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The novelist and journalist Susan Crosland was born in Baltimore and moved to London in the 1960s. In 1982 she wrote a biography of her second husband, Anthony Crosland, the Labour minister, who died in 1977. She has two daughters and lives in London. Therese Lawson was born in London. She has worked for Which? magazine, as a House of Commons Library researcher, and for the National Consumer Council. In 1980, she married her second husband, the former Chancellor Nigel Lawson. They now live in Northamptonshire with their two children

SUSAN CROSLAND: In 1983, a year after my book on Tony had been published, Andrew Neil, who was editor of the Sunday Times, asked me to write a one-off column from the party conferences. Robin Day said I wouldn't know anyone in Blackpool, and asked me to the party of Alistair McAlpine, who was Party Treasurer, on the first night. We were having drinks in Alistair McAlpine's suite at the Imperial Hotel, and Nigel Lawson came over to say, "My wife is upstairs in our bedroom reading your book about Tony."

A day or two later, I sent a note to Therese suggesting that we have coffee together. I intended to write a major profile on Nigel to coincide with his first Budget in March 1984, and it seemed intelligent to meet his wife. We met downstairs in the hotel, by which time the whole shebang had fallen apart - because Cecil Parkinson had just resigned from the Cabinet. Ministers were running up and down steps to an elevated part of the lobby, and there was a great tizz.

Over coffee, I found Therese to be mischievous, irreverent, provocative and very upfront. I liked her enormously. She didn't toe any party line and was a rebellious spirit, particularly about mores which she regarded as fraudulent. In that impish way Therese has, she mentioned a Labour MP friend of mine, telling us that we'd all better watch out because the Tories were furious about what had happened to Cecil, and were waiting for a chance for this friend to be found out too. Even after so short a meeting, I thought this was someone who was enormous fun, but also very discreet.

I suggested that we might meet again at No 11. As part of my research before writing about Nigel, I was planning to talk to 10 or 12 people who knew him. Therese said, "When all that is over, when the profile is out of the way, then we shall meet." Sensitive and intelligent.

Talking to others, I learnt something about Nigel and Therese's private life - Therese's pregnancy with Nigel's child before they were married - which had not been published. It seemed to me important in the context of Nigel's risk-taking as a politician, so I asked him about it. He said, "That's for Therese. I'll mention it to her." Soon afterwards, Therese sent me a paragraph she had written, which was absolutely unflinching. "... It was several years before the various divorces were completed. Therese Medawer, working at the National Consumer Council, gave birth to a boy and a couple of years later, Nigel Lawson moved into her small house Wandsworth. In 1980, they were able to marry and their second child, a girl, was born a year later." It was only after my piece was published that our friendship could develop. We met for dinner at my home, at No 11 or in restaurants. One of reasons that Therese and I are so interested in each other is that we aren't peas in a pod. Like many Cath-olics, Therese is a bit zany - dutiful, vulnerable and penitent, and then hares off and does whatever she wants.

I'm sure we're attracted to each other's irreverence about the crazy life of politics. Therese is very much her own woman. She was a sparky chatelaine at No 11, where it was not easy to bring up two young children.

Both of us are fascinated by how the other manages her life, but, even with Therese, there are parts of my life which remain private - which I only discuss with the person who is involved in that particular part. She is always sensitive to that - never probing. We don't have rows. I have dust-ups with men in a way which I could never imagine having with Therese.

It's my impression that she and Nigel discuss politics a great deal. Therese is a very intelligent woman. Both her husbands have been intellectuals and many of her admirers are intellectuals. Six years ago, Therese introduced me to Shrublands Health Farm, and we go there once a year. Shrublands is like an oasis where we see each other clothed and naked. It's an intimacy I wouldn't want to share with many of my friends.

THERESE LAWSON: It was obvious that I'd be at the Tory party conference in Blackpool in 1983 because I'd be with Nigel, but it was a surprise to meet Susan there. By chance, I was, at the time, deeply into her book about Tony. Having worked in the House of Commons Library, I knew him a little - as I knew most of the MPs. Susan's book was engrossing because I wasn't only reading about Tony - I kept projecting myself into the mind of the person who'd written it.

Party conferences are hard work. On that first evening my feet were killing me, so I decided to give Alistair McAlpine's chic do a miss and curl up in bed with Susan's book instead. After the party, when Nigel came back upstairs, he said: "You'll never guess who was there - Susan Crosland." I was quite excited because I wanted to meet her. Her memory is of inviting me to have coffee with her, but I'm sure I asked Nigel to manoeuvre our meeting, and that he introduced us.

On the whole, one is wary of journalists, and now that she's a novelist I suppose that's as least as worrying as being friends with a journalist. But I liked Susan immediately. Susan has an aura about her. It's difficult to be in the same room and not notice her. Since we became friends, our paths have crossed at many official functions and things come to a halt the moment she walks in. Sometimes we're surrounded by people we both know, so we pass furtive glances to one another across a crowded room - a bit like secret lovers. Afterwards we meet and have a good gossip.

Some people make a deliberate stage entrance. Susan isn't like that but she does have a definite presence. Her voice has a slow, gentle, appealing laugh to it. It's not in the least bit raucous. Susan is much too ladylike for that. She has a particular American sense of humour which I appreciate.

In Blackpool, I realised that I'd never met anyone else quite like her, but I didn't feel we could really be friends until after she'd written her profile of Nigel. There was, I thought, a proper standard of behaviour rather than leaping in with both feet. All I can say is that from the very beginning my instinct overwhelmed my caution and I've not been proved wrong yet.

After she'd done her research, Susan came to No 11 where she spent a significant period of the day interviewing Nigel. I kept out of the way. In the house, it was very much Upstairs, Downstairs. I was in the domestic area Upstairs - the offices are downstairs - crossing my fingers that the profile would be fine. When it was published, it was extremely perceptive. Susan writes in a very particular style and has the ability to ponder and puzzle until she gets there. She's also sensitive to other people's vibes, which she picks up immediately. No one has ever got as close in print to describing Nigel as she did. I've never asked him, but I'd be very surprised if he didn't agree.

The rarity of our meetings has more do to with our commitments than with our not wanting to see each other. I compare being with Susan to quality time with the children. We always think that our week at the health farm will give us a chance to catch up on politics and news, but we invariably leave with a list of topics still undone.

For me, Susan's home is like an oasis, but I'd never be too frivolous about discussing anyone who has the ability to live alone as she does. Susan has been through a lot of pain. In many respects she is a very private person; there are things I'd never ask her.

I lived through that time when she was married to Tony, and Nigel often mentioned the Croslands during his chancellorship. Susan must have been an extraordinary political wife, but she is now someone in her own role. She frequently crops up as one of the guests at an exclusive American emb-assy dinner or important reception, but that's because she's Susan and not because she was once the wife of the Foreign Secretary.

Looking back, it was a dangerous leap of faith to want her as a friend, but I would eat my hat if she ever let me down. 8