Baroness Miller of Hendon: Entrepreneur who developed a highly successful cosmetics business before becoming a Whip in the House of Lords

 

For many years Doreen Miller, Baroness Miller of Hendon, ran a highly successful business as well as being a keen voluntary worker for a variety of different charities.

She also found the time to be a magistrate and was an active woman’s rights campaigner, for which she was awarded an MBE in 1989.

She was a committed Tory all her life. Her initial involvement in politics started at a local level in north London, and from there she went on to become the Chairman of the Greater London Area Conservatives. John Major made her a life peer in 1993 and the following year she became a government minister.

She was one of the very few women in the Tory party – and particularly in the Lords – who actually knew how to start up and run a very successful business. Margaret Thatcher married into money by marrying a businessman with inherited money but she never ran so much as a whelk stall at a profit. Doreen Miller was different: working for herself, she started up and built a business – not in whelks, but in the esoteric world of beauty products for women.

Doreen Feldman was born in north London in 1933. She had a sound grammar school education at the Brondesbury and Kilburn High School for Girls. She studied for a degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. From an early age she had had an ambition to run her own business, and on leaving university she went into the cosmetics industry. From 1971, until her retirement from business in 1989, she ran the highly successful Universal Beauty Club, as chairman and managing director.

Her company was essentially an international mail order and marketing business for cosmetics operating mainly in the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. In 1975, being something of an expert in the beauty business, she wrote a book about the subject, Let’s Make Up. At a formal dinner in the Lords, she once said to me, “Ron, I bet you don’t know the last thing every woman should do before she leaves the house in the morning!” I had to admit I was stumped. “She must always see that her hair is looking nice, that her make-up is OK and that her clothes look smart!” she said. Doreen practised what she preached. She always looked a million dollars.

In 1955 she met, and later married, Henry Miller. It was a good marriage, the couple going on to have three sons. Henry Miller was always very supportive of Doreen’s political activities. For many years she was the president of a Tory dining club, the 1912 Club, which meets four times a year. I have been a member for about 20 years and cannot remember a single occasion when Doreen and Henry failed to turn up. Along with the Club’s able chairman, David Amess MP, they always knew the importance of humour, and their jokes were very good. She rarely took holidays. But when she did, she said she “enjoyed sitting near sunlit pools, given the opportunity.”

For many years Miller was a front bench spokesman for the Conservatives in the Lords. She served as a Government Whip from 1994-97 and was a Government Spokesman for health and education matters. She was an Opposition Whip from 1997 until 2000 and a spokesman for the Opposition on education and employment. From 2000-2003 she was an Opposition spokesman on trade and industry.

Throughout her political life, what she cared about most was trying to get more women into political and public life. “Doreen was highly effective in encouraging women to get involved in politics and supporting their careers,” Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, recalled. “I always received wise advice and brilliant support from her. Without her help and encouragement, I doubt I would ever have been elected as an MEP or MP. Doreen chaired the MEP selection meeting which gave me my first lucky break in politics in 1998 and she did so with great common sense and fairness. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.”

As Baroness Miller she was a very popular figure in the Lords, well regarded across the political divide. In this respect, she occupied a similar reputational position to that currently held by Baroness Trumpington: a thoroughly good egg, regardless of deeply held political convictions.

Shortly after he left prison, Lord Archer resumed his practice of throwing a champagne and shepherds pie Christmas party at his swanky apartment in Vauxhall. The press soon got hold of the guest list, and I remember a BBC journalist asking Miller why she was attending. Back came her immortal reply: “He is a friend – and I do not desert my friends. I know he has done time in prison. But that is over. And he should be entitled to a bit of fun – like anyone else who has just left prison!”

Doreen Feldman, businesswoman and politician: born London 13 June 1933; MBE 1989, cr. Life Peer 1993; married 1955 Henry Miller (three sons); died London 21 June 2014.

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