The Woman of Uranium


Baroness Thatcher was inarguably a towering figure of the 20th Century and her legacy will be debated fiercely elsewhere on the internet. But here on the Dabbler, we just want to pay tribute to her radioactive allure…

I never thought I’d say this – let alone write it down somewhere public – but that Mrs Thatcher was actually a bit of a looker in her younger days, wasn’t she? The photo above, from The Guardian of all places, I think proves my point.

A spotty teenager for most of the ‘80s, her allure entirely escaped me. It’s easy to assume that imagining yourself fancying her back in the day is simply a sign one’s getting old; a bit like the policemen getting younger. But not necessarily – others saw her charms quite clearly, and not just that dirty old shocker, Alan Clarke (Diaries, passim).

Hugo Young, in his superb biography One of Us, discusses how her sex influenced perceptions of her as Prime Minister and quotes from a couple of French sources: they describe her in lyrical, almost moon-struck, terms. One newspaper was particularly infatuated by the mystery of her sex…

Le Quotidien de Paris…permitted itself to speak of this political leader in terms it could not have begun to employ about a man, even one it admired to distraction. Mrs Thatcher, it said, should not be called the Iron Lady, ‘for that metal is too vile, too obscure’. She was, instead, ‘a woman of uranium, with peculiar irradiations. Compared to her, how leaden appear most of our leaders, opaque masses of flesh, austere fortresses without windows, save for the loopholes of deceit and the skylights of hidden pride. Power corrupts a man but liberates a woman and reveals her for what she is.’

Good that, isn’t it? Mind you, being radioactive is less likely to be reckoned a good thing nowadays, even in France.

Of course, one would expect the French to have perceived her in such sexually mythic terms. Apart from sex being one of their special subjects, they wouldn’t have been distracted by the British obsession with social class. That is, their view was not prejudiced by what a rather frenzied Jonathan Miller once described as her ‘odious suburban gentility’.

Then there’s Mitterand’s notorious comment that she had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe’ (eyes of Caligula? Sensuously cruel, I suppose).

I think as time goes by we’ll appreciate more and more the very real strangeness of Margaret Thatcher: not just her historical but also her personal uniqueness; in a word, her charisma. Rather like uranium, her peculiar radiations will persist. It may be that in the long run only Boudicca and Elizabeth I are comparable figures.

If so, one would expect there to be an historical and literary interest in her long after all her twentieth century contemporaries – with the exception of Churchill – have been forgotten. I say literary for, as with the Icenian and Virgin Queens, the novelists and playwrights should have as much to say as the historians, Alan Hollingsworth’s The Line of Beauty being one of the first notable efforts in this direction. And I don’t believe this is a partisan comment in any way: rather like one of Shakespeare’s protagonists, loving or loathing her is really beside the point.

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19 thoughts on “The Woman of Uranium

    April 9, 2013 at 00:45

    “Power corrupts a man but liberates a woman and reveals her for what she is.”

    Goodness. I am not a deep student of French history, but it seems to me that a woman got substantial power in her hands there, they staged the Fronde. Perhaps they find that the revelation requires a certain distance for comfortable viewing–the distance to Berlin or London, say.

    • Gaw
      April 9, 2013 at 19:13

      I get the impression they’ve had more women in senior political positions than we have this side of the Channel. Incidentally, if you haven’t come across it, the Hollande/Royal relationship is quite a soap opera….

        April 10, 2013 at 12:32

        I knew about Royale, but also that the electorate preferred Sarkozy to her.

  2. Worm
    April 9, 2013 at 10:14

    Gawd bless ‘er, with her impregnable hair helmet. I was watching one of the various programs about her last night and was struck by how utterly horrible it must have been to be in meetings with her, getting bossed about, cajoled and patronised in that measured voice.

    • Gaw
      April 9, 2013 at 19:17

      But surely one could have had a terrific debate with her. She was a brilliant interviewee. Yesterday evening I watched her one with Robin Day just after she won the leadership – she and R Day were a couple of well-matched sparring partners.

    Banished To A Pompous Land
    April 9, 2013 at 16:04

    ‘The eyes of Caligula….’

    Like those of someone dead for almost 2000 years perhaps? Anyone finding anything sensual about Lady T. …well it makes me distinctly queasy.

    • Gaw
      April 9, 2013 at 19:14

      Yes, but perhaps you remain young at heart, Banished.

