The Queen and Margaret Thatcher never really hit it off. Of all the prime ministers for whom the Queen held an audience, Mrs Thatcher was notoriously one of those she liked the least.
But her mother took a different view. Mrs Thatcher was one of the Queen Mother's "favourite politicians", says a new biography, out today. Her admiration for Mrs Thatcher was used to mollify the Queen Mother during what threatened to be a rift with her daughter in the 1990s. After royalty's "annus horribilis" in 1992, when royal divorces and other problems took their popularity to a low ebb, the Queen decided to update aspects of the monarchy.
One change involved the Order of the Garter, the highest and most exclusive order in the British honours system, restricted to 24 members, personally chosen by the monarch. The Queen Mother was shocked to learn that her daughter proposed to open the centuries-old order to women who were not members of the Royal Family. But she withdrew her objection when she learnt that the first non-royal female member was to be Margaret Thatcher. She was made a Lady Companion of the Order in 1995.
The Queen Mother also had favourites on the Labour side. She was charmed when Ron Todd, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, invited her to become an honorary member, after she had visited Smithfield Market and talked to "bummarees", a nickname for the porters. She instructed her secretary: "Would you tell Ron Todd (splendid name!) that as an Hon Bummaree I would be delighted to become an honorary member of the Union." William Shawcross, author of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – The Official Biography was given unrestricted access to the Queen Mother's papers and to members of her staff, to produce a highly respectful, 943-page account of the long life of the woman who died in 2002, aged 101.
The biography reveals that the Queen Mother went through a successful operation for colon cancer in December 1966, which forced her to spend two weeks in hospital and cancel all her engagements for the first three months of 1967. Rumours spread that she had had a colostomy," Shawcross added. "This was not true."