Mark Thatcher: The wayward son who finds himself torn between publicity and propriety

He has a reputation for misadventure, but Mark Thatcher is determined to do the right thing by his late mother

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Indy Politics

Amid the hundreds of voices heard across the world following the death of Margaret Thatcher, one was conspicuous by its silence, that of Mark, the son she adored and helped rescue from the travails of a life full of misadventures.

Sir Mark was in Spain, near Marbella, with his wife, Sarah Jane Russell. The Thatcher family spokesman, Lord Bell, had initially stated that he would not be coming to London until the day of the former Prime Minister's funeral next week and the service at St Paul's Cathedral.

The reason for keeping away, and the lack of even a public tribute to his mother, according to some who know him, was an attempt to minimise the glare of publicity, which was likely to be at least partly critical because of his past activities. Sir Mark's twin sister Carol, who was in the Swiss ski resort of Klosters, was said to have agreed not to make an immediate appearance in order to avoid questions being asked about her brother's whereabouts.

However, by late today Sir Mark and Ms Thatcher had changed their minds and were flying into London. Meanwhile, in the absence of Baroness Thatcher's children, other members of the Thatcher family met Buckingham Palace officials after which it was announced that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be attending the service on 17 April.

There was a move, in right-wing political circles to press for a state funeral; however this did not have the backing of Ms Thatcher or Sir Mark.

Lord Bell stressed that Baroness Thatcher "did not want a state funeral and nor did her family. She particularly did not wish to lie in state as she thought that was not appropriate. And she didn't want a fly-past as she thought that was a waste of money – somewhat in character, you might think. She expressed those views to me personally and she will get what she wanted."

It is not known whether Baroness Thatcher consulted her children before giving her instructions to Lord Bell. There have been persistent stories that they hardly saw her, choosing to stay abroad, while she grew increasingly frail and ill back home.

Carol That cher was very close to her father Sir Denis, who died in 2003. Her mother, she had written, doted on her brother Mark much more than her.

Margaret Thatcher appeared to have been reconciled to periods of not seeing her son and daughter. In a magazine interview a few years ago she said "Look, you can't have everything. Yes, I wish I saw more of my children. We don't have Sunday lunch together; we don't go on holiday skiing any more. But I can't regret. And I haven't lost my children. They have their lives."

Sir Mark, according to friends, was annoyed by stories that at a recent Christmas he was seen at the luxury hotel resort Sandy Lane in Barbados, while his mother was alone in London with her carer for company.

Sir Mark's friends point out that he visited her, on average, every six weeks; keeping his trips to London low key to escape the attentions of photographers. He and his wife Sarah were, however, pictured when they took his mother out for lunch on her 86th birthday last October.

Sir Mark, 57, married 45-year-old Sarah Jane Russell at a register office in Gibraltar in 2008. The daughter of millionaire developer Terry Clemence and the sister-in-law of Lord Rothermere is substantially wealthy in her own right and Baroness Thatcher's son no longer needs to get involved in risky ventures in efforts to make money, according to his friends.

His first wife, Texan heiress Diane Burgdorf, lives in America with their now grown-up children. Sir Mark is not allowed to enter the country due to his conviction in 2005 by a South African court over the so called "Wonga Coup"; the attempt to carry out a coup to overthrow the ruler of Equatorial Guinea. This was one in a long line of notoriety involving Sir Mark. In 1982 he got lost in the Sahara during the Paris-Dakar rally. The then Prime Minister sent Denis Thatcher to co-ordinate the search for him.

After Mark was found a dinner was held at a hotel in Tamanrasset in Algeria with the bill sent to the British embassy. It was so large that it led to a diplomatic missive to the Foreign Office. Baroness Thatcher picked up the bill for the dinner and the rescue mission.