Margaret Thatcher’s marriage almost ended in divorce after husband Denis suffered a nervous breakdown

  • Work pressure mounted on Sir Denis in the 1960s when his wife was an MP
  • He also admitted he was drinking too much and took a two month break
  • New authorised biography claims it was 'possible marriage would end'
  • Also reveals how Iron Lady plotted battle with unions from day one

Sir Denis Thatcher may have ‘contemplated divorce’ after he suffered a nervous breakdown due to work pressures, it has been claimed.

His marriage to Margaret Thatcher – seen as one of the strongest in politics – hit the rocks when he had a form of ‘mid-life crisis’ as he approached his 50th birthday.

Their daughter Carol told Lady Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore, that as well as being ‘genuinely knackered’, Sir Denis ‘didn’t like every aspect of being married to a politician’.

Margaret Thatcher came to rely on having her husband Denis by her side during her 11 years in power, but a new biography reveals the couple almost split in the 1960s

The couple married in 1951, six years before she was elected MP for Finchley

Sir Denis, pictured playing golf in 1985, suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1960s


George Osborne said today that he had found the funeral of Baroness Thatcher an 'overwhelming' occasion as he faced questions over his tears during the ceremony.

The Chancellor, who was caught on camera during the service last week at St Paul's Cathedral, said it had been 'a very, very powerful and emotional' event.

'I welled up a bit because I thought it was a very emotional and moving occasion and at times overwhelming,' he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

'I think it was a fitting tribute to someone's life and in a sense a great State occasion as well. The combination of the sermon and the music and so on made for a very, very powerful and emotional moment.'

Mr Osborne brushed aside questions from Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys about how often he weeps.

'Well, I was caught on camera so I can't deny that it' Mr Osborne said.

'Occasionally I get a tear in my eye, sometimes just when I listen to the Today programme headlines, but on this occasion it was a much more moving moment.'

In 1964, Sir Denis sought refuge in South Africa for more than two months, leaving behind his wife and young twins.

According to Mr Moore, who interviewed Sir Denis, Lady Thatcher ‘had no certainty that he would ever return to her’.

‘It was not just that he was exhausted and confused, it was also possible that their marriage would end,’ he wrote. ‘It was the worst personal crisis of her married life.

‘He may even have contemplated divorce.’

Prior to his breakdown, Sir Denis was running the family paint business, Atlas, and often travelled abroad, while Lady Thatcher was junior pensions minister. They were both ‘working too hard to enjoy themselves’,  said Mr Moore in Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, published yesterday.

Miss Thatcher admitted her father had come to a crossroads in life, telling Mr Moore: ‘I think he had to make up his mind. That was it.’

He refused to blame his wife’s career for his breakdown, but according to Mr Moore: ‘Carol Thatcher records that friends believed that Margaret’s absorption in her own career at this time left him feeling isolated.’

Miss Thatcher said her father only ‘came into his own’ after he retired and became full-time consort to his wife when she was Prime Minister. 

He fully recovered from his breakdown and remained married to Lady Thatcher for 52 years until his death aged 88 in 2003.

Sir Denis told Mr Moore his wife was ‘very worried’ during his breakdown, but largely kept it to herself, telling just ‘one or two of her closer friends’.

The couple had met in 1949, soon after she was selected as a parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour seat of Dartford.

Their first impressions of one another were lukewarm. Sir Denis thought she was ‘a nice-looking young woman, a bit overweight’.

The 23-year-old politician sent a postcard to her sister Muriel, saying she had met ‘a Major Thatcher, who has a flat in London (age about 36, plenty of money) ... not a very attractive creature – very reserved but quite nice’. When he proposed to her in 1951, he recounted how ‘she didn’t leap at it’.

In her autobiography, she wrote: ‘When Denis asked me to be his wife, I thought long and hard about it. I had so much set my heart on politics that I hadn’t figured marriage in my plans.

‘But the more I considered, the surer I was. More than 40 years later I know that my decision to say “yes” was one of the best I have ever made.’

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