It was in July 1986, with Margaret Thatcher at the height of her powers as Prime Minister, that a story broke which truly rocked both Downing Street and the Palace.
The Late Queen Elizabeth II was said to be ‘dismayed’ by the ‘uncaring’ PM’s refusal to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa, fearing that Mrs Thatcher’s decision would split the Commonwealth.
It was a summer story from nearly 40 years ago. Yet for decades it has helped fuel claims that Her Late Majesty did not get on with Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
But appearances can be deceptive – as what the Queen did next makes clear.
Horrified, the monarch phoned the ‘desperately hurt’ PM to apologize and to deny that the remarks represented her view, according to Mrs Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore.
The relationship between The Queen and Margaret Thatcher was alleged by some to have been difficult, but the reality was a lot more complicated
Mrs Thatcher, then the Leader of the Opposition, is seen curtseying as she shakes hands with the Queen at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Westminster Hall in 1975
Mrs Thatcher is seen with US President Ronald Reagan and the Queen at a Buckingham Palace banquet in 1984
The Queen and Mrs Thatcher are seen sharing a joke as they attend the opening of a new wing of the National Portrait Gallery in 2000
The Queen’s press secretary Michael Shea, who was blamed for the story, left his role the following year, although the aide insisted his departure was unconnected to the furore.
The truth of the relationship between the Queen and Mrs. Thatcher was better illustrated by their public interactions in their later lives.
Her Majesty and Prince Philip attended Mrs Thatcher’s 70th and 80th birthday parties, in 1995 and 2005.
And, when the Iron Lady passed away aged 87 in 2013, the Queen was there at her funeral.
It was the first funeral of a PM she had been to since that of Winston Churchill, who was in his second term Downing Street when Elizabeth became Queen in 1953.
Such an honor was hardly a sign of a previously difficult relationship.
According to Lord Powell, Mrs Thatcher’s former foreign affairs advisor, the ex-PM’s curtsey to the Queen when the monarch arrived at her 80th was one of ‘her deepest’.
‘I can vividly recall the Queen gently taking Mrs Thatcher by the hand and leading her around the room, talking to guests,’ he previously told the Daily Mail.
‘Margaret by then was becoming more confused and forgetful, so it was an extraordinary gesture by the Queen.
The Daily Mail’s coverage of the furore when the Queen’s alleged comments about Mrs Thatcher became public in 1986
Margaret Thatcher is seen curtseying to The Queen in 1995 when the monarch arrived at the former Prime Minister’s 70th birthday party at Claridges in London
The Queen is greeted by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 2005 as she arrives at Thatcher’s 80th birthday celebrations at the Mandarin hotel in London.
When the Iron Lady passed away aged 87 in 2013, the Queen was there at her funeral with Prince Philip. It was the first funeral of a PM she had been to since that of Winston Churchill
‘Later, when the Queen came to say her farewells, Lady Thatcher replied that she should leave, too.
At which point Her Majesty said gently: “Perhaps you ought to stay Lady Thatcher — it is your party.” ‘
On paper, the pair had a lot in common. Mrs Thatcher was older, but only by six months.
They both grew into young women during the Second World War and shared a strong Christian faith.
The two also shared a fierce commitment to duty, hard work and their country.
By the time Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, both she and the Queen were mothers of young adults who were used to being alone in a roomful of men.
But Lord Moore, writing in his official biography of Mrs. Thatcher, told how their early weekly audiences were awkward.
‘Thatcher would sit nervously on the edge of her chair, produce an agenda from her handbag and launch into a monologue.’
The Queen later allegedly told her private secretary, Sir William Heseltine: ‘I wasn’t given much encouragement to comment.’
The fact that Mrs Thatcher was an arch-royalist and was ‘in awe’ of the Queen also made it difficult to have a relaxed relationship.
Using similar language to describe her depth of loyalty, Lord Powell added: ‘Her curtsies were always low and although I used to brief her before her weekly audiences, she never told us anything that happened, not a word.
The Queen is seen walking inside Number 10 in 1985 after being greeted by Mrs Thatcher
The Queen is seen with Mrs Thatcher at a Commonwealth conference in September 1986
Mrs Thatcher is seen laughing with the Queen and William Whitelaw at an event in 1982
The Queen and Mrs Thatcher with former PMs (left to right) James Callaghan, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath during celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of Downing Street becoming the Prime Minister’s official residence
The Queen Mother beams as she arrives at Number 10 for a celebration held by Mrs Thatcher to mark her 80th birthday in 1980
‘I don’t think she even told Denis (her husband),’ he said.
Mrs Thatcher’s former press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, who died earlier this year aged 90, also reflected on the depth of his boss’s gestures of loyalty, telling how she ‘curtsied so low I wondered whether she would get up again’.
The PM would often turn up 15 minutes early for her weekly meetings with the Queen.
A former private secretary told the Daily Mail how this did not annoy Her Majesty, who instead found it amusing, ‘but she never saw her any earlier’, they added.
And, according to Hello! Magazine’s late former royal editor, Judy Wade, Mrs Thatcher once ordered an aide to phone Buckingham Palace on the day that she and the Queen were due to attend the same evening function.
The PM was said to be concerned about wearing a similar dress to the monarch.
But the ‘withering’ response that came back from royal aides was that Mrs Thatcher should not ‘fret’, because ‘the Queen never notices what other women wear’.
However, Mrs Thatcher’s caution typified her desire to never upstage the monarch.
And, in 1995, five years after she had been forced from Downing Street by her own party colleagues, the Queen chose to award Mrs. Thatcher the highly prestigious Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit.
She also felt that the politician had been so badly treated that she invited her to a race meeting.
The depiction of a difficult relationship between the pair in the Netflix series The Crown was criticized by Lord Moore.
The PM, played by Gillian Anderson, was seen during a disastrous first trip to Balmoral being humiliated by the monarch’s family.
Lord Moore said the scenes were ‘not believable’.
He said another scene where Anderson’s Thatcher awkwardly joined the Queen during a deer stalking trip whilst wearing a bright blue dress was ‘factually all wrong’.
If anything evidenced a warm relationship between the pair, it was the gushing televised tribute that Mrs Thatcher issued to the Queen on her 80th birthday in 2006.
The Queen beams with Mrs Thatcher as they attend the opening of a new building at the University of Buckingham in 1996, where Mrs Thatcher was Chancellor.
In what was one of her last public statements, Lady Thatcher told how she had been privileged to take advice from the monarch during her time in Downing Street.
‘Her guidance and advice are always most acute, and I was privileged to benefit from both enormously,’ she said.
‘She is truly an inspiration and an example to the whole nation. Long may she rule. Happy birthday, ma’am,’ she said affectionately.
And the Queen’s very presence at Mrs. Thatcher’s funeral seven years later demonstrated that the feelings of high esteem were mutual.
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