    David Platzer
    April 9, 2013 at 18:22

    The French were not the only observers susceptible to the then-Prime Minister’s peculiar charms. Anthony Powell, unlikely to be one attracted by ‘shabby suburban gentility’ and Kingsley Amis recorded her attractiveness while Ferdinand Mount, once head of her Policy Unit as well as a distinguished novelist, described his initial impression of her as ‘both a little cross and unmistakably pretty, more strikingly because she’ gave a ‘whiff of umbrage.’ Elsewhere in FM’s memoirs, he says that he got the feeling that his time working for Mrs T was going to be ‘a holiday from irony’, making one wonder if either Powell or Amis, admirers that they were of the Prime Minister, would have been able to stick being with her a regular basis.

    • Gaw
      April 9, 2013 at 19:19

      Yes, I read somewhere she totally lacked a sense of humour. In terms of her personal impression, I also understand that she came across very differently in real life compared to TV. I wish I’d met her – probably something to tell your grandchildren.

        Banished To A Pompous Land
        April 12, 2013 at 16:02

        Why on earth would one want to do that. It was bad enough having met Gordon Brown.

        And take it from me I don’t bandy that about too carelessly.

  5. Brit
    April 9, 2013 at 21:22

    Despite the familiarity of her highlights I was still startled anew by her total absence of politician’s tactfulness.

    Good piece by Ian McEwan in the Graun. The internet is today otherwise mostly an open sewer.

    April 9, 2013 at 23:26

    She was due to officially open my new factory, we were interviewed by a dodgy looking cop 5 days before the event, given the all-clear (none of us sprouted an Irish accent) then it was cancelled, there was bother in the South Atlantic apparently. Hey ho, such is life, missed opportunities etc, those were her days of wine and roses, the twentieth centuries Bess of Hardwick.

    We need her again, she sticks it right up ’em you know, any chance of a quick resurrection.

      John Halliwell
      April 10, 2013 at 07:55

      I wonder, Malty, if Maggie had been up all night trying to master a Geordie accent: “Dennis, I shall have to cancel; I can only manage ‘Wor, bonny lad, where’s the netty? Naah what ah mean leik? Such a shame, I was going to wear my new perfume ‘Whiff of the Tyne’; far nicer than that rubbish given me by Jeffrey Archer: ‘Oil of Cliche’.

        April 10, 2013 at 10:33

        We were hoping for a Bessie Braddock Mk2 John, halfway up the Doncaster bypass she changes out of the Margo Leadbetter stuff and into her Ena Sharples outfit, the hairnet would have been blue obviously. A man I knew had Chas Windsor open his plant, including a gimmicky pulling Excalibur from the stone, poor bloke had to repeat every word, slowly, old Worzel Gummidge had never heard the accent in situ before, he should have gone to those ‘larn yersel Geordie’ lessons so popular in the seventies.

    David Platzer
    April 10, 2013 at 08:33

    In addition to Ian McEwan’s piece, The Graun also had an excellent one written by MT’s biographer Hugo Young just before his own death in 2003. I liked McEwan’s essay albeit he seemed to ignore the truth that other writers by no means negligible, Powell, Amis, Larkin, A.L. Rowse, V.S. Naipaul and Francis King took markedly different views on Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) than did his own set. Hugo Young wrote that Mrs T seemed and perhaps said to him that a bright man like him ought to find a real job, something that chimes with Ferdinand Young’s self-deprecatory remark that she dismissed him, Mount, as idle and effete but useful as a word-smith. Young that added that, once embarked on her memoirs, Lady Thatcher was obliged to put aside her former disdain towards the craft of writing, something that she now realised to be as arduous work as any other labour.

    ian russell
    April 10, 2013 at 22:42

    She did a good photo.

    I’ve had too many sherbets but I’m thinking, dye her hair orange and you’d have Vivienne Westwood. (I find there is actually a picture of Westwood looking like Mrs. T).

    jonathan law
    April 11, 2013 at 15:15

    In yesterday’s House of Lord’s debate John Selwyn Gummer (as was) started going on about her “beautiful ankles”.

    I realize I’ve led a fairly sheltered life and de gustibus whatever — but I can’t help finding this all quite strange and distressing. Perhaps Thatcher-fancying should be added as a distinct paraphilia in the next edition of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

    Does anyone remember what Attlee’s ankles were like?

      April 11, 2013 at 17:07

      Does anyone remember what Attlee’s ankles were like? they were both left ankled. Shirley Williams had nice ankles, in the late sixties, that I can verify, it was the flashers mac that turned me off.
      I do wonder if those strange creatures who found Maggie erotic were turned on by the school matron.

      and Hattie Jacques.

      April 11, 2013 at 19:51

      Perhaps Thatcher-fancying should be added as a distinct paraphilia…

      I think so, jonathan. Every man admires a well-turned ankle, but when the erotic appeal is its combination with a handbag and ever-present spectre of punishment, we’re into Krafft-Ebing territory.

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