Thursday 29 March 2018

Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality by Jonathan Aitken . Remembering Jonathan Aitken

Jonathan Aitken: 'I lost it all - except my £33,000 MP's pension'
Fame & Fortune: The disgraced former Conservative MP on divorce, prison, bankruptcy - and how he can still afford £15,240 for his Isa each year

Life's lessons: 'I accepted that life had changed and got on with it,' says Jonathan Aiken of being broke Photo: Geoffrey Swaine/REX Shutterstock
By Donna Ferguson8:00AM BST 14 Jun 2015

Jonathan Aitken, 72, is a former Conservative MP and Cabinet minister, who served seven months in prison for perjury in 1999 after he sued The Guardian for libel. He lives in Kensington with his second wife, Elizabeth, who is also in her seventies, and has four children.

How did your childhood influence your work ethic and attitude towards money?
I spent a lot of my childhood in hospital as a tuberculosis patient. When I was about four, I fell ill with TB and was then immobilised on an iron lung for three-and-a-half years, looked after by nuns. It made me very competitive because a lot of the children on the TB ward died. I was very keen not to die – so I worked hard at the breathing exercises and I enjoyed my schoolwork. I certainly had no interest in money.

Your father was the Conservative MP Sir William Aitken, a nephew of Lord Beaverbrook. Was your family very well off?
For a long time, we weren’t particularly. I grew up in the era of food rationing, so no one seemed to be. I remember eggs were rationed and minding a bit that I only got two eggs a week.

As a family, we were quite frugal and careful. Going to the cinema or the theatre was a big treat.

We did become more prosperous when I was in my teens. My father somehow or other made money and bought a very nice moated house called Playford [in Suffolk]. When you live in an Elizabethan moated manor house, you realise that your father’s done all right.

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Did you get any pocket money?
Yes, something like sixpence a week. Those were the days when you could still buy a packet of crisps for a farthing. I was always a bit cautious with my pocket money – I’ve always been a saver.

 What was your very first job?
Assistant tennis and funerals reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times. It was a school holiday job – I was 17. I was paid £4 a day. That was riches in those days.

Has there been a time in your life when you didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills?
After I went bankrupt, there were two very rough years when I was out of prison and on a bankrupt’s allowance. I had £200 or £250 a week to live on. I had to make economies like travelling by bus and buying food in the supermarket after midnight, because prices halved due to sell-by dates.

I wasn’t desperate, my mother used to help out occasionally. I eventually settled my debts under an IVA [an individual voluntary arrangement].

What’s the worst thing about being broke?
Adjusting. I had a dramatic reduction in my standard of living. I’d been rather rich. Through the Eighties and Nineties, I was the chairman of a small merchant bank which I had founded. I had banking deals in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. My car was a Jaguar. One minute I’d been having lunch at Claridge’s and I had a big house in the heart of Westminster and a country house in Sandwich Bay in Kent and then, crash, I had a big fall.

• How to buy and sell shares on Telegraph Investor

Was it painful?
It was, in many ways – I went through defeat, divorce, disgrace, bankruptcy and jail. That’s a royal flush of crises by anyone’s standards. It was painful financially, certainly, but not as painful as getting divorced or going to jail. I’d put being broke third or fourth.

The worst thing was not being able to provide for my children. I minded not being the provider of the family, but I managed.

How did you cope?
I went back to Oxford as a student, to study theology. Most of my fellow students were training to be priests and were almost poorer than I was.

It was hard, but although I was broke, it wasn’t a breaking experience – I accepted that life had changed and got on with it. I learnt how to manage quite quickly. I exchanged Mammon for God.

How much have you had to pay out in legal fees since 1997?
I think it was £4m. That, and an expensive divorce, was what brought me to bankruptcy.

What’s your main source of income nowadays?
Pensions. In a good year, I used to put £20,000 away into my pension pot, so I have a good occupational pension from the investment bank, as well as a parliamentary pension of £33,000 a year [he was an MP for 23 years].

I still earn money as a business consultant and an author – I’ve always found it possible to earn money with my pen. I write quite a bit for newspapers, and I had a biography out on Margaret Thatcher which sold well last year.

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What is the most lucrative work you have ever done?
I must have made £250,000 from my book on Nixon [published in 1993].

After I came out of prison, I was paid $15,000 to make a speech in the United States.

Worst money mistake you’ve ever made?
Suing The Guardian for libel. It cost me my reputation, my home, my parliamentary career and my lifestyle.

Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m definitely a saver these days. I save to provide for whatever’s left to me of life’s journey, and to still contribute something towards my children. But I’m never going to be rich again – nor am I interested in that.

Do you support any charities?
Yes. My main focus is charitable work, which includes charitable giving but much more is the work of being a trustee. I’m a trustee or some other office of eight charities, and almost all of them are in the criminal justice or Christian field. For example, Nacro, the crime reduction charity, and Caring for Ex-offenders.

I donate more than 50pc of my time and a good 15pc of my money to them.

Do you have property?
No. I lost it all, and I wouldn’t want a property now. I’m happy to rent. I’ve really lost interest in possessions. I haven’t bought anything of any significant value for nearly 20 years.

If you were Chancellor, what economic policies would you change?
I think it’s hard to handle the economy more wisely than George Osborne. I’m a tremendous Osborne fan. I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury so I understand quite a bit about curbing government expenditure. I think the Treasury under George Osborne has been a success story. There are small things I’d like to see: more encouragement for small businesses and the inheritance tax threshold raised to £1m.

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (apart from property)?
For a time I collected political first editions and got them signed by their authors. I think the collection was worth £50,000, but I lost them all in my bankruptcy.

What’s the one luxury or indulgence you couldn’t live without?
I still take the trouble to buy handmade suits. They’re expensive – about £2,000. I buy one every two years.

