was the most significant sign of the deterioration in her health following a series of minor strokes. In fact, she has not been seen in public for almost eight months since her faltering appearance on the steps of her home after she returned from two weeks in hospital last November.
Future public appearances will now be severely restricted as the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century effectively retires from public life.
Back in the day: The Prime Minister was once the woman who bestrode the world
Last week she did not attend the memorial service (held in a church very close to her home) of David Hart, the millionaire Tory businessman who was a key adviser during the miners’ strike in 1984.
The truth is the colossus who bestrode the world stage, vanquishing Argentina’s General Galtieri, and triggering the end of the Cold War by facing down the Soviet Union with her ally Ronald Reagan, now suffers acute short-term memory loss which leaves her confused and unsettled at public gatherings.
Lady Thatcher, who once poignantly declared in an interview: ‘Home is where you go when you’ve nowhere else to go’, now spends all her time in her house in London’s Chester Square. Her constant companions are two devoted carers, New Zealanders Kate and Janice, and her ever faithful police protection officers.
Even last Christmas, they were the only company for Lady Thatcher whose children Sir Mark and Carol were elsewhere. Her son, who lives in Spain, stayed in a £1,800-a-night suite at the Sandpiper Hotel in the most fashionable part of Barbados. Carol was with friends in Italy.
Public failure: Margaret Thatcher missed the Royal Wedding because of the deterioration in the her health, she has not been seen in public since November
Mark and Carol, 57-year-old twins, are now only occasional visitors to their mother, even though she has been remarkably generous, financially, to both. Carol has seen her mother once since she came out of hospital in November, while her brother visits for about an hour every four to six weeks.
It was Lady Thatcher who came to Mark’s rescue when she wrote a £265,000 cheque to secure his release from prison in South Africa in 2004 after he was given a four-year suspended prison sentence for helping to finance a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea. The much-publicised travails of her son cannot have helped his mother’s health.
These days, even if Mark asked his mother for more financial aid she would be unlikely to be able, physically, to sign the cheque. For her trademark blue fountain pen has long since been put away.
Her aides now decline the daily requests to sign books and photographs. Her Christmas card last year was stamped with her signature for the first time.
But typically, long before dementia began to dim Lady Thatcher’s indomitable spirit, she instructed her advisers to put all her affairs in good order.
Conservative companions: Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron outside Number 10
Her estate — including the £5 million four-storey house in Belgravia and the millions made from her memoirs and lucrative lecture tours — will go to her son and daughter and her two grandchildren Michael 21, and Amanda, 17 (Mark’s children from his first wife, American-born Diane Burgdorf, whom he divorced in 2005 after 18 years of marriage).
Sadly, Lady Thatcher rarely sees her grandchildren, as they live in Texas.
Plans for her funeral have also been discussed in Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
Both the Queen and David Cameron have given tacit agreement to a State funeral — in honour of Britain’s first woman Prime Minister who transformed the country from the ‘sick man of Europe’ to one of the world’s economic powerhouses.
Traditionally, State funerals are reserved for reigning monarchs and the only other 20th-century statesman to be accorded one was Churchill.
Arrangements are being discreetly co-ordinated by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Malcolm Ross, the former Master of the Royal Household, who has organised every royal funeral since 1997, including Princess Diana’s and the Queen Mother’s. It would be at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Lady Thatcher has been in liaison with Sir Malcolm and has made it clear she does not want her body to lie in state. ‘That’s what they did for Winston,’ she tells her friends. ‘I’m not Winston.’
Dedicated daughter? Margaret Thatcher with daughter Carol who only occasionally visits her mother
She has also decreed that there should be no gun carriage procession of her coffin. One trusted friend says: ‘Margaret does not want her funeral to become a divisive event or to attract protests. She is remarkably modest about it all.’
The final decision on whether it will be a full State funeral, or a ceremonial one, will be taken by the Prime Minister, in conjunction with Buckingham Palace.
Lady Thatcher has also chosen the readings and hymns — music being one of her greatest pleasures, never missing Songs Of Praise on TV and having classical music playing most of the time at home.
Meanwhile, there are still occasional outings. The nearby Goring Hotel, where Kate Middleton and her family stayed the night before her wedding, has long been Lady Thatcher’s favourite for small lunch parties.
She walks in the nearby park with her protection officers. A hairdresser visits once a week to tend to the famous blonde mane.
