Family pressed her to slow down

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Indy Politics

During her 11 years as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher built a formidable reputation for health and fitness. Famously surviving on four hours' sleep a day and refusing to take a doctor on foreign trips, officials struggled to keep up with her.

She suffered only minor health problems while in office, including a detached retina, varicose veins and an uncontrollable coughing-fit during an address to the Sri Lankan Parliament. She blamed it on excessive air-conditioning.

A year later she had an operation for Dupuytren's contracture, a condition believed to be caused by too much hand-shaking, which was clawing the little finger of her right hand towards the palm. Although her arm was bandaged, the Prime Minister was back at her desk within hours.

Although briefly depressed after being ousted from Downing Street in 1990, Baroness Thatcher threw herself into an equally heavy schedule of lecturing and writing.

However, the years caught up and Tories were shocked by the 69-year-old's pale and drawn appearance at their 1994 conference. Aides claimed she was merely recovering from painful dental surgery, but admitted her family was pressing her to slow down.

Shortly before the New Year, Lady Thatcher suffered a minor stroke in Madeira, where she and her husband, Sir Denis, had taken a holiday to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. During the attack she was taken to hospital where she spent two days in a private room. Only a handful of close friends, plus their twins, Carol and Mark, were aware of what had happened.

A further sign that all was not well came earlier this month when she announced she would not be attending celebrations in the Falklands because the journey would be too much for her 86-year-old husband.

In a letter to the Falklands Islands' government, she wrote: "Though I am still fit and well, I feel the journey, which would be gruelling even for me, would be far too much for Denis and I know that he would not wish me to go without him."