Notorious: Jonathan Aitken and his daughter Alexandra arriving at court during his libel trial against The Guardian

How do you prefer to pay for things – cash, or debt or credit card?
Cheque. I pay for a lot of things by cheque still. I use the credit card a bit because I just have to, and I don’t pay by cheque in the supermarket. I’m sure that would get people angry.

But I’m old-fashioned enough to think there’s something rather solid about a transaction like paying your tailor by cheque, and I do my charitable giving by cheque. I realise I’m a bit of a dying breed.

How do you tip?
Typically on the high side – about 15pc. I don’t go to restaurants that much, but the ones I go to, I know them quite well, so I’m reasonably generous to them.

Do you invest in stocks and shares?
I do a little bit. I put the maximum amount [£15,240] into my annual Isa.

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What do you invest in?
I happen to think that India is a very up-and-coming market, so I bought some shares in an Indian investment trust for this year’s Isa, but I don’t play the stock market the way I used to.

What are your financial priorities for the next five or 10 years?
Keeping my head above water. Remaining modestly solvent and saving so that I can leave something to my children. I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I enjoy working and I’m busier than I’ve almost ever been, with my consulting, my writing, my speaking engagements and my charity work.

Money comes very low on my list of priorities. I don’t really want to have money, and I don’t really think of it that much. Life is very full and I’m very happy.

- Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality, Jonathan Aitken’s biography of the former Prime Minister, is available to buy now

Jonathan Aitken: A broken man
Twenty years ago his star was in the ascendant. Jonathan Aitken mixed with beautiful women, made millions and was tipped to be a future Prime Minister. Today he is disgraced, divorced and facing a lengthy prison sentence. This is the story of the man who lied and lost
by Kim Sengupta Wednesday 20 January 1999 00:02 GMT0

It was a pleasant evening of good food, fine wine and exquisite company. Jonathan Aitken, 30, successful, handsome and with all the right connections, was charting the future course of his life to a choice selection of his actor friends and chums in the media. Go into business and become fabulously rich, become an MP, then a minister and finally prime minister. There were dates for the scaling of each of these peaks. The climb was slower than he anticipated. But 22 years later, in 1994, he was in the Cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury. He'd made a pile of money from lucrative business deals with Arabs. And he owned properties at home and abroad including a pounds 2m Westminster house, the former London home of Brendan Bracken, where he entertained the likes of Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger.
The downfall that followed is almost Shakespearean in its dimensions: here stands a man fatally flawed by his own arrogance. The final act came with his disastrous High Court action against The Guardian and Granada TV, and the words that would later come back to haunt him: "the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play."

Aitken had sued over a series of serious allegations made about his relationship with wealthy Arabs, including the report that a pounds 1,000 bill for his stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in l993 had been paid by a Saudi contact. Giving evidence, Aitken lied under oath about the payment, inventing roles in the saga for his wife and young daughter. He was found out and humiliatingly forced to withdraw his action. The man whose head had been full of great plans at the age of 30 suddenly discovered that he'd lost his credibility as a public figure.

The dreams of greatness are now just cold ashes. But yesterday the man once tipped as a future Tory leader managed to make a mark of sorts in history - as the first former cabinet minister to plead guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice and, with that, likely to face a lengthy prison sentence.

Aitken is, he says, now broke. The house in Westminster will have to be sold. His marriage, he says, is over. Politically he is a man who is isolated, apart from a small circle of maverick right-wing friends.

Aitken jailed for 18 months
4.45pm update
By Guardian staff and agencies

Tue 8 Jun 1999 16.44 BST First published on Tue 8 Jun 1999 16.44 BST

Former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken was jailed at the Old Bailey today for 18 months after admitting perjury and perverting the course of justice.
He received 18 months for both counts, to run concurrently.

Mr Justice Scott Baker told Aitken: "For nearly four years you wove a web of deceit in which you entangled yourself and from which there was no way out unless you were prepared to come clean and tell the truth. Unfortunately you were not."

The prosecution

Case history

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken forced himself into a position "where perjury was almost inevitable", the Old Bailey was told today.

He allowed aides of the Saudi royal family to pay his £1,000 hotel bill during a stay at the Paris Ritz in September 1993.

But he was a Government minister in charge of Defence Procurement at the time, and banned from taking hospitality which might place him under an obligation, Mr David Waters QC, prosecuting, told the court.

When the Guardian newspaper got a copy of the bill and challenged Mr Aitken, he told them his wife Lolicia had paid his part of it using money he had given her.

Mr Aitken continued with the same lies when he tried to sue the Guardian and Granada television for libel in the High Court in 1997, said Mr Waters, adding: "In fact, he forced himself into a position were perjury was almost inevitable - inevitable unless he was to admit telling lies years before."

Mr Aitken, 56, who until the last election was Tory MP for Thanet, Kent, for 23 years, and who was in the Cabinet as First Secretary to the Treasury in 1994-5, has admitted committing perjury during the High Court libel action.

He has also admitted attempting to pervert the course of justice by drafting a witness statement for his daughter Victoria, 18, in which she backed up his version of events.

The 16-day libel hearing collapsed after evidence was produced that Mr Aitken's wife and daughter were in Switzerland during the weekend of September 17-19, 1993, when he had said they were in Paris.

Mr Waters said Mr Aitken was arrested in March 1998 and charged in May. Two other charges, alleging perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, had been ordered to lie on file not proceeded with after Mr Aitken denied them at an earlier hearing.

Mr Waters said: "It is fair to say between 1992-95, there is evidence to show that he was a hard-working and conscientious minister." Mr Aitken resigned as a Minister in 1995 to begin the civil proceedings.

Aitken arrives in court

Mr Aitken, wearing a smart blue suit and tie, arrived for today's hearing looking grave. He was met by photographers as he entered the court with a group of friends.

