Obituary: Dame Guinevere Tilney
Saturday 05 April 1997
She displayed a resolution in her dealings with Lady Thatcher which few men could show. To Tilney was owed the deepening of the Thatcher voice, the softening of the hairstyle, and the simplicity of the clothes in Lady Thatcher's great electoral years. Yet, she was paid nothing for her pains and troubles, except, in 1984, in the form of what she, imitating the New Zealand novelist Ngaio Marsh, like to call "me damery".
Guinevere was a very apt baptismal name for her; for she had both the elegance and the resolution which is ascribed to King Arthur's legendary consort. Yet she had done much more with her life than being dresser to a famous prime minister.
She was the daughter of a family embedded in public life - her father, Sir Hamilton Grant, was a distinguished public servant. In 1944 she married a serving officer, Captain Lionel Hunter, who died three years later, and then in 1954 she married her beloved second husband, John Tilney. The Conservative MP for Wavertree, Liverpool from 1950 to 1974, he was a figure of considerable influence in Conservative Party politics. But it was his wife who did more public work.
From an early age, Guinevere determined to she would not be restricted to a conventional well-off rural English life. She became a champion of women's rights on the international stage; and a formidable advocate of human rights' causes at the United Nations. Yet, she never lost her sense of fun; and vastly enjoyed her own tale of going on the same diet as the Prime Minister, before then then Mrs Thatcher's first visit to China. "She had to slim down", said Lady Tilney, "so, I had to show her how to do it."
One of the most interesting things about Guinevere Tilney was that she usually looked flamboyant, but was the very reverse of flamboyant when she did what she regarded as serious business. She had a curious, though not, in her view, paternalistic, interest in the offshoots of the British Empire: she was, for some years, Chairman of the Empire Ladies Luncheon Club. Although in the last decade of this century, that organisation may sound preposterous, the fact is that it raised more money for indigent nations, without evident publicity, than any other private charity: most of this was due to Guinevere Tilney.
And when, at the United Nations, as UK Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women, 1970-73, sitting on various committees, she argued - fought would perhaps be a better word - for the rights of women she, as she once told me, had three things in mind. The first was to end female castration, especially in Africa. The second was to persuade non-Christian communities to end their systems of arranged marriage. "After all," she once said, "Denis and Margaret met by accident".
The third great cause of her life, always argued with aplomb, but also with charm, was to make Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. Lady Thatcher, as far as I know, had no woman of her own age in whom she could confide; and she did not trust the men of her own generation. Guinevere Tilney was always there. She was there to soothe, to encourage, and to support.
I was once walking down the Committee Room Corridor of the House of Commons with a friend who was a Labour MP. Coming towards us was a diminutive and elegant figure. "There", said my friend, "is your typical Tory MP, well-brushed, well-dressed, and rich. T hat's no advertisement for women in this House."
"Let me", I said, introducing Judith Hart to Guinevere Tilney, "explain that she is not an MP, that she is much more involved in Third World affairs than you are; and the fact that she looks nicer than you do is more a matter of taste than of wealth." The two women went off together. The only thing I heard thereafter was from Judith Hart: "She's a nice woman. That Tory."
Guinevere Grant, campaigner and political adviser: born 8 September 1916; Vice-President, National Council of Women of Great Britain 1958-61, President 1961-68; UK Representative on United Nations Commission on Status of Women 1970-73; Adviser to Margaret Thatcher MP 1975-83; DBE 1984; married 1944 Captain Lionel Hunter (died 1947; one son), 1954 Sir John Tilney (died 1994); died London 4 April 1997.
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Robin Thicke named sexist of the year 2013
PAs cleared of fraud - and Nigella Lawson left reeling at 'ridiculous sideshow' of drug allegations
Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
Paul Walker death caused by speed alone
Apollo Theatre collapse: Scores injured after ceiling collapses in London's West End
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 2 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 3 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 4 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- 5 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
- < Previous
- Next >
£40000 - £55000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: This Big 4 giant is seeking ...
£35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have personal tax exp...
£22000 - £37000 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: This se...
£27000 - £30000 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Capita ...