Teak-tough Tory leader Maggie would cry under the pressure of being PM

Mrs T was often left in tears: Teak-tough Tory leader Maggie would cry under the pressure of being PM and hated her Iron Lady nickname (despite realising it was a vote winner)

  • BBC documentary reveals how Margaret Thatcher ‘loathed Iron Lady nickname’
  • But aides told her it gave her a ‘mix of strength and femininity all in one’
  • Show claims former PM suffered from anxiety amid the pressures of the top job 
  • Thatcher: A Very British Revolution airs on Monday on BBC2 

She became known as the Iron Lady for her determination and uncompromising political style.

But Margaret Thatcher would often cry due to the pressures of being Prime Minister and suffered with anxiety over the top job, a new documentary has revealed.  

The BBC series also claimed she initially loathed the Iron Lady nickname that came to define her tenure as prime minister, it has emerged. 

The Tory leader, who was yet to be elected premier, branded the moniker ‘terrible’ after it was coined by a propaganda newspaper for the Soviet Army in 1976. 

A major BBC2 documentary into Baroness Thatcher’s ascent to power reveals that she was convinced to use the name to her advantage by a close aide. 

Meanwhile the documentary also reveals her staff saw her as ‘approachable, down to earth and kind’ – and sensitive.

Margaret Thatcher would often cry due to the stress of being prime minister, a new BBC documentary has revealed. She is pictured here wiping a tear from her eye after announcing her retirement in 1992

Mrs Thatcher, pictured in 1978 at a Local Government Association conference, also supposedly hated her ‘Iron Lady’ moniker initially before being persuaded by aides that it was a vote winner

Her colleagues claimed she was ‘approachable’ and ‘down to earth’ in the BBC documentary. She is pictured here after winning the 1983 general election

Private secretary for foreign affairs John Coles said: ‘I’ve seen her weeping. I’ve seen her desperately anxious – that’s not the Iron Lady image, but it was very much a part of her.’

Mrs Thatcher, who died in 2013 aged 87, was famously seen crying in public when she left No. 10 Downing Street when ousted as prime minister in November 1990.

The pivotal advice over her nickname was given by Sir Gordon Reece, the flamboyant ex-television producer who softened the politician’s image during her years in opposition. Her change of heart was revealed by the BBC’s political correspondent, Michael Cockerell.

He said: ‘When the Soviet paper called her the Iron Lady she said: “That’s terrible”. Gordon Reece said: “No, don’t you understand? It’s exactly what we want. It’s that mixture of strength and femininity in one sentence. Be proud of being the Iron Lady”.’

Mrs Thatcher pictured looking downcast after losing to John Major in a Tory leadership election in 1990

Mrs Thatcher’s (left) aide Gordon Reece, (right) told her to be ‘proud’ of the Iron Lady nickname because it was ‘a mixture of strength and femininity’

The moniker was written in a report by the Soviet Union’s Red Star newspaper which heaped criticism on Baroness Thatcher, who had taken the reins of the Tory party less than a year earlier.

Having been picked up by the British media, she gave the insult her personal endorsement a week later. During a speech in Southgate, north London, she said: ‘I stand before you tonight in my Red Star evening gown, my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved, the Iron Lady of the Western world.

‘A Cold War warrior, an Amazon philistine, even a Peking plotter. Well, am I any of these things? … Yes I am an Iron Lady… if that’s how they wish to interpret my defence of values and freedoms fundamental to our way of life.’

As part of his image-altering advice, Mr Reece also made the Tory leader take humming lessons with a National Theatre coach to lower her ‘shrill’ voice and advised her to dress in less fussy clothing. 

But female colleagues told the programme she enjoyed chatting about her clothes and hair, with Wendy Baron, director of the Government Art Collection, claiming she was a ‘proper human being’ and ‘approachable…if you dared to approach her’. 

Mrs Thatcher, pictured after her resignation in 1990, also personally dusted her Downing Street flat and ironed her husband’s shirts at Westminster

The documentary revealed Mrs Thatcher juggled chores alongside running the country – including dusting her Downing Street flat and ironing her husband Denis’s shirts in Westminster.

Mr Coles added if there was a foreign visitor coming she would ‘rush around No. 10 adjusting flowers’.

Another private secretary, Nick Sanders, claimed she cared deeply about her 100-or-so employees.

He told the show: ‘If any of them had a serious family problem, a bereavement or a very ill child, she would stop whatever she was doing and ask us a lot of questions about whether we’d done the right thing, whether we’d been in touch with the right people, whether we had been given all the support we could.’ 

The five-part BBC series marks 40 years since Baroness Thatcher’s election as prime minister and dramatically reveals how her political career was almost ended years earlier. 

Tory grandee Ken Clarke, pictured in 1988, told the documentary Ted Heath planned to sack Mrs Thatcher as education secretary after becoming PM in 1970 over her ‘milk snatching’ but Tory whips advised against it

Just months after Ted Heath was elected prime minister in 1970, he hatched plans to sack her as education secretary over her national unpopularity.

She had decided to scrap free milk for older primary schoolchildren, which earned her the name Thatcher ‘the milk snatcher’.

The attempt to oust her was recalled by Tory grandee Ken Clarke who said: ‘[Heath] panicked about the fact that this secretary of state for education, who he didn’t like anyway, was now one of the most unpopular women in the country. Ted was going to sack her.’ 

But the Tory whips’ office advised him against it. ‘He couldn’t sack the only woman in the Cabinet. And on that basis he reluctantly kept her,’ Mr Clarke said.

The series, titled Thatcher: A Very British Revolution, airs on Monday and will chart how Baroness Thatcher came to topple Mr Heath and become one of Britain’s most influential leaders.

It also details her softer side ironing shirts for her husband Denis and feeding her family a special recipe for coronation chicken.

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