His mother Lady Aitken, actress sister Maria Aitken, and his son William, 16, had arrived moments earlier. With them were his twin daughters Victoria and Alexandra, both 18, and their half-sister Petrina Khashoggi, also 18.

His former boss, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was Defence Secretary at the time Mr Aitken was Defence Procurement Minister between 1992-4, also sat in court, waiting to give evidence.

Mr Aitken spoke only once, replying when asked to confirm that his name was Jonathan William Patrick Aitken: "It is."

Aitken's stay at the Ritz

Mr Aitken had "formed a very close relationship" with Said Ayas, a principal aide to Prince Mohammed, the son of the king of Saudi Arabia, shortly after becoming an MP in 1974. He had also become acquainted with the prince. Mr Ayas and his wife became godparents to the Mr Aitken twins.

Mr Aitken had stayed in a room at the Ritz which had been marked for payment from the account of the "Ayas party" who were staying in two other rooms at the hotel, said Mr Waters.

After The Guardian got a copy of the bill in 1994, it challenged Mr Aitken who replied that his wife had paid his portion of the account in cash.

The cash payment had been made by a woman employed by the Saudis, Mr Waters told the court.

Mr Aitken received information from Ritz president Frank Klein about his bill which showed how he was prepared to "pervert and utilise the information to his own advantage", Mr Waters said.

Mr Klein wrote to Mr Aitken telling him that a cashier recalled "a brunette lady of European aspect, speaking French, paid the cash sum of 4,257 francs in favour of the account of Mr Ayas".

Mr Waters said part of the letter was helpful to Mr Aitken if he was using it dishonestly. Other parts were unhelpful.

The fact that the amount represented only about half of the sum owed and that it was "in favour" or Mr Ayas's account presented a problem to his story.

The letter to the Cabinet Secretary

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Robin Butler, he cut out the references to the sum and Mr Ayas.

Mr Aitken told him it was his wife who paid the bill, when it was in fact a member of the Saudi entourage.

Sir Robin later met the then Prime Minister, John Major, who said Mr Aitken could dampen the speculation by producing the Ritz bill.

Sir Robin then called Mr Aitken for another meeting and it was then that he produced the bill.

Mr Aitken was forced to change his story and said that Abdul Rahman, another hotel guest and the nephew of Said Ayas, had paid part of his bill by mistake.

Mr Aitken told Sir Robin that he had "squared the circle" and paid Rahman back the other part of his bill.

He described it as an "unfortunate confusion" but the Guardian went ahead with a further article about Mr Aitken's weekend at the Ritz, which prompted the libel writ, according to Mr Waters.

Aitken's family alibi

According to his original false account, Mr Aitken insisted that he had not had business meetings during the weekend at the Ritz.

During cross-examination at the libel trial, he confirmed that his statement contained the "truth and the whole truth", Mr Waters said.

He claimed that his daughter and wife had spent some time in Paris over the weekend but left before he arrived. "The reality being, they had not been there at all," Mr Waters told the court.

The libel trial collapsed when documents obtained from British Airways showed that his family did not go to Paris but flew straight to Switzerland.

Mr Aitken had claimed his wife and daughter had travelled to Aiglon College in Switzerland, where Victoria was due to start school, via Paris, and that he had been delayed on official business and missed them.

He initially claimed he had stayed in Paris spending a quiet weekend, working on his biography of Richard Nixon and meeting family friends.

He then claimed his wife returned to the Ritz on Sunday to meet him after dropping off his daughter at the school, Mr Waters said.

But in fact his wife and daughter were never even in France.

Mr Aitken had claimed that he drafted a false document for his teenage daughter Victoria to back up his story only when inconsistencies emerged in his story.

The judge asked how old Victoria was at the time the statement was drafted because it was a "very grave" feature of the case that Mr Aitken involved his daughter in the crime.

After the collapse of the trial and his subsequent arrest, Mr Aitken made a statement to police admitting that he had lied, Mr Waters said.

In it, he said: "I deeply regret the lies I told and decisions I took to mislead a large number of people. "This is a burden I will have to bear for the rest of my life."

The defence

Evidence from Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Sir John Nutting QC, defending, called Sir Malcolm Rifkind to speak on Mr Aitken's behalf.

Sir Malcolm confirmed he had entered Parliament as an MP at the same time as Mr Aitken after the 1974 general election.

He said they had not had a close personal relationship but he had visited Mr Aitken's Westminster home on several occasions for meetings of the "Conservative Philosophy Group".

"I thought of him as a very able, intelligent and articulate MP, someone who had very considerable experience and who was always thought of as potential ministerial calibre," he said.

Mr Aitken was in a unique position later as a junior defence minister because of his good contacts with influential Middle East Royal families with whom Britain wanted to do business, Sir Malcolm said.

Sir Malcolm, who volunteered to speak on Mr Aitken's behalf, described him as the most able junior minister he had come across during his years in government.

He was "able and intelligent" but, most of all, his personal contacts in the Middle East turned out to be crucial when it came to protecting Britain's contracts abroad.

He had access to top levels of government in Saudi Arabia and other countries which were usually exclusive to the Prime Minister or senior cabinet members.

Sir Malcolm cited two separate occasions when Mr Aitken used his influence abroad to help persuade Kuwait and Saudi Arabia not to cancel billion-pound contracts with Britain and award them to other countries.

On the second occasion he had set up a meeting between King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and the then premier John Major to stop a £4billion contract going to the United States.

The outcome safeguard many defence jobs in this country, said Sir Malcolm.

He had no reason to believe that Mr Aitken had ever benefited personally from his contacts and the amount of work he did while working for the government left him little time to do anything else. "I felt he was carrying out work in very responsible way," said Sir Malcolm.

