We are all capable of the odd slip

Monday 12 October 2015

Credit: Twitter/@BBCRadio4

Margaret Thatcher is being much talked about this week with the publication of Charles Moore’s well-received biography of her.

It’s impressively detailed but so far I haven’t noticed any reference to one of Mrs T’s more embarrassing public statements: her unforgettable “Queen Victoria” moment outside 10 Downing Street when she grandly declared: “We have become a grandmother!”

Years later, after her defenestration by the Tory party, I interviewed Lady Thatcher for her autobiography. She had been on the road publicising it for several weeks by the time I got to her and, frankly, she’d gone off the boil. There were no fresh questions left to ask and the encounter was pretty lifeless.

I was beginning to despair when she mentioned Michael, her first grandson, and I remembered that quote. “Why,” I asked her, “did you announce his birth by saying, ‘We have become a grandmother?’ It was pretty odd and a lot of people said it sounded as if you thought you were Queen Victoria – you know, the ‘royal’ we…”

I could tell I’d touched a nerve. She looked embarrassed and even flustered. Then she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and replied with an answer I believe to this day was the simple – and rather charming - truth.

“I know, I know… as soon as I’d said it I realised how it sounded, but it was too late. The reason it came out like that was because of Denis, my husband.” I asked what she meant. “Well as everyone knows, he always kept himself in the background when I was prime minister. But when Michael was born I thought it was one of those rare occasions when Denis could and should join me in front of the cameras.

“The news wasn’t just about me; it was about the two of us.” She shook her head sadly. “But I couldn’t persuade him. I spent 20 minutes arguing with him about it in the flat and he just wouldn’t budge.

“So when I eventually came out alone I was determined to speak for us both but I got muddled and instead of saying ‘We’ve become grandparents’, I said… well, that. Do you see?” I told her that I did. And I still do.

Read Richard and Judy's column for the Express here.
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