Saturday, April 13, 2013

"It's a really wonderful sport", said Margaret Thatcher

MT on skis in the 1960s
There can't be much about Margaret Thatcher's life that hasn't been thoroughly written about in the days since her death. Although I am one of those who virulently opposed her ideas, policies and all that she stood for, she eclipsed most of my adult life from leaving university to the creeping decay of middle-age. However, I was fascinated to find that MT was a keen skier. She was introduced to the sport by her millionaire husband Denis, who regularly sojourned in Switzerland when the  going got a bit tough in the business world.

MT hated foreign travel and especially holidays (she famously came back from a 10-day trip to Corsica after 4 days saying she had 'done' the island and was missing work), but she was prepared to overcome her dislike of 'abroad' to enjoy skiing holidