Behind most great women is a resentful husband... Denis Thatcher, found his wife's success hard to deal with. The need to strive and achieve is inbuilt into most men's DNA
When it comes to other people’s marriages, the only thing any of us can ever be sure of is that they are never quite what they seem. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Margaret and Denis Thatcher’s marriage was rather more complicated than it appeared to the world at the time.
Denis was always portrayed as the ideal consort for a female politician.
Far from resenting his wife’s incredible success, he gave her unstinting support and shrewd advice – while cultivating the image of a man for whom nothing mattered more than a round of golf and his next G&T.
Denis Thatcher was always portrayed as the ideal consort for a female politician, but in reality he found his wife's political career hard
Yet it turns out he found it much more difficult than he made it appear.
According to Lady Thatcher’s official biography, published yesterday, Denis actually found the early years of his wife’s political career so destabilising that in the mid-1960s he even contemplated divorcing her.
Forty years ago, of course, the political husband was an almost unknown concept. Today, by contrast, there are so many that some have even formed an unofficial support group, meeting twice a year in a Westminster Indian restaurant for a curry.
But although the numbers have changed, the difficulties they face have not. Tomorrow (Thursday) BBC2 is screening the first episode of The Politician’s Husband, in which a political couple, played by Emily Watson and David Tennant, find their marriage comes under unbearable strain when their roles are suddenly switched.
Dennis cultivated the image of a man for whom nothing mattered more than a round of golf and his next G&T;
He loses his front bench position, while she is catapulted into the Cabinet.
He copes badly, partly by becoming aggressive in bed, in a desperate bid to prove his masculinity.
Written by Paula Milne (who wrote the brilliant The Politician’s Wife a decade ago), The Politician’s Husband was partly inspired, she says, by her belief that her own career success contributed to the end of her first marriage.
When Paula married for a second time, it was to a prosperous surgeon.
Nevertheless, when she won a lucrative contract which meant she could afford to pay off the mortgage on their home, he did not find it a celebratory moment.
The Politician's Husband, starring David Tennant, and Emily Watson, may reflect a truth that most men feel destabilised if their wife becomes more successful
Do all couples hit problems if the wife becomes more successful? The answer is not all – but many.
Certainly, I know of only two marriages that have survived a wife’s stellar career (and huge earning capacity).
In one case, the husband has coped by becoming an obsessive triathlete, thus proving to himself and to the outside world that he’s still a real man.
In the other, the husband has taught himself to be a superlative cook, whose dishes are much admired at the power networking dinners held by his wife.
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There’s nothing surprising about this. The need to strive and achieve is inbuilt into most men’s DNA – after all, from an early age boys learn that they will one day be expected to be providers.
The male achiever is a powerful, and necessary role model. According to The XX Factor, a new book by Professor Alison Wolf, only around 15 per cent of women want to put their work before their family anyway – so women like Mrs Thatcher (and therefore their husbands) are always going to be in the minority.
The majority of mothers either don’t want to work at all while their children are small, or prefer to do so on a part-time basis so they can spend more time with them. But if they’re to stand any chance of having more time at home, they need a man who earns enough to provide for his family.
Is it any wonder, then, that men raised to shoulder this burden should feel utterly destabilised when a wife becomes more successful in her career?
Wisely, Mrs Thatcher - like the Queen, who defers to Prince Philip on all matters domestic – made sure her husband at least felt empowered at home. He complained when she didn’t cook for him – and she didn’t demur when he bought the flat next door and installed their new-born twins and nanny so that his peace was not disturbed.
In response Denis appears to have confined his aggression to the breakfast table, requiring his wife to provide five different kinds of toast to go with his boiled eggs, according to Robin Harris’s riveting book Not For Turning: ‘On one memorable occasion, however, she forgot to boil them at all and Denis’s reaction as he sliced the top off his raw egg was unprintable.’
It used to be said that behind every great man is an even greater woman.
The subtext was that the woman was at home, tending to all the domestic chores and acting as her husband’s chief cheerleader.
That’s seldom the case now. As mothers, we encourage our daughters to study hard and forge their own stellar careers – and who knows, one of them could even become our second female prime minister.
