Thatcher goes fishing in deep waters: Will Bennett finds the former prime minister making unlikely allies in her quest for a role

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The Independent Online
BARONESS THATCHER'S collapse in Chile on Monday prevented her from attending a party at which the guests were also expected to include General Augusto Pinochet, the country's former dictator, who kept a bloody grip on power for 17 years.

Former civilian members of General Pinochet's government - which seized power from the Marxist Salvador Allende in 1973 in a violent coup and is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 people - were also scheduled to be at the gathering.

The collapse of Lady Thatcher, who was suffering from a stomach upset, while making a speech in Santiago, shows that, at 68, she may be driving herself too hard. Her normally strong voice deteriorated to an inaudible mumble and her head fell against the podium.

A spokeswoman at her London office said yesterday: 'She is better this morning. She is going to carry on with the trip but some events will be cut out to allow more time between each appointment.'

But the trip to Chile has also revealed ever more clearly that, in her search for a world role, ideological soulmates and a comfortable living since she lost power, Lady Thatcher sometimes keeps questionable company. Her office refused yesterday to discuss her itinerary in Chile but it is believed that she planned to visit an arms fair in Santiago. Although Chile is now a democracy, few British politicians would venture to something so closely associated with the country's military.

Lady Thatcher is now very rich, partly from speaking engagements, for which she can command up to pounds 50,000 an hour, and also from her memoirs of which 330,000 hardback copies have been sold in Britain. Her advance for the book has been estimated at between pounds 2.5m and pounds 5m.

To promote the book she undertook a punishing 12-day British tour, personally signing 20,000 copies. It was a typically relentless performance which cost police forces an estimated pounds 300,000 for protection.

While promoting the book in the United States, Lady Thatcher was loaned a jet for the tour by Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate, who is also a non-executive director of the cigarette company Philip Morris. Lady Thatcher is a pounds 550,000-a-year 'consultant' to Philip Morris, which makes Marlboro cigarettes. The job, which involves speaking engagements, led to accusations that she had sold out to the tobacco industry.

The pace of her life has never slackened since she left office. In the past year she has visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, Poland, Italy, Japan, the US and Brazil, and will go to Mexico when she leaves Chile.

The trips are normally paid for by whoever has invited her to speak, the audiences are usually businessmen, bankers and VIPs sympathetic to her views, and she has often managed to raise large sums of money for the Thatcher Foundation.

The foundation, set up to promote free enterprise politics, has already helped some aspiring private entrepreneurs from former Communist countries. But it has attracted controversy because of its financial secrecy and for devising tax loopholes for donors. It is no accident that Lady Thatcher has spent so much time in the Far East for it is there that her undiluted free market message gets the warmest response, and donations to the foundation are at their most generous.

Among the first substantial donors to the foundation was Li Ka-Shing, a billionaire property tycoon from Hong Kong, who was publicly censured for insider dealing on the colony's stock market.

As her time in Downing Street recedes into the middle distance, Lady Thatcher seeks influence and sympathy for her views wherever it can still be found - even among retired Chilean dictators.