Carol Thatcher yesterday revealed that her mother, Baroness Thatcher, the former prime minister, is suffering from a deteriorating memory that has wiped out the present, while sharpening her recall of wartime events.
In an frank insight into the Thatcher family, Carol - who recently chewed kangaroo testicles on the way to being crowned Queen of the Jungle in the game show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! - also launched a bitter attack on her disgraced businessman brother, Mark, blaming his escapades for aggravating their mother's decline.
Lady Thatcher, Carol reveals, is now "very frail". "She cannot remember the beginning of the sentence by the time she reaches the end." According to Carol, Lady Thatcher, 80, is now far more able to remember her Spam recipes from the 1940s than absorb and retain new information.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Carol - who at 52 now finds herself a late-rising media star as her mother rapidly wanes - is vitriolic about her brother's role in Lady Thatcher's declining health. In January, Mark, a former arms dealer, was convicted in South Africa of funding mercenaries for an alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea. He was fined £265,000, but avoided four years in prison after admitting he had been involved in buying a helicopter gunship for use in the alleged plot. He is banned from the US, yet continues to enjoy a playboy lifestyle around the world.
"I was dismayed at the hurt and worry mum was suffering because of Mark's involvement in the Equatorial Guinea plot," says Carol. "I was annoyed with my brother for getting embroiled in it, but my main concern was our mother... I know how terribly it worried her."
Confirmation that the Thatcher clan - once a role model for family stability of the stiff gin-and-tonic variety - has succumbed to the kind of turmoil familiar to ordinary families comes as Carol returns to Britain in triumph as the victor of I'm a Celebrity. Her feats during the televised 16-day survival stint in the Australian outback included devouring fish eyes, wallaby penis, wriggling grubs and kangaroo testicles, as well as skydiving - vomiting all the way down - and being caught squatting and urinating by infrared camera, a deed watched by some 10 million British viewers.
"I don't care that millions watched me going to the loo," she says. "It's a bonus of being middle aged."
The demise in 2003 of Sir Denis Thatcher sounded the death-knell for the family, Carol reveals.
"Dad always used to defuse difficult situations with humour ... If there was a crisis, he'd pour himself a stiff gin and say: 'Let's just relax.'" Sir Denis, Carol says, "lived on gin and cigarettes and made it to 88 - but no one has a guarantee of full health for ever, which is why, at my vintage, I've decided to live for the moment."
The death of her husband, a series of strokes and then her son's trial had placed a massive strain on Lady Thatcher, says Carol.
"I know how terribly it [Mark Thatcher's trial] worried her, and in her state of health it was far from helpful to have such a nagging anxiety always at the back of her mind.
"Mark and I are not close. We didn't spend that much time together as children. We don't talk to each other. I don't know where [he] is living now. He told me he was going to Geneva. Someone else said he was in Monte Carlo. He flits around. I'll just have to wait for a change of address card to arrive."
Carol Thatcher yesterday thanked the 1.5 million ITV viewers who voted her Queen of the Jungle. She had started the show as the long-shot for the title. "Maybe they thought I was a bit of an eccentric," she says. "Perhaps they liked me because I'm an ordinary bum, and if that's the case, I couldn't be better pleased. I went in determined to make a spirited contribution and I think I was moderately good value."
Lady Thatcher is oblivious to her daughter's jungle exploits. "I told mum I was going to Australia, but she has a very poor short-term memory now, so I did not explain about the show ... For someone who has had such an active an exciting life, she doesn't take well to having time on her hands.
"She doesn't read much because of her memory loss. It's pointless. She can't remember the beginning of the sentence by the time she reaches the end."
However, in common with many other old people suffering short-term memory loss, Lady Thatcher's recall of distant events appears to be sharpening, says Carol. "A friend commented to her the other week, 'Oh Margaret, it's like rationing!' Immediately, my mother sparkled and this fellow got 15 minutes on wartime privations, including all mum's favourite recipes for Spam."
Carol, like her mother habitually described as "formidable" and "redoubtable", is keen to build on her jungle success. "I'd like to do some more telly," she says. "When you're on the wrong side of 50 there are few opportunities for adventure. So you grab them while you can."Reuse content