Human Journey

5 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) Photograph by Selwyn Tait, Sygma/Corbis

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) passed away today after fighting illness for several years. She died in London, after having suffered a stroke, at 87 years old. Last December, she had undergone an operation to remove a growth from her bladder.

Known as the Iron Lady for her toughness, Thatcher had served as the United Kingdom’s only female prime minister, leading her country from 1979 to 1990 as head of the Conservative Party.

Thatcher served longer than any other British prime minister in the 20th Century. She is remembered for her generally conservative views, including weakening trade unions, deregulating industries, divesting state-controlled parts of the economy, and taking a tough stance against Communism.

The latter efforts meant she was also often closely allied with Ronald Reagan’s U.S. administration.

On the occasion of Thatcher’s death, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: “The Queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher. Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family.”

David Cameron, the U.K.’s current prime minister, said: “It was with great sadness that l learned of Lady Thatcher’s death. We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”

Margaret Thatcher led a long and intriguing political life, which got us thinking about some of the surprising things we learned about her along the way. Here is a brief list:

1. Soviet Journalists Gave Her the Name “Iron Lady”

Long known as the Iron Lady (including in her 2011 biopic), Thatcher was given that memorable title by Soviet journalists, who had made “a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination,” in the words of NPR.

2. Thatcher Helped Develop Soft Serve Ice Cream

Before she entered the tough world of politics, Thatcher was a research chemist. In her 20s she worked for J. Lyons and Co. as a food scientist, where she developed additives for ice cream. Her team “discovered a method of doubling the amount of air” in ice cream, which eventually found its way into soft serve products. (Updated based on a reader comment below.)

Earning her science chops, Thatcher had majored in chemistry at Oxford for a BSc.

3. Thatcher Refused 20 Female Karate-Chopping Bodyguards

In 1979, in her first year of office as Britain’s prime minister, Thatcher traveled to Japan for an economic summit. Not having hosted many female heads of state, the Japanese arranged to have 20 female karate experts escort her.

But Thatcher’s Cabinet Secretary Sir John Hunt told the Japanese, “Mrs Thatcher will attend the summit as Prime Minister and not as a woman per se. The Prime Minister would like to be treated in exactly the same manner as the other visiting Heads of Delegation. If other delegation leaders, for example, are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out.”

4. Thatcher Did Her Own Cooking

Although Thatcher was prime minister for 11 years, she didn’t have a chef in her employ. Every night, she reportedly cooked dinner for her husband, Denis Thatcher, and she frequently cooked for cabinet members as well.

5. Thatcher Said She Wouldn’t Have Gone Into Politics in a Do-Over

In 1995, Thatcher told Conservative MP Lord Spicer, “If I had my time again, I wouldn’t go into politics because of what it does to your family.”

Thatcher’s husband Denis died in 2003. Their son had gained a reputation for allegedly being a playboy.

Thatcher wasn’t the first politician to remark on the challenges of being under constant scrutiny, and balancing work and home life.

What were you surprised to learn about Margaret Thatcher? 

(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested Thatcher was born on a Friday the 13th.)

Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.


  • Ima Ryma

    Margaret Thatcher and the press
    Gave each other a lot of flack.
    Journalists round her did possess
    Lots of foreign made knic and knac –
    Like tape recorders from Japan,
    Italian suits and U.S. stuff.
    She ordered a foreign made ban.
    The Iron Lady could play rough.
    “Buy British” was her hot campaign,
    Till the press caught her on a trip.
    Her fervor then began to wane,
    As the press let a tidbit “slip.”

    To the Falklands she did embark,
    Her hair rollers made in Denmark.

  • Stanito

    She was an amazing leader, tough and rigid, but man did she save Great Britain from disaster and put order back.
    Awesome awesome lady, truly.
    The UK have had Elziabeth, Victoria and then Margaret. RIP

  • Bob

    Thatcher did not “invent” soft serve:

    “The soft serve formula was first developed in 1938 by John Fremont “Grandpa” McCullough, (1871‒1963), and his son Bradley.”

    They had stores open around the US before Thatcher was a chemist.

    • Hi Bob. Her work did help develop soft serve products, but I take your point about “inventing it,” so I tweaked the text to make it more clear.

