Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, passed away on April 8, 2013, after suffering from a stroke. She was 87.
Born as a grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher came to power at a time of economic and political crisis and was the first prominent woman prime minister of a western democracy.
While Thatcher was away due to ill health – she withdrew from public appearances in 2002, after a series of strokes and the onset of dementia – the Baroness remains to be a deeply polarising political and cultural icon.
Still, her controversial 11 year-rule has undoubtedly transformed Britain; its effects remain to be felt today. Thatcher tackled problems of the British welfare state system by pushing for privatisation and increasing deregulation of public services, stating blithely that “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”.
Margaret Thatcher in 2010 at Downing Street. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
With an icon so culturally pervasive, there still are a few interesting factoids to know about this Iron Lady. Here’s five that you may not have heard of.
1. She may have helped popularise soft-serve ice cream
In her twenties, Thatcher had previously worked as a research chemist, in a team responsible for creating one of the most cost-efficient ways of producing soft-serve ice cream. The task was to produce the dessert fast, with the fewest ingredients possible.
2. Her stance on the notorious “milk-snatching” repute
Thatcher ended the provision of free milk in schools in the 1970s. But in retrospect, even Thatcher eventually relented on the efficacy of such a reform. She wrote thus in her autobiography: “I learned a valuable lesson – I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”
3. She received the “Iron Lady” moniker from Soviet journos
And she proudly kept it, even with a sense of humour. At the unveiling of her bronze statue in 2007, Thatcher is known to have said: “I might have preferred iron, but bronze will do. It won’t rust.”
4. She did not consider herself to be a feminist
Even upon her appointment as Britain’s education secretary in 1973, Thatcher herself remarked that “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.” Yet nine years after hence, she was elected as the first woman prime minister of Britain. It could be argued that she did embrace the spirit of feminism, by breaking through unspoken gender barriers in politics and through her refusal to be defined solely by her gender.
Interestingly enough, Thatcher once informed Japanese politicians that she had no need for the “20 female karate experts” they had arranged at a 1979 economic summit, as she wished to “attend the summit as prime minister and not as a woman per se … she does not wish to be singled out.”
5. Her tenacity inspired the “handbagging” term
Currently included in the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was derived from a comment made by a member in parliament who said quite derogatively, “she (Thatcher) can’t look at a British institution without hitting it with her handbag.”
Her fashion style was just as unflinchingly steadfast as her political convictions. The skirt suits she donned were her “armour”, said Thatcher; she embraced the soft power of “power dressing”, setting the precedence for the modern attire of women in power.