Margaret Thatcher

"I don't think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime," said Margaret Thatcher in 1973. Of course, she was wrong. She would probably have said it was the only time that was the case.

Stories illustrating the self-belief of Britain's only female Prime Minister are many.

A Conservative MP, who visited the statewoman long after her political star had waned remembers that the taxi driver, who took him to her Belgravia home, had words of praise for her.

"You tell her from me we haven't had a good PM since," said the cabbie. When this was recounted to Baroness Thatcher she quipped: "He's quite right."

Known as the Iron Lady, courtesy of her Soviet enemies, she was one of the truly transformational figures of the 20th century.

As well as being one of the architects of the West's victory in the Cold War, Baroness Thatcher was also the first British leader to win three consecutive terms in Downing Street.

But nothing about her start in life marked out her out as destined for high office.

Born on 13 October 1925, she was the daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts, who owned two shops and the family lived above one.

Her father, also a Methodist lay preacher, inspired an early interest in politics when he became Mayor of Grantham in 1945. By this time the young Margaret was studying chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford. 

Her entry into politics had come when she was chosen as Tory candidate for the safe Labour seat of Dartford in the general election of 1950.

She didn't win the seat but she won the admiration of wealthy local businessman Denis Thatcher. Recently divorced after an unhappy wartime marriage and ten years her senior, he wasn't looking for love.

But he would say 25 years later: "She was beautiful, very kind and thoughtful. Who could meet Margaret without being completely slain by her personality and intellectual brilliance?”

They were married from 1951 until his death in 2003. The union produced two children, twins Mark and Carol. In 1953, the year they were born the new Mrs Thatcher passed her exams to become a barrister specialising in tax.

By 1959, she was an MP, voted in by the electors of Finchley, north London.

"Her marvellous husband" supported her during the early days of her political career and was her rock once it took off. He was, she said, "the golden thread" running through her life and he later would be knighted in recognition of his achievements.

Of their union, Carol once said: "They had a unique relationship, a partnership that was way ahead of its time, a two-career household, an understanding of love and loyalty… and very little friction."

If there was no conflict in their marriage, the same cannot be said of her years in public life, which were marked by controversy because of her uncompromising style and politics.

Baroness Thatcher took power by unseating Conservative leader Edward Heath, while Education Secretary in 1975, winning her first general election four years later in 1979.

During 1982 Argentina invaded the Falklands, and against the advice of her good friend US President Ronald Reagan, she sent a task force that reclaimed the Islands. This unexpected victory and the popularity it brought helped put her back in Downing St for a second term.

There were other battles – the year-long Miners' Strike of 1984 and the Poll Tax Riots of her third term.

In 1990, a backroom coup similar to the one that replaced Edward Heath forced her from Downing Street. She was driven away in tears with her beloved Denis by her side.

Her latter years were marked by ill health and she passed away on 8 April, 2013.
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