  • Mark Giles

    but did everyone know that she stopped school milk, sold off public owned services, destroyed the working mans unions. and ruined industry in general in Britain. the worst was the miners, she sent mounted police onto fields to beet into submission and leave the area. personally i wish she could have lived a bit longer,but in excrutiating agony.

  • Stan

    She saved Britain from socialism for a time….

  • martin

    oh yea! to swimming in the flames of hell..

  • Hil

    Stan, we have never been a Socialist State, we have a Welfare State, which is entirely different. Thatcher ruined our country, she sold of our industries to the highest bidder, put millions people out of work and many communities today still live with her legacy, decimated by the loss of jobs due to her policies. A great leader has wisdom an humanity, she has neither. I am glad she is dead.

  • Ina Chatwind

    No leader can satisfy everybody, but a leader who can take a stand and stick to it, is rare and well worth following. Such a leader was Baroness Thatcher. I always have been and will remain an admirer. RIP iron LADY!

  • Mohammad Yusuf Advani

    Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving lady PM of Great Britain.Her political achievements and her personal strength considered as stupendousIron Lady.Falkland islands war was a defining movement of her Primership. R.I.P

  • Lulu

    In reference,to the UK having HAD Elizabeth , I take it you mean Our monarch who is still alive! Victoria as in Queen Victoria is however deceased ..and as for putting Margaret Thatcher in same context is for many very disrespectful .
    Baroness Thatcher did more harm then good for this Country we lost many industries of which we will never regain.
    And if I were too vent my spleen I would be here all day., I cannot remember one good thing ,all through childhood I recall strikes,police brutality,union collapse,the poor getting poorer,the rich having different treatment however.
    Maybe if she had remembered her humble roots before having speech elocution lessons to get rid of her regional accent too appear to be something she wasn’t she would of appeared more ‘human’
    We all have views, opinions.

  • Adey

    Thatcher was sooo not an ‘awesome lady’. There really does need to be some balance brought to her memory. Across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted. Her political legacy is one of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown. She was a great leader, a formidable woman and a heartless b***h. A very dangerous combination as the UK knows to it’s great cost. Look here for some balance to the hagiography currently swamping the media.

  • Aphorism89

    She was a right/fascist politician. I don’t see how some people can miss her. Sure she deserves respect because she was a good politician (better than most of the current ones), but still, she had a repugnant ideology against the middle class.

  • Stephen Beres

    The strong interpersonal bonds between Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II put a victorious and peaceful End to the Cold War.

  • “Curious” American

    Those who head off disaster are often never recognized for their accomplishments. Look at Greece… that’s exactly where Britain would be without the Iron Lady. R.I.P.

  • jonpleno

    If she hadn´t made the financial reforms today maybe you´d be using EURO like unique currency in whole United Kingdom. Sorry, because I´m not an citizen English but you would like to lose your precious currency and subdued to Euro Zone ? The past can be caused bad effects at that time but the present and, obviously, the future are what really matter. John Freire.

  • Ben

    She was an illuminati high-ranking leader. She was an evil servant, and she caused a lot of pain to some people in this world.

  • Philip McNeill

    There is a lot of clap trap about Margaret Thatcher and the good she did for this country. She was a ruthless destroyer of British Industry. Yes there was a lot wrong with Industry at that time but she never gave it a chance to modernise. Instead she laid the foundations for the banking sector to rise and rise it did unabated and culminated in the almighty crass of 2008. She created the climate of greed that Bankers speculated and money was invested in foreign companies. Our own companies were asset stripped and the manufacturing processes sent to the far east all for short term gain. Whole communities devastated because they that the nerve to stand up to her. Social housing sold and not replaced we now have a housing crisis that cannot be filled. Working men put onto welfare and with no prospect of a job remained there for the remainder of their active life. Children grew up with no prospect of a career and a good living because the life blood of the country was taken out. Yes the unions needed curtailing but she chose confrontation as offered by Mr Arthur Scargill

  • Mark

    She dead?!? F’n Finally!! And another one (puppet) bites the dust

  • Brian

    If you ask most teenagers about Trade unions,
    They would wonder what you were talking about.
    Thatcher was the trade union movement’s,

  • David Moffat-Turner

    Im 40 years old from Ayrshire, Scotland. Many communities in scotland suffer to this day of her policies that her government made. All the classes (upper, middle, working class, stinking rich and the poor got together and become an unoffical country to the world (scotland). Next year September 18 is a big deal for the whole world is Scotland to become a soverign country or have more devolved power. This is the leagacy of maggie thatcher so thank you very much. 1973 is the year I was born by the way so I know what im talking about my EYES seen it all.

