Sir Mark: lost in the desert but found road to riches

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The Independent Online

The exploits of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher's only son have often come under scrutiny over the years.

The exploits of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher's only son have often come under scrutiny over the years.

Sir Mark Thatcher has not had the most successful of business ventures throughout his career and his dealings have led to questions in the Commons.

Yet his wealth is now said to stand at more than £60 million, although he has dismissed the figure as "widely" off the mark.

Born on August 15, 1953, Sir Mark and his twin sister Carol were delivered by Caesarean while their father, the later Sir Denis, was watching a Test Match at the Oval.

Recounting life with "Iron" Lady Thatcher, Sir Mark said he found that if he and his sister behaved reasonably well, then there was no trouble.

Described as a serious individual who prefers to keep his thoughts to himself, he is also known for his abrupt manner.

Sir Mark, who inherited his late father's hereditary baronetcy in 2003, left Harrow public school in 1971 with just three O-levels, did not go to university and failed his accountancy exams three times.

He went through a series of jobs which each lasted about a year, dabbled in the Hong Kong business world and built up a network of business associates from the motor racing world plus the Middle and Far East.

In 1977 he set up Mark Thatcher Racing, a car racing company which developed cash problems.

His association with the motor racing world and his ambition to become a racing driver led to embarrassment in 1982 when he was ridiculed by the media for getting lost in a Paris-Dakar car rally in the Sahara.

He was later spotted by a search plane and rescued.

"The biggest story of 1982 was the Falklands war. The second biggest also involved my mother and me," he once wrote, admitting he did no preparation at all for the event.

In the early 1980s, when his mother was Prime Minister, he also set up Monteagle Marketing, an international consultancy firm.

Embarrassing Commons questions were asked about his role in helping the Cementation company win a multi-million pound contract to build a university in Oman.

He had flown to Oman the day after his mother arrived there for an official visit. It was claimed the events represented a conflict of political interest.

Sir Mark later moved to Dallas in Texas where he promoted Lotus cars and met glamorous Diane Burgdorf, once described by her car dealer father as "just an ordinary millionairess".

The couple married in 1987 and have two children.

One-time jewellery salesman Sir Mark's apparent use of his mother's position has led to much criticism.

In a 1986 deal in which the then British Aerospace sold jets to the Saudi government, it was alleged he had negotiated a commission of several million pounds.

Lady Thatcher had signed the Al Yamamah deal and MPs called for an inquiry.

Sir Mark denied he had received £12 million commission.

In 1995, it was claimed in a book that he used a hand-written note from his mother addressed to the ruler of Abu Dhabi to further his career and secure a profitable business deal.

In the mid nineties his name was mentioned in connection with the Pergau dam affair in which British aid to Malaysia was allegedly linked to a £1.3 billion contract placed by Malaysia in Britain. But no wrongdoing has ever been proved.

Sir Mark, who was known as "Thickie Mork" among other nicknames at Harrow and who has been criticised for his lack of charm, was once described by The Financial Times as "a sort of Harrovian Arthur Daley with a famous Mum".

Among his schemes was an attempt to manufacture shopping trolleys with tracking devices, but the idea was unsuccessful.

A devoted Lady Thatcher, however, has always had faith in him.

"Mark could sell snow to the Eskimos, and sand to the Arabs," she is reported to have said.

His notoriety was not welcomed by Sir Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher's former press secretary.

Asked by Sir Mark how he could best help his mother win the 1987 general election, Ingham reportedly replied: "Leave the country."

In 1995, Sir Mark moved to Cape Town where he lives in the affluent suburb of Constantia.

He and his wife were reported to have suffered marriage problems in the past, but still remain together.

Sir Mark, ever the businessman, is said to reside in South Africa for just 179 days a year to ensure that he holds tax-exempt status.