"I had no hesitation in telling the Prime Minister that he had been a very impressive minister and the public interest had been extremely well served."

He had contacted Aitken and offered to speak in his defence, he said.

The benefits of a friendship with Prince Mohammed

Sir John Nutting QC said Aitken's close friendship with Prince Mohammed had provided a "valuable link" between the governments of Britain and Saudi Arabia, and it was against this background that he wanted the judge to view the events at the Ritz hotel.

The two men had met when Aitken was still a merchant banker and the director of a company looking after the prince's interests in Britain, Sir John said.

"The defendant and Prince Mohammed had formed, after their initial meeting, an enduring friendship which lasted up to the time during which both of them had positions in Government in their countries," Sir John went on.

Outlining six points he said he intended to cover, he said they included the extent of Aitken's contrition, and the consequences of the trial on his health, and on his family.

"If anyone supposes I am here to follow the slimy trail of every red herring which has been drawn across this case, they will be disappointed," he told the court.

Sir John said Aitken had planned to meet Prince Mohammed at the Paris Ritz on Friday 17 for dinner.

But Aitken was delayed because of an official visit for the reburial of General Wladyslaw Sikorski in Poland, and the appointment was cancelled.

The prince had to return to Geneva, and arrangements were made to hold the meeting there on Sunday, which was where and when it eventually took place, Sir John told the Old Bailey.

The bill at the Ritz

Aitken's bill at the Ritz was paid because of the "hospitality not untypical of Arabs", Sir John said. The bill was only a small sum to the Arabs and to Aitken at that time.

Sir John said it was this conversation about the bill which was the main cause of Aitken's downfall, but details of the conversation had "vanished long ago into the ether".

He added: "When later he realised the trap in which he had caused himself to fall, he began to tell a series of lies and half-truths which nearly six years later have brought him before your Lordship and into the dock of the Old Bailey."

Defence talks

He said when Aitken and the prince finally met in Geneva, they discussed Saudi Arabian security issues, especially the activities of Russian submarines as part of Iran's new arsenal of weapons.

"To meet this threat the Royal Navy had offered to lease to Saudi Arabia four Upholder submarines that were surplus to the Royal Navy's requirements," Sir John said.

"It's perhaps important to add in view of allegations made subsequently about the weekend that those Upholder discussions involved government to government negotiations or navy to navy leasing arrangements which had nothing to do with third party contractors, or businessmen or middle men or commission men or anyone else."

Sir John said Aitken had provided "generous and reciprocal" hospitality over a period of time, and it was a moot point whether the bill-paying incident had breached the guidance for ministers.

Allegations of sleaze

But the questioning from the newspaper had come at the height of "Tory sleaze" allegations and Aitken felt under pressure to keep his reputation clean.

The source of the tip-off to the Guardian had been Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of the Ritz, who had initially alleged that £1 million in cash was shared out at the meeting with Mark Thatcher and others.

Sir John said: "The allegation as to the meeting was simply untrue. The defendant has never been paid in cash or in kind for any arms deal."

It was to Aitken's "everlasting regret" that he had lied about who paid the bill - he had done so after speaking to Ayas who was under pressure from his employers to avoid publicity.

He was in a dilemma when later more allegations were made against him - he felt he had to clear his name with the libel action. Three of the allegations had been dropped during the course of that trial.

Sir John said Aitken felt he had no choice but to launch libel action against the Guardian despite the fact that it could expose him to admitting that he had lied about the Ritz bill.

He had been accused of serious offences, including corruption and arranging prostitutes for Arab friends, which he felt compelled to defend.

"He was faced with a very genuine dilemma," said the QC. "To say nothing and allow very serious allegations, the falsity of which he believed he could prove, to go unchallenged or to fight them and risk that in the Ritz bill he would have to tell a lie."

Questioned by the judge

The judge questioned why Aitken had not come clean about the bill at the time and then gone on to challenge the other points.

That, said Sir John, was not realistically an option because he had already said too much about the weekend at the Ritz to go back on his word and expect to be taken seriously.

Untrue allegations

Several of the allegations which had been made against him were later dropped, notably the claim that he had arranged prostitutes for Arab contacts.

It was also clearly untrue, said Sir John, that Aitken had tried to conceal his contacts in the Middle East and indeed the fact was well known by many of his parliamentary colleagues.

His former secretary, Valerie Scott, who had spoken to the Guardian and contributed to his downfall, had written to Aitken in January this year.

Her letter said: "I am sorry to say that the consequence of my interviews and witness statement was that they did contain many inaccuracies. Some of those were misrepresentations, some were mis-recollections, others were mistakes and others were caused by my words being taken out of context and being used in a way that now makes me feel uncomfortable."

She said her words had been "manipulated" into being unfair to Aitken in the articles and programme.

Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality by Jonathan Aitken – review
Aitken's anecdotes make for lively reading in a bracingly honest account of the Tory heroine's faults

Simon Hoggart
Wed 16 Oct 2013 16.30 BST First published on Wed 16 Oct 2013 16.30 BST

Slipping her moorings … Margaret Thatcher, with Denis, leaves 10 Downing Street for the last time as prime minister in 1990. Photograph: Lennox Ken/mirrorpix
Years ago I asked a section editor on the paper for which I then worked whether he was going to employ a particular journalist. "No, I won't," he replied, "because he is an incompetent, lazy, stupid, arrogant plagiariser, who can't even write. And I speak as a friend of his."

Which is rather the way Jonathan Aitken speaks of his friend Margaret Thatcher. Here is just a selection of the words he uses to describe her – either deploying his own judgment or that of people he quotes: phoney, bullying, obnoxious, hypocritical, deplorable, unpleasant, alienating, opportunistic, confrontational, monomaniacal, disloyal, dysfunctional, snarky, pedestrian, hesitant, insufferably rude, foolish, arrogant, grudge-bearing and an anachronistic bigot.