If so, she’ll need always to be sensitive to her husband’s feelings. And she’ll need to understand that behind every great woman, there’s often a slightly aggrieved, under-appreciated man.
Publicity: Jennifer Aniston appeared on the red carpet with odd round marks covering her back
The president of the Royal College of Nursing, Andrea Spyropoulos, says forcing all new nurses to spend a year washing and feeding patients before qualifying will ‘take nursing back a hundred years’. Good. Because a hundred years ago, the tenets of nursing as laid down by Florence Nightingale – that the needs of the patient came first and were the nurse’s complete responsibility – were strictly adhered to in every hospital ward.
The long and shorts of Jennifer's career
Has Jennifer Aniston had fertility cupping? asks Grazia magazine, breathlessly. I’ve no idea. All I can say for certain is that the outfit she wore which revealed the cupping marks – a sleeveless tux with shorts – was truly hideous. But it’s an easy way to get magazine coverage all over the globe, particularly if you’re a 40-something actress whose best role is many years behind her.
How right Sir Ian McKellen is to suggest that, for the old, living in the countryside can be boredom rather than bucolic bliss. As he points out, you can’t so much as post a letter without getting in the car, and woe betide the frail person (or the young one, come to that) who decides to walk - you can’t set foot on a country lane without fear of being mown down, as everyone drives like maniacs. Better by far to stay in the city, where there are not only cinemas, galleries, exhibitions and diversions galore to take your mind off impending decrepitude, but plenty of buses, too.
Rich, but so poor
The new Sunday Times Rich List names ten women in the category ‘richest divorcees’, leading divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag to remark: ‘In England today, the single easiest way for an attractive woman to make her fortune is to marry a very rich man and then divorce him a few years later, preferably after having a child.’
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But according to relationships expert Kate Figes in her new book on infidelity, even very young children are profoundly affected when their parents divorce. The ramifications continue all the way through their adult lives, often culminating in them becoming promiscuous and unable to form lasting intimate relationships themselves – damage that no amount of money can ever make up for.
Everything that’s wrong with M&S fashion can be found in its new collection, which somewhat unbelievably has been featured in Vogue. I can’t think why because, as usual, the cut is terrible.
And why do all the jackets have that peculiar cut-out V in the lapels? The clothes aren’t even particularly cheap – but they certainly look it.
David Beckham says his children ‘have been saying please and thank-you since they were two or three years old. They’re very polite boys. . . that’s one of the first things their teachers say – that they’ve got impeccable manners.’ He’s so right to put a premium on politeness.
Learning how to be courteous will not only remind the rich and pampered Beckham children to think of other people’s feelings, but it’s likely to turn them into charmers, too. Just like their dad.
Knights of shame
According to senior sources in Whitehall, bankers who were in charge during the financial crash are to be stripped of their knighthoods. Why bother? Taking their knighthoods away is probably of little consequence to men so obviously lacking in honour and integrity.
They have retired with pensions worth millions and will continue to live in obscene comfort for the rest of their lives. If the government is really serious about punishing the rougue bankers, they should take away both their pensions and their pay offs and chuck them into the black hole they’ve left in our economy. Because the one thing these smug fat cats realty care about is money. Not ours, as they’ve so brashly demonstrated, but theirs.
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Princess Beatrice of York looks in a fascinator at the Royal wedding
plausible than Homeland and faster-paced than the interminable The Killing (which I abandoned halfway through - life is just too short for a 20-part detective thriller, no matter how well done), it was unmissable viewing.
But the final credits promised that Broadchurch ‘will return’. Now that really is a mystery. How? DI Hardy’s a medical write-off and DS Miller is leaving town. But unless they’re in it, we won’t want to watch it.
Fascinating no more
Milliner Philip Treacy says fascinators are finished, adding: ‘They are no more than headbands with a feather stuck on with a glue gun.’ That’s a bit rich – thanks to him, they’ve been a staple feature of society weddings for the last five years. What he doesn’t add is that fascinators also have the unique distinction of making those foolish enough to wear them – from Kate to Posh to Eugenie - look equally silly. But perhaps that was his cunning plan all along?
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