Carol Thatcher's new book is about her father. But will her mother get the message? By Mary Braid
Below the Parapet, Carol Thatcher's forthcoming book, is billed as the rehabilitation at 81 of her father, Sir Denis, challenging his public image as a gin-slugging, golf-obsessed, dim old duffer.

But while deifying her millionaire dad, Carol, 42, affords her mother a very different treatment. The biography of father, originally reported to be a hagiography of Denis, has a touch of the Mommie Dearest about it - the devastating expose of Joan Crawford by her daughter.

If anyone should miss Carol's message about her mother in the book, she has reinforced it with a couple of pre-launch interviews during which she paints a sad picture of maternal neglect. What little time Mum had for children went to Mark, who for some inexplicable reason was always the apple of Mrs T's eye.

"At home there was nothing she [Mum] couldn't do but she didn't do it exuding enormous warmth," Carol says. "As a child I was often frightened of her and later I was often conscious of talking to her knowing her mind was elsewhere." Carol says she used to "console" herself by thinking that her mother's disinterest was her own fault for talking drivel.

Behind that hard, unyielding public face was a hard, unyielding mother. Public displays of affection were not encouraged. Political downfall and advancing years have brought no mellowing. Today Carol would never hug her mother for fear of "squashing the hairdo". And, she recalls, "It was very much drilled into me that the best thing I could ever do for my mother was not make any demands on her."

Strong stuff by any standards. But the clues were always there among those occasional and sometimes hilarious little domestic insights (Thatcher on skis on family holidays) that Carol, the journalist and writer, has given over the years. In a rare personal interview in1984 she said: "Mum and me aren't really close, but that's natural", adding that "thankfully" she and her twin brother, Mark, were not terribly close either. (That has not changed. Today Carol does not even known her twin's phone number.) When the second volume of Lady Thatcher's memoirs, Path to Power, was published, Carol let slip her mother had sent her a copy with the inscription "with love from Mum (Margaret Thatcher)". If Carol's account is correct, then "Mum" should have been hived off by brackets.

At the book launch on 16 April, Sir Denis will be present along with Carol's boyfriend, a ski instructor 14 years her junior with whom she shares a flat in Klosters. Lady Thatcher will be on a tour in America. She has twice asked Carol to delay the launch of Over the Parapet, once because it clashed with the publication of another volume of memoirs, and later because it clashed with her tour. Carol demurred.

Amazingly, Mum has not read a transcript of the book, in which Carol has even gone to the trouble of interviewing her dad's first wife. Carol says her mother has not asked to see it, nor has Carol volunteered to show it. You do not need to be Freud to spot a little family dysfunction or to speculate that Carol's motivation may extend beyond pure commerce and a desire to see some recognition of her daddy.

But ask almost anyone who has met or worked with her and they will tell you that Carol is well adjusted. Described as a cross between an enthusiastic spaniel and head of the girls' lacrosse team, Carol is "a girl with no side".

"She was not a great writer but she was bright, jolly and independent," recalls a former colleague at the Daily Telegraph, where Carol spent three undistinguished years. "Everybody liked her. She had a very loud voice and what you saw was what you got. We thought she was pretty brave trying to make her own way. It would be hell to have Thatcher as a mother."

Most former colleagues say she never talked about her mother but was very dismissive of Mark. Some say they always doubted Carol's bluff Denis Thatcher-style exterior. "I think she employed the same social camouflage as her father," says one. "She did seem open but she never really told you anything. I suspect she has covered up an enormous amount of hurt. Her mother obviously never gave a toss about her."

The book has given others some cause for re-evaluation. Carol is no Hemingway but she was "pretty tough and streetwise" and must understand the impact her comments will have on her mother's public image and that "place in history" Lady T feels she has secured.

But Lord Deedes, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, a family friend and the Dear Bill of her father's "letters" in Private Eye, says that there is too much pyschobabble. "Her mother has had two volumes published on her life and she felt her father deserved more attention," says Lord Deedes, who helped with the book. Commercial motivation, he says, is being underplayed. There can be little doubt Carol needs the money. Unlike the other three members of her family she is not a millionaire, and commissions - such as TV appearances to discuss her mother's culinary skills - have dried up since the Iron Lady fell from power.

Lord Deedes admits the book is critical of Carol's parents. "But very few politicians make ideal parents. People will say Carol resented what her mother did, but the boring, simple explanation is it made a good story that would sell."

Yet why is Carol so critical of her mother and not her father, whom she also says was self-centred? "All daughters identify with their fathers," says Lord Deedes.

That Lady Thatcher's relations with her daughter should be worse than those with her son is no surprise. Lady Thatcher's world has always been a world of men. She omitted to include her own mother, Beatrice - a downtrodden housewife to whom she said she had nothing to say after the age of 15 - from her Who's Who entry for decades.

When she entered Downing Street in 1979 the then Mrs Thatcher said she "owed almost everything" to her father, a Grantham alderman. When she was finally deposed in 1990, she tearfully compared the treachery to her father's removal from Grantham council by the ruling Labour Party. By then her father had been dead for more than 20 years. Leo Abse devoted the book Margaret, Daughter of Beatrice to his theory that it was Lady Thatcher's failure to empathise with her mother and her identification with masculine values that laid the roots for Thatcherism

Dr Maye Taylor, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and an expert on mother-daughter relationships, has little doubt about Carol's motivation in writing the book. "It's closet revenge," she says, adding that she sees it all the time in her therapy room. And she says that the former prime minister's apparent favouritism towards her son, following her own close identification with her father, is textbook stuff. It has almost certainly distressed Carol.

"In the research I have done women with problems with their self-image often have brothers on whom everything was focused. At one time boys always came first."

Carol, she says, is at the optimum age for joining the Mommie Dearest faction. The forties are an age of reflection and "attribution" of blame for a person's current position. "Writing such a book is a psychological purging. Money apart, telling the story releases anger and distress. Carol Thatcher has been in her mother's shadow all her life." And while she may appear fine on the surface, envy and resentment can thrive at an unconscious level. Yearning for parental love and recognition lives with us all our lives.

Dr Taylor worries that Carol's criticism of her mother will be used against all ambitious working mothers. But, as she points out, Lady Thatcher never struggled along the tightrope between career and family. The former simply came first. Today she suspects the driven Mrs Thatcher would have passed on children, except perhaps for their "happy family" political value.

And she offers Lady Thatcher a little comfort should the book cause her any rare pangs of self-doubt. "It is harder for women. Carol would have expected this behaviour from her father. I find daughters are grateful for the crumbs from dad's table. But mothers are supposed to do everything. Children's expectations are very high - and so is their disappointment."