Jim Prior found her "vindictive and nasty"; others spoke of "her tendency to fly off the handle too early, her capacity to get the wrong end of the stick and her reluctance to apologise". She was "the least collegiate politician I have ever met … this is because she has no friends". Others accuse her of "governessy hatred", of being a "stubborn Salome" who "liked to hog the limelight". Tim Bell, her favourite adman, called her "the old bat", and Bernard Ingham, her loyal press secretary, said she was "the most tactless woman I have ever met in my life".

And Aitken speaks as a friend of hers. They got off to a bad start. He ended a three-year affair with Carol Thatcher, and her mother said bitterly: "He made Carol cry." At a dinner party, shortly after she became Tory leader, he was asked about her Middle East policies, and said: "She knows so little … she probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus." This reached Private Eye, and her factotum Airey Neave demanded Aitken make an apology in person, in the division lobby: "She'll be wearing a green dress."

But he is, overall, a huge admirer. He believes she was sound and brave on most foreign affairs: the Falklands, the ending of the cold war, the liberation of Kuwait, and the euro (though he suggests that she rewrote history when declaring she was always against our membership of the ERM).

Her judgment was less reliable in domestic affairs. Aitken points out that she could not distinguish between the striking miners and Arthur Scargill, regarding them all as members of the enemy within. That contempt for the working-class people of the north and the Midlands brought a cost that the Conservative party is still paying. The poll tax: surely the product of a disordered mind? She began to treat the people closest to her with evident contempt, most of all Geoffrey Howe who received a bollocking in cabinet that no schoolteacher would be allowed to administer today. When the "stalking donkey", Anthony Meyer, stood against her in 1989, she had a good campaign team in place, but the whips warned her that on top of the handful of votes Meyer got, there were all the abstentions, spoiled ballots and dozens of MPs who had to be arm-twisted into supporting her. The situation was therefore far more dangerous than it appeared. She brushed their fears aside as the hobgoblins of lesser minds, and a year later insouciantly cleared off to Paris for a ceremonial summit, which she could easily have skipped. But she loved mingling with world leaders, and telling them where they were wrong. Meanwhile, she left behind as her campaign manager Peter Morrison, a lazy alcoholic, who believed all the fake pledges of support and spent much of the campaign asleep, drunk or both.

By the time of her defenestration, she had become the world's most powerful bag lady, of the type who harangue you at bus stops, and who are best ignored, except that you can't ignore the prime minister. You could call her, as a female King Lear, "a very foolish fond old woman", except there was little fond about her – apart from some engaging nonsenses. Just before the Falklands war ended in her greatest victory – which she won by ignoring or assailing almost all her own cabinet and a very substantial chunk of the Tory party in parliament, plus the president of the United States and his most senior officials – she could be found cooking the food at a children's party for the families of Downing Street staff. Admirable in some ways; barking in others.

By the end, however, she had slipped her moorings. Even one of her most devoted supporters, the right-wing MP Nick Budgen declared that she was "off her rocker". She retired (Aitken says her notorious "I shall be a very good backseat driver" remark was directed at George Bush rather than John Major) but devoted much of her life, like Ted Heath, to trashing her successor behind his back. We all need a hobby, and that was hers. (There's another good account of this in John Sergeant's book Maggie.)

The Fall of Thatcher could be staged, not least because hers was a very modern hubris. Having started out lacking in real confidence – her first cabinet was stuffed with grandees who opposed all that she stood for – she was brought down in the end by believing her own publicity. She adopted with wild enthusiasm the "iron lady" sobriquet coined by the USSR army newspaper, forgetting that everything in those Soviet rags was lies and propaganda. I recall a grandiloquent speech, after the fall, to American travel agents in Glasgow, who must have been puzzled to learn she had ended the cold war herself, with Ronald Reagan as Robin to her Batman. She could give solipsism a bad name.

The pleasure of Aitken's readable, even beguiling, book is in the anecdotes. He suspects that her breathtakingly arrogant attempt to stop Bernard Weatherill from becoming Speaker – something she had absolutely no right to do – helped bring her down. He arranged that Howe's killer speech in 1990 would be heard when the chamber was full, and in complete silence, giving it maximum effect. She realised then that the end was near, but couldn't grasp even then her own contribution to the coming catastrophe, and chose to blame the cabinet instead – "treachery with a smile on its face".

Then there was the time she went to holiday on Islay: the host family's noisy offspring meant she was unable to sleep, so she went for a walk in a hooded coat. Mistaken by a security officer for a sinister intruder, she was pinned to the wet moorland by a slavering police dog. For some anti-Thatcherites, that story alone will be worth the price of the book.

One day we might reach a reasonable assessment of Thatcher, somewhere between the adulation and the loathing: she achieved a reasonable amount economically at home (while pitching us into the tooth-and-claw capitalism we suffer today), had some influence on the world stage, and in the last few years in power lost the plot. This book, by an alarmingly candid friend, will go a long way towards helping find that balance.

The Life and Times of Victoria, née Lockwood, ex Lady Spencer and ex wife of Jonathan Aitken ...

Earl Spencer's ex-wife at the centre of a love feud between her estranged husband and soldier lover

By Richard Kay and Ian Evans
UPDATED: 07:39 BST, 16 April 2009

Earl Spencer's ex-wife is embroiled in an astonishing love spat between two other men in her life.

Victoria Aitken, whose maiden name is Lockwood, was married to Princess Diana's brother for eight years.

The former model has sat on the sidelines as her estranged second husband Jonathan Aitken  -  no relation to the once-jailed former Tory Minister  -  has allegedly fought over her with her new lover James Clinch, in her adopted home city of Cape Town.

