Charles Moore

10 QUESTIONS: Charles Moore

The authorized biographer discusses writing about Margaret Thatcher

BY ALEXANDER MATTHEWS

Charles Moore is Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biographer. The first volume of the biography, Not for Turning, was recently released. Moore studied at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He has served as editor of the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph.

How did your appointment as authorized biographer come about and when did you start writing the biography?

It came about in 1997, at the instigation of Lady Thatcher. I did not know it was in the offing. She wanted to choose someone with whom she had a good relationship and allow that person access to herself, her family, her papers and, by extension, government papers. I was honoured that she chose me. I interviewed Lady Thatcher a good deal in the late 1990s, before her health failed. I did most of the research and all of the writing, however, from 2004 until the present time. I am still working on Volume Two.

Your most special memory of Margaret Thatcher?

I remember her telling our seven-year-old son, who had asked her, about what she had done in office. She got across the key points in about three sentences, and treated him like a grown-up.

The thing you liked the least about her?

She never did anything dislikeable to me, and was always courteous and – surprising to some people – fun to be with. She was always kind to people who worked for her. However, she could be highly disagreeable to political colleagues who worked with her. She was suspicious, and bullied some of them. This may have caused her downfall.

The biography’s biggest challenge?

There was too little about her early life, and too much about her premiership. I think I overcame the first problem by discovering completely unknown letters which she wrote to her sister from the age of 13 to about 40. They revealed the private girl and woman for the first time. The second problem remains!

The most enjoyable thing about writing this book?

Discovering how a woman can be a great leader without losing her female qualities. Learning about someone who was conservative and revolutionary at the same time.

The most surprising thing you learnt about Thatcher while writing this?

How she thought even more about clothes than about politics.

What was her greatest legacy?

Her story will still be interesting to people hundreds of years hence.

What was the most remarkable moment from her first few years in politics?

Getting selected as a candidate for a safe Conservative seat (in 1958). This only happened because the chairman secretly ‘lost’ two votes for her male opponent and declared her victorious. I don’t think she ever knew she had been selected on a fraud.

What was the most useful source you used when researching this book?

The single most useful source were her letters to her sister (see above). The key to the sources is to get the right balance between oral testimony (I interviewed 315 people for this volume) and contemporary paper records. The first is very inaccurate, but gives you the feeling of what it was all like. The second is much more factually reliable, but sometimes conceals the human truth.

What impact did Thatcher’s years in power have on gender equality?

She proved that everything is possible for a woman.

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not for Turning is published by Allen Lane, R335.

Charles Moore

Author photograph © Jochen Braun

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