Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
And such was the politics of his later successor Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday morning at the age of 87. Thatcher was one of the most imposing, beloved, infuriating, and respected leaders of the 20th century. Serving as British prime minster from 1979 – 1990, the inscrutable figure brought her country onto the political and economic world stage like no other leader of her kind in modern times.
In memory of her legacy, we look at five facts of her politics and five facts of her personal life.
1) The Birth of Thatcherism. As a member of the Conservative Party, Thatcher crushed the governmental policies that promoted the Welfare State, which was instituted at the tail end of World War II. She was hated by her political opponents for reducing social services (she called the poor “work shy”), for making student grants harder to obtain, for ignoring the sisterhood of feminism (once saying, “I owe nothing to women’s lib”), and for stifling the labor unions. Ever hear the chant “Maggie, Maggie Maggie! Out, out out!”? It was originally birthed from her fierce opposition.
2) The Falklands War. Thatcher launched a sea attack of 27,000 troops against the Argentinians over the Falkland Islands in 1982 and told her people to “rejoice” once it proved victorious. “Failure—the possibilities do not exist!” she had said when the military set sail, paraphrasing Queen Victoria.
3) Not a Fan of a European Union. Thatcher encouraged national autonomy and kept her country from aligning politically and economically with the rest of Europe, an idea she looked on with disdain. In regard to Europe being under a single currency, she once said: “Every single fixed exchange rate has cracked in the end. We’re all at different levels of development of our economies. Some countries simply couldn’t live up to a single currency…We should each of us be proud to be separate countries cooperating together.” Looking back on her comment 21 years ago and seeing Europe’s financial crisis today, you could imagine Thatcher defiantly saying, ‘I told you so.’
4) “Undefeated!” So said Thatcher when asked about what she’d consider naming her memoirs. Having won three general elections in a row as the leader of the Conservative Party, Thatcher was accustomed to winning. In fact she had never lost one political contest she was a part of. Although she attempted to go at it for a fourth time, some members of her own party in Parliament ignited a coup and ousted her from running again.
5) For the Love of ”Real Men.” Thatcher highly respected “real men,” a prime example being her close alliance and friendship with her “ideological soul mate,” President Ronald Reagan. In 1990 when Saddam Hussein charged into Kuwait, Thatcher told George H.W. Bush there was no time for indecision. “Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly!” she warned him.
1) Father Figure. A daughter of a grocer, Thatcher cultivated a strong bond with her father, who—not having any sons—encouraged his two daughters to acquire as much knowledge and education as possible, form their own opinions, and give weight to public service.
2) Soft on Ice Cream. Although she would later be ridiculed as “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” for her policies against offering free milk in schools, Thatcher did do milk a body good when, as a young Oxford chemist, she helped create emulsifiers for ice cream. Ergo, soft serve ice cream was invented, and for Britain, it came about via Mr. Whippy trucks.
3) Real Housewife of Downing Street. Apathetic to women’s lib—although she positively influenced it beyond her wildest comprehension—Thatcher married businessman Denis Thatcher in 1951 and functioned unabashedly as a traditional housewife. She cooked for him, bore him twins, and let him make the financial decisions for the family.
4) Vulnerability. After she reluctantly conceded on running for a fourth term, Thatcher reportedly left Downing Street with tears in her eyes. Feeling betrayed by her own party, she shortly thereafter turned to Ronald and Nancy Reagan for support. “She was upset,” Mrs. Reagan said. “She wasn’t quiet. She was quite explicit about what she felt.”
5) Dress for Success. According to Cynthia Crawford, Thatcher’s personal assistant and friend of over 30 years, Lady T thoroughly enjoyed clothes (and why not? Her mother was a seamstress). Crawford and Thatcher would often meet to “do some power dressing” for the leader, even giving her various accoutrements nicknames like “conference blue,” “Gdansk green,” and “sapphire blue silk.” And apparently, Thatcher was quite feminine, adept at applying makeup (her favorite was Clinque cosmetics), and she and Crawford would even comb through the latest issues of Vogue together.
Although we know she opened herself to changing her hair color, wardrobe, and voice to be taken seriously as a politician, need we remind you of what Thatcher famously told her image consultants about her beloved pearls? The pearls were nonnegotiable; they were here to stay. (Yes, Thatcher was always in charge.)