Mrs Aitken 43, parted from her second husband in the autumn after  -  he claims  -  she became involved with Mr Clinch, a former British soldier who lives in South Africa.

According to documents lodged at the High Court of South Africa in Cape Town, Mr Aitken, a South African, has not taken the break-up well. Mr Clinch accuses Mr Aitken of threatening to kill him.

He has applied for a restraining order against Mr Aitken preventing him from assaulting him, coming near his children his office and home, in Kenilworth suburb.

The former lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, The Queen's Regiment, alleges Mr Aitken threatened to have him 'shot in the head'  -  which Mr Aitken strenuously denies.

In return, Mr Aitken has launched a £75,000 (1m Rand) claim for damages against Mr Clinch for breaking up his marriage.

Legal documents said some of the money would compensate him for the 'loss of affection, comfort, society and services of the said Victoria'.

Mr Aitken, who was forced out of the family's Constantia home, still lives in the wealthy suburb. He said in court papers: 'I detest Clinch as a human being. I have no intention of assaulting Clinch or bringing harm to him.'

Married: Victoria and Jonathan Aitken in 2006. Mr Aitken denies threatening to kill his now estranged wife's new lover James Clinch

Mr Clinch alleges Mr Aitken has admitted he was to blame for the break-up
and that he was 'a bad husband and father'. Mr Aitken denies the claims.

To date, there has been no police involvement in the claims and counter-claims.

Mrs Aitken divorced Lord Spencer in 1997. They have four children. She married Mr Aitken in 2005. They have a son. But she has started divorce proceedings.

Mr Clinch, 41, split with his wife Samantha three years ago. But Mr Aitken has befriended her, calling on her support against his love rival.

In court papers Mr Clinch says: 'Mrs Aitken and I are in love with each other.'

A friend of Mrs Aitken said: 'Her relationship with Mr Clinch did not begin until after Jonathan had moved out of the marital home and divorce proceedings had begun.

'There was no extra-marital affair between them because her marriage was effectively over.'

Catherine Victoria Lockwood is the daughter of John Lockwood and Jean née Holt. On 16 September 1989, she married Charles Spencer, then Viscount Althorp, at the Church of St Mary, Great Brington. During her first marriage she was styled as Victoria, Viscountess Althorp, and later Victoria Spencer, Countess Spencer. Prince Harry was a pageboy at their wedding.

Lady Kitty Eleanor Spencer (born 28 December 1990)
Lady Eliza Victoria Spencer (born 10 July 1992)
Lady Katya Amelia Spencer (born 10 July 1992)
Louis Frederick John Spencer, Viscount Althorp (born 14 March 1994); heir-apparent to the earldom.

She suffered from eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse during her first marriage. It was alleged that the earl had an extra-marital affair with a journalist early in the marriage. The couple moved with their four children to South Africa in 1995 to avoid the media. After their divorce on 3 December 1997, Lord Spencer moved back to the United Kingdom, and subsequently remarried twice.

 Victoria Spencer: From anorexic junkie to yummy mummy


Last updated at 08:51 14 March 2008

She has battled with drink, drugs and eating disorders - and seen her marriage to Princess Diana's brother end in acrimonious divorce.
But at the age of 43, Victoria Spencer has never looked better.

She is pictured here with her teenage daughter Lady Kitty at their home in Cape Town.

And she looks more like an older sister than a mother of five who has had more than her share of turmoil.

Victoria married Earl Spencer in 1989, with Prince Harry as a pageboy. Kitty was born the next year, followed by twins Eliza and Amelia in 1992, and Louis in 1994.

It was only after Louis's arrival that she confronted her addictions to heroin and alcohol, and her anorexia and bulimia - having a heart tattooed on her arm to symbolise her rebirth.

But the couple's marriage collapsed after their move to South Africa and when Kitty was seven they divorced acrimoniously.

Earl Spencer has since remarried and divorced, gaining two more children in the process.

Victoria, meanwhile, has been married for three years to Jonathan Aitken - unrelated to the disgraced former Conservative cabinet minister - and has a five-year-old son, Samuel, by him.

She says that her late sister-in-law was a great support during her marital problems.

"I suppose Diana and I had quite a bit in common with our eating disorders and broken marriages, and she was compassionate."

Victoria adds that discovering six months after Kitty's birth that Earl Spencer had conducted a post-marital affair with journalist Sally Ann Lasson was "a hard and painful betrayal".

"It turned me overnight from a deeply contented, first-time mother to a hurt, scared and devastated woman."

Daughter Kitty, 17, tells Hello! magazine how her parents informed her of their divorce.

"They told me that they didn't love one another any more, but that they still loved me.

"The positives of the situation were highlighted, such as two Christmases, two birthdays and two bedrooms!"

Lady Kitty expects to return to Britain this year and live with her father at his Althorp estate in Northamptonshire before starting university in 2009.

She jokes that her background is so troubled it should feature on daytime TV.

"Sometimes I feel like my family should be on the Jerry Springer Show.

"From the outside, the structure looks so dysfunctional. However, every single member of my family is part of my happiness."

Kitty adds that the frequent criticism heaped on her father has done nothing to dent her love for him. She speaks to him daily.

"It's hurtful for any daughter to read negative things about her father, but he's someone who remains true to himself.

"I am definitely a daddy's girl. I'm more like him than my mother. We share the same sense of humour and have similar interests.

Poor little rich girls
Emily Hourican
July 3 2011 5:00 AM

Sun-kissed and glamorous, they nearly stole the show at the recent royal wedding. The Spencer girls -- Lady Kitty and her younger sisters, twins Lady Eliza and Amelia -- are sexy, wealthy and well connected.