  • Gale

    I am so saddened by above comments for our future world. You may love her, like her or not admire her work as a politician. But how very wrong to speak ill of her upon her death. Why are people so very unkind? RIP Margaret.

  • George


  • Ray

    I admire the toughness and determination she displayed and respect the part she played in ending the cold war. Having not lived in England during her leadership, I cant comment on her internal policies but I ask those bemoaning her choice to destroy certain industries to consider if they would be still willing to work in the tin mines for a thrippance a week as that is what would be required to operate these industries and still make a profit in the first world. I almost wish someone would do that to the Australian car industry. First world nations are simply unable to be competitive in manufacturing. Some may say Baronness Thatcher destroyed a generation of Britons, I say she sacrificed a generation of Britons to ensure many generations of prosperity. A great leader almost neer does what is popular

  • Biserka

    excellent and simple person and hard worker

  • Rahul

    Part of the real Thatcher legacy
    by Harry Paterson
    The institutionalized corruption of privatizing the nation’s utilities so her mates in the City could get ever richer.
    The complete dismantling of entire industries and the communities that relied on them.
    Engineering the biggest transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest ever seen in the UK up to that point.
    The Poll Tax, riots, poverty, record unemployment, the most draconian and repressive employment legislation anywhere in the developed world, more small businesses going to the wall than at any period prior to her rule, her defense of and friendship with Chilean mass-murdering dictator General Pinochet and the ruination of the NHS to name but a few of her achievements.
    The lady might not have been for turning but when that solemn procession passes you by, turn your back. Turn your back and, instead, remember the countless millions she gloatingly destroyed in pursuit of yet more wealth for her pals. Turn your back and think of “care in the community”; the elderly, the sick, the mentally ill and the infirm treated with all the compassion shown by a fox in a hen-house. Turn your back and remember her victims.

  • Cameron Hamilton

    Margaret Thatcher was not liked by many and I agree at times she made some harsh decisions. But that women had determination and she was made out of somehting strong and she did more then any of the politicians today. And she will always be remembered as a remarkable Lady. She will not rot in hell she is a good soul xxx

  • Robert Brown

    Thatcher used the Falklands for the same reason as Galtieri of Argentina – power, wealth and popularity…

    It was the late 70’s and there had been a growing crisis over oil prices controlled by OPEC. The largest investor in mineral rights (including oil) in the Falklands was none other than, through Coalite Ltd, the PM’s businessman husband Dennis Thatcher.

    The British armed forces were mobilised at massive expense to the taxpayer, on the back of media hype through whatever behind the scenes (although now well known) dealing Mrs Thatcher had with Rupert Murdoch, a relationship developed after the illegal police terrorisation of the British coal miners expressing their democratic right to strike and protest.

    Their miner’s families and communities were systematically destroyed using police and the military (which I joined age 16, incidentally). I grew up witnessing this and the fake media throughout my childhood in the 70’s/80’s in the mining heartlands of the UK.

    Thatcher was not especially popular leading up to the Falklands. Blair (Who Thatcher called her ‘greatest creation’) said later words to the effect ‘wars make prime ministers popular’.

    Thatcher was a puppet, for the right wing banking system which has profited from wars it has funded through issuing debt to tax payers for hundreds of years, often funding both sides (England vs France, Allies vs Germany etc etc etc). Thatcher allied herself to the right wing bankers and media. She did not represent the interests of the people she claimed to represent.

    She was the model for right wing, paid off governments and prime ministers since, and the sooner the cycle is broken, the better.

    There may be a chance for constructive, transparent, genuine democracy with Jeremy Corbyn who is one of the last decent minded politicians around. If he is voted in however, I would question why the right wing bankers, their cabal, the CIA and GCHQ, would not simply do another JFK who wanted a nationalised banking system. Any notion of non-private banking or free education, housing, health, welfare etc whether US, UK or in Venezuela or Syria etc, is met with assassination, war, or whatever it takes for the bankers to maintain their rigged system to keep them in position as ‘the elite’.

    Good luck Jeremy Corbyn and all ‘ there’s another alternative’ leaders.

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