Faithful assistant: Margaret Thatcher with Mark Worthington her private secretary who speaks to or sees the former Prime Minister every day
Physically, Lady Thatcher has confounded her doctors and made a full recovery from last year’s illness when she had a serious infection after a bout of flu. She still manages the four flights of her stairs in her home. But, mentally, she is very frail.
‘She rarely goes out at night because she gets confused in large groups. And she hates bright lights. Even trips to the ballet at the Royal Opera House, which she used to love, have stopped,’ says a friend.
A small and devoted group of friends take turns to visit for lunch or early evening drinks. In her Downing Street years, Lady Thatcher loved whisky - and lots of it. Today, though, she is confined to one weak gin and tonic.
Friends include Alison Wakeham, the wife of her close Cabinet colleague Lord Wakeham; Judy Ridley, whose late husband Nick was another Tory stalwart; Lord Forsyth, who was the Scottish Secretary; newly-elevated Tory peer Ann Jenkin; and Dame Sue Tinson, a former boss at ITN.
Cynthia Crawford, who was Thatcher’s personal assistant, remains close and Lord Parkinson also visits.
Last month, Sir Bernard Ingham, her famously curmudgeonly press secretary, made an unexpected visit and stayed for several hours.
‘She was really engaged with him. It was one of her good days — but, sadly, there aren’t enough of those,’ added the friend. On bad days, Lady Thatcher thinks that Denis, her husband who died in 2003 after more than 50 years of marriage, is still alive. Or she confuses him with her late father Alderman Alfred Roberts.
The friend added poignantly: ‘To be honest, I’m amazed how few of the people she worked so closely with — who we thought were her friends and who wouldn’t be where they are today without her — find time to see her.’
Mark Worthington, her private secretary for 19 years, makes sure he either sees her every day or speaks by phone. But he plans to resign from most of his official duties in July, which means the carers will be her only paid employees.
Whenever friends visit, they find Lady Thatcher in her first floor drawing room, where she loves to sit in her favourite seat by the fireplace listening to music. She is surrounded by fresh flowers and photographs of her family.
As she sees out her twilight years, the pictures, sadly, are a reminder of the children she rarely sees.
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One of the greats..... As a serviceman, I knew that as our PM, she cared for and had respect for us. Go Maggie! Pity about her son, he always looked like a upper class twit to me, maybe he should have been born to a grocer?
- eaty, uk, 28/5/2011 05:43
I have always admired this woman, it is sad to see her in such a frail state. One of the strongest women the world has ever known. I remember joking with friends years ago.... who would you rather fight...? Muhammad Ali, or Margaret Thatcher..... I would rather fight Ali.... that way I have a CHANCE of surviving. I wish her all the best in her twilight years
- Steve in Texas, Texas, USA, 28/5/2011 05:40
mrs t i hope you get better you where this countries post war prime mininster since churchill and by god i wish we had someone in the tory party right now with the same drive and strenght you give to this country it was a sad day for this country when they stabbed you in the back just so they could get power we miss you now mrs t you made this country great again and i sure most of the country wish you well
- robert , glasgow , 28/5/2011 05:37
Dementia is a terrible disease which can turn intelligent, lovable people into unrecognisable monsters. We must find a cure, and soon. Good luck, Lady Thatcher. May your twilight years be peaceful and painless.
- Brit ex-pat, AZ, USA, 28/5/2011 05:19
I am sorry to learn that Margaret Thatcher is so frail now. She was one of the best leaders that Britain ever had. If only we had someone like her now, we would never have been put in this mess. She was called the Iron Lady for good reason. She would never have put up with the likes of Blair, Brown and Cameron. She really cared about this country and was not in politics for greed and power and would never have allowed this present disintergration of our heritage and culture to go down the drain, as it is now or allow billions of pounds to be thrown at third world countries, when we are fast becoming one ourselves.
- Richard Clarke (ex-pat), South Carolina. USA., 28/5/2011 04:47
" Her constant companions are two devoted carers, New Zealanders Kate and Janice, " So even Mrs Thatcher prefers foreign employees to the locals!
- TonyB, Melbourne, Australia, 28/5/2011 04:35
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Saturday, 28 May 2011
Twilight of a Titan: An insight into Margaret Thatcher's autumn years | Mail Online