Lord Bell: Christmas with Margaret Thatcher was 'horrible' and 'trying': Presents, games and children were banned

The late Prime Minister’s former advisor festive celebrations were far from jolly

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The Independent Online

It sounds as if Christmas with Margaret Thatcher was as miserable as you might expect.

Lord Bell, a friend and advisor to the late Prime Minister, detailed his memories of the “sort of horrible” parties” he attended at Chequers.

Thatcher didn’t permit presents, casual attire, games or children.

“Was it fun; was it jolly? No, of course not,” he writes in his autobiography Right or Wrong, as published in an extract by The Times. “It was trying and traditional and terribly polite. And sort of horrible, really.”

“There were absolutely no presents — presents were not part of Christmas as far as Margaret was concerned. No Christmas jumpers. No open-necked shirts. No charades. No games. And no children — apart from the year we had our three-month-old baby Daisy and she was too small to leave at home, so I had to get special permission to take her with us.”

Despite the best efforts of Thatcher’s husband, Denis, who was “always full of joie de vivre”, the day was highly regimented. Apparently, if you were early you waited round the corner in the car because “nobody wanted to get there first”.

“The protocol for the day was utterly traditional and exactly the same every year. Festivities would commence at 12.30pm sharp,” he recalled.

The day was centred around the Queen’s speech at 2.45, when complete silence was required.

“You couldn’t speak, you couldn’t cough,” writes Bell. “You couldn’t move. You had to get yourself into a reasonably comfortable position because if you shifted once it had started she’d give you a killer death stare.

“She would never actually criticise the Queen, but she would usually make a sarcastic comment at the end — 'Oh dear, she’s going to feel sorry for the poor again.'”

Bell admits that he doesn’t think “anyone enjoyed it as such, particularly the wives”.

“We just all went through it,” he commented. “But we’d never have dreamt of turning the invitation down, even in the 12th year, when the novelty was wearing a bit thin and we were all thinking, ‘This might be the last one.’”