Despite a dysfunctional background -- they are the elder children of the serially unfaithful Earl Spencer and his ex-wife, former heroin addict Victoria Lockwood -- the sophisticated trio are highly eligible, university-educated party girls. Emily Hourican reports on the next generation of Spencer women

For all the glories of the family name and estate, the most enduring image of Lady Diana and Earl Spencer's childhood is one of almost Gothic loneliness and neglect. Their mother Frances Shand Kydd left home when Charles was just three and Diana six, running off with the heir to a wallpaper fortune. After her own mother spoke out against Frances, the children were entrusted to their father's care by the courts. He employed a succession of nannies, some cold and even cruel, who banged the children's heads together when they misbehaved and withheld the love they craved. As a result, Charles and Diana clung to each other, seeking the consistency and companionship that was lacking from the large, empty houses they grew up in.

It was a childhood from which, arguably, Earl Spencer never quite recovered; that can be seen at the root of his own acrimonious divorces and failure to sustain loving relationships. And it is a childhood that maybe still echoes in the lives of his own children, of whom he has six by two wives. Because although undeniably a fond father, he has lived with none of his six children for very long past their infancy, and neither has he always considered their well-being during his difficult divorces.

The three daughters from his first marriage, Lady Kitty, Amelia and Eliza, all with their father's wide-spaced blue eyes and fair colouring, are the first to really capture public attention. They were the sensation of the recent royal wedding, an unexpected boon to photographers -- Diana's nieces, emerging, fully formed, from their previously secluded South African upbringing.

Sexy and sophisticated, with platinum tresses, perfect make-up and the pouting attitude of cover girls, they added dash and glamour to what was a surprisingly dowdy affair. In fact, their style was considerably more glossy beach-babe than aristocratic understatement, clear evidence of their comparatively relaxed Cape Town upbringing.

Twenty-year-old Lady Kitty, who has a distinct look of Sophie Dahl in her modelling hey-day, wore a nude-toned body-con dress by Victoria Beckham, and, in particular, seemed to be using the wedding as a kind of social announcement, a coming-out of sorts; although having been on the cover of Tatler two years ago, 19 years after her mother Victoria Lockwood, and previously voted Most Eligible Girl in Britain by the magazine, she is clearly no stranger to exposure. In fact, she has a sophisticated instinct for publicity, as well as a willingness to blurt out indiscretions to those beyond the family circle.

The three Spencer girls are friends of Prince Harry more than William's, and seem well matched to Harry's racier set; in fact, they have the same kind of high-maintenance blonde glamour and good-time ethos as Harry's on-off girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who was brought up in Zimbabwe before moving to the UK.

However, behind the sun-kissed reflection of wealth (the family fortune is an estimated £100m) and privilege, theirs is a story that reads sometimes as bleakly as Charles and Diana's own, a tale of three poor little rich girls with a distinct exhibitionist streak that might just be the legacy of a legacy; the long shadow of Earl Spencer's miserable childhood stretching far across to the other side of the world.

In fact, Lady Kitty has joked that they belong in the world of daytime TV. "Sometimes I feel like my family should be on The Jerry Springer Show," she told Hello! Magazine in 2008, though also insisting: "From the outside, the structure looks so dysfunctional. However, every single member of my family is part of my happiness."

Charles Spencer and Victoria Lockwood, a model, were married in 1989, after knowing each other just a few months, with Prince Harry as a page boy. Kitty was born a year later, and within six months of her birth, Earl Spencer had begun an affair with a journalist. "It turned me overnight from a deeply contented, first-time mother to a hurt, scared and devastated woman," Victoria later said of the discovery that her husband was cheating with an old flame. However, she had twins Amelia and Eliza two years later, and the son and heir Louis -- whose birth was greeted with unreconstructed whoops of triumph by the Spencer family -- two years after that. But by the time Louis was born, the marriage was well into injury time, with Victoria suffering from serious addictions to heroin and alcohol, along with a pronounced eating disorder.

Victoria went for treatment and managed to kick her destructive habits, getting a tattoo of a heart on her right arm to symbolise her rebirth. However, she is far from complacent about her recovery, saying a few years ago: "There are no holidays from this illness. The price of freedom is constant vigilance. I attend recovery meetings every week and I will do so for the rest of my life."

It was then the family moved to South Africa, to try to patch things up and create a more solid domestic life, away from the camera lenses and snide headlines of the English media. Like most such moves, though, it failed in its objectives. After all, a physical relocation is far easier than any emotional rapprochement. The Earl continued to philander, and in 1997 the couple divorced in a highly public and acrimonious fashion. She accused him of sleeping with dozens of women, many while she was in rehab, while he quipped nastily when reminded of his duty to stick by his wife through thick and thin, that she was "thin, and certainly thick".

Kitty was seven at the time and the twins five; too young to realise that their parents were playing out a vicious battle of tit-for-tat in the media, or that the family name was the subject of much smug public jeering, but certainly old enough to understand that their world was crashing down around them. "They told me they didn't love one another any more, but they still loved me," said Kitty of that time. "The positives of the situation were highlighted, such as two Christmases, two birthdays and two bedrooms." It's an attitude that seems, more than anything, a brave attempt to look for the good in something plainly devastating.

For a time, Earl Spencer, who always said he would never entrust his children's care to nannies after his own miserable experiences, stayed in South Africa, dating Calvin Klein model Josie Borain. But once that ended, he returned to England, where he married Caroline Freud, ex-wife of Matthew Freud, and had two more children. Undoubtedly a better father than he was a husband, Spencer worked hard at maintaining contact -- he flew to South Africa every month or so and phoned regularly, while the children spent four holidays a year at the family home Althorp -- but he never again lived in the same country as them, and, despite the odd masterful intervention, his influence on their day-to-day lives was necessarily limited.

