Whether Margaret Thatcher was the greatest British prime minister or not is up for debate. But there’s no denying the fact that she served in that position for more than eleven and a half years, longer than anyone else since the late 1820s. Dubbed as the Iron Lady, she is remembered for her uncompromising politics and abrasive leadership style. In the 1980s, she wasn’t just the most powerful woman in her country, but also in the entire world. Below, you’ll find a list of nine lesser-known yet interesting facts about Margaret Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher Facts
1. The apartment where Margaret Thatcher was born and raised was above her father’s grocery store
On October 13, 1925, Margaret Thatcher was born to Grantham-based grocer Alfred Roberts and his first wife Beatrice Ethel. Her birth name was Margaret Hilda Roberts. An interesting fact about Margaret Thatcher is that the place of her birth was a cramped apartment above Roberts’ grocery store. The apartment had no indoor toilet, in addition to lacking running water and central heating. It was also the place where she spent her childhood.
2. She was the first British prime minister with a science degree
You would imagine that Thatcher must have been immensely proud of the fact that she was the first woman to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or for that matter, the head of any European government. There’s another fact about Margaret Thatcher, however, that made her even prouder. What’s that? Well, she was the first British PM with a science degree.
In 1943, she enrolled at Somerville College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1947. She specialized in X-ray crystallography, with Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin serving as her supervisor.
3. Thatcher worked for a plastics company and a food manufacturer before entering politics
Even before she graduated, Thatcher had made up her mind about becoming a politician. However, coming from a humble background, she couldn’t blindly pursue a political career. Hence, after graduation, she took the job of a research chemist at a plastics company.
She worked there briefly, before joining a team of food scientists at J. Lyons and Co. who were dedicated in finding a way to increase the amount of air injected into ice cream, which would lower the cost of its production. Some even say that she had a key role in developing the soft-serve ice cream that was sold from trucks across the country under the brand Mr. Whippy.
4. Margaret Thatcher would always go for skirts, rather than pants
If there’s one person whose opinion on how a powerful woman should dress matters, it’s Margaret Thatcher. And a golden rule about her “power look” is to always opt for skirts, instead of pants. But what’s wrong with women wearing pants? According to the former British PM, pants “rob a woman of her authority.” An interesting fact about Margaret Thatcher is that a study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire actually backs her opinion.
5. She failed to win in her first two parliamentary elections
As one of the Oxford University Conservative Association’s first female presidents, Thatcher managed to draw the attention of the Conservative Party to herself soon after her graduation. At the age of 24, she became the youngest candidate to run for a seat in the House of Commons in the 1950 general election. She lost, which was pretty much expected, since her seat of Dartford had historically leaned toward the Labour Party.
Around 20 months later, she got the opportunity to run for the same seat once again in the 1951 general election. And once again, she was defeated. It wasn’t until she ran for the Conservative safe seat of Finchley in the 1959 general election that she found herself elected as a member of parliament.
6. While serving as the Education Secretary, she was notoriously nicknamed Milk Snatcher
The term “Milk Snatcher” rhymes with Margaret Thatcher, but that’s not the only reason why she got that nickname. Following the victory of the Edward Heath-led Conservative Party in the 1970 general election, Thatcher was appointed as the Education Secretary. Quite early in her tenure, she made the controversial decision of eliminating the policy of giving free milk to schoolkids aged seven to eleven. This led to her being nicknamed Milk Snatcher.
In her defense, she was asked to cut spending in the state-run education system, and all she wanted was to make sure that the academic standards in schools weren’t compromised. After she became the PM, a proposal to cut the free milk benefit even for kids under the age of five came along. This time, however, she unhesitatingly rejected the proposal.
7. English actor Laurence Olivier deserves some credit for Thatcher’s rise to power
Prior to the 1979 general election, Thatcher’s adviser Gordon Reece was concerned about her natural speaking voice, which, he suspected, would sound too shrill to voters. Luckily for him and his candidate, he came across Sir Laurence Olivier on a train, just months before the election. The four-time Oscar-winning actor recommended his voice coach to work with Thatcher on her voice. It was her intensive training sessions with the coach that helped her to lower her pitch and come up with a calm, authoritative tone that she later became known for.
8. On weekdays, she slept for just four hours a night
Health professionals will tell you get at least eight hours of sleep per night to be able to function properly. But if your genes are anything like those of Thatcher, you will do just fine on as little sleep as half of that. Yes, when she was the PM, she would sleep for only four hours a night, at least on weekdays, an interesting fact about Margaret Thatcher. And since she wasn’t going to bed early, her staff too had to stay awake and work until two or three in the morning.
9. Thatcher didn’t believe there was a safe place in Downing Street other than her handbag
In almost every photograph of Thatcher taken in her office, you’ll see her with her handbag. It was something she would always keep on her person. She once labelled it as “the only safe place in Downing Street.” In fact, it’s due to the former British PM that “to handbag” has become a verb, signifying how she ruthlessly dismissed a person or an idea.
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