21 MAY 2009

They'd had a bit of a chin-wag the previous day when the monarch had shared her surprise with Margaret Thatcher over the resignation of the Speaker. "Isn't it extraordinary," the Queen exclaimed to the former PM on Tuesday evening at at the Castle of May patrons' garden party.

And the two 83-year-olds were back in each other's company on Thursday at a service at St James' Palace's Chapel Royal to honour recipients of the Order Of Merit - awarded for distinguished service in the armed forces, science and the arts.

Baroness Thatcher, who worked closely with the royal matriarch during her 11-year premiership, was herself presented with the award in 1990.

Joining Britain's only female leader were fellow honourees Lucian Freud, playwright Tom Stoppard, and David Attenborough.

After the ceremony the Queen and the former Conservative leader – proudly wearing her Order, a red cross surmounted by a gold crown - had another chance to catch up before taking part in a celebratory lunch at Buckingham Palace, also attended by Prince Charles and Prince Philip, who both hold the order, too.

Established in 1902 by King Edward VII, the Order is retricted to an elite group of just 24. Past members include Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale - who in 1907 became the first woman to receive it.

Photo: PA
The ladies have been seeing a lot of each other this week, having shared views about the Speakers' resignation on Tuesday and then reuniting at an Order of Merit ceremony on Wednesday
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