For a while, it looked as if the Spencer story would settle into a pleasant, perfectly traditional groove -- wrong match followed happily by right match. Charles seemed happy with Caroline, who was in many ways his soulmate, with similar interests and a supportive nature, and together they forged great plans for the modernising of Althorp and the establishment of a literary festival there.

They bought a house in Maida Vale -- from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour -- and looked to be blending their families in a modern, relaxed, successful way, eased by plenty of money and genuine goodwill. Caroline's two boys by her marriage to Freud were just slightly younger than Louis, and interested in the same kinds of things, happy to kick a football around the stunning grounds at Althorp, while Spencer's girls, Kitty, Amelia and Eliza were seemingly delighted with their new baby half-brother.

Caroline described her step-children as "the most delightful you could ever hope to meet", and said they made her job easy. Had things continued in this vein, it would have been just another unremarkable story of initial hiccup then happy ever after. Instead, Spencer, who seems ever to scupper his own chances of stability, filed for divorce in 2006 when his sixth and youngest child was just four months old, and started an affair with Coleen Sullivan, a US journalist who came to interview him for a documentary on Princess Diana.

He and Caroline went through a divorce nearly as nasty and messy as his first, with most of the bitterness centred around the house in London, which Caroline badly wanted to retain. Initially, the Spencer girls are said to have sided with her, asking that she be allowed to stay there, but the passage of time greatly altered their allegiances, and by 2009 Lady Kitty was quoted as saying, very indiscreetly: "She's an awful woman, I'm glad he's divorcing her," to a journalist she met in the VIP enclosure at Wimbledon. It was Kitty who accompanied her father to the divorce hearings in London's High Court, an indication that he, as is so often the case with divorced men, has somehow elevated her to the status of companion, giving her the role a wife would normally fill. And, as is often the case for girls who have difficult, overbearing fathers, Kitty seems to identify strongly with Earl Spencer "It's hurtful for any daughter to read negative things about her father, but he's someone who remains true to himself," she has said. "I am definitely a daddy's girl. I'm more like him than my mother. We share the same sense of humour and have similar interests."

Meanwhile, apart from visits to England and Althorp, the girls and Louis were brought up by Victoria in Cape Town. She, too, married again, to Jonathan Aitken, a South African businessman who she met in rehab, and they had a son. Her other children liked Aitken, who was charming and charismatic, but after a couple of years he lapsed back into addiction and, in 2009, Victoria demanded a divorce, saying his conduct was "irreconcilable with the continuation of a normal marital relationship". She then began a romance with a former British Army lieutenant James Clinch, much to the chagrin of Aitken, and a nasty, convoluted domestic row broke out. Clinch filed a restraining order against Aitken, who he claims tried to shoot him, while Aitken, who denied the allegations, counter-claimed, suing Clinch for £250,000 for breaking up his marriage.

Meanwhile, Charles himself remarried recently for a third time, to Canadian philanthropist and, of course, former model Karen Gordon.

And what of the girls and Louis in all of this? Earl Spencer stepped in, the lordly deus ex machina, and removed them from the scene of the storm, installing them in a luxurious mansion, supervised only by au pairs and domestic staff.

They were also given the responsibility of managing their own money. "My father is strict about the money he gives us," Kitty said in an interview. "It's all worked out so we can buy petrol, pay for our car insurance, books, accommodation and that sort of thing. I've also got a set amount of spending money, and if I go over, then that's it." Kitty was 19 at the time, studying politics and psychology at Cape Town University, while the twins, 17, and Louis, 15, were still at school. Eliza at the time was also recovering from a terrible personal shock; her first serious boyfriend Christopher Elliot, a talented body-surfer, was killed in a car accident just a few days before her 16th birthday.

And yes, like any young people with great personal freedom and large incomes, the girls threw themselves into partying and are regulars on the Cape Town nightclub scene. Their Facebook pages and those of their friends carry provocative pictures of the girls dancing, preening, striking poses that are sometimes flirtatious, sometimes seriously raunchy, showing two fingers to the camera, occasionally dressed like extras from a Madonna video in tight bodices and super-short skirts.

Growing up in South Africa has allowed them far more freedom than would have been the case in Britain, where simply being Diana's nieces would have guaranteed them an oppressive degree of media attention, and it is highly unlikely such photos would exist in so accessible a forum had the girls been raised in the more stifling atmosphere of the English aristocracy. There is a wild streak to these three that is perfectly in keeping with the family name and, indeed, with their mother's difficult history, but the publicising of it is still relatively unusual for their class.

Amelia recently got into trouble with the law after an alleged fracas outside a fast-food restaurant. She was accused of common assault along with a male friend after claims that she "swore at, smacked and kicked" a man on crutches. But just in time for the royal wedding, she was cleared of all charges.

And the partying, though exuberant, is also relatively innocent; after all, the girls have their mother as an example of what not to do. Victoria, who has been clean for many years now, has done her work well. "I would never touch drugs -- we saw what she used to be like," Kitty told Tatler some years ago. "But she's cool, she's not over-protective. She doesn't drill into us 'don't touch drugs'. She's just brought us up so that we don't want to, rather than we can't."

And, despite all the partying, the twins did well enough in their final exams to get into university -- Eliza to Varsity College and Amelia the University of Cape Town. Kitty, meanwhile, has graduated and is turning her attention to designing her own range of casual wear.

"I'm sick of being compared to other people and I just want to achieve stuff in my own right, for my self-worth and self-respect," she said recently. She has been talking about a move to the UK for years, to be close to her father and exploit the many opportunities open to her since appearing as Tatler's Most Eligible Girl in Britain in 2007. Following the bombshell of her recent royal wedding appearance, and given the media appetite for all things upper class, now would seem to be a very good time. But whether Kitty can turn the media fascination into commercial success, or is destined to play out the same kind of role -- aristocrat in public meltdown, basically -- as her father and aunt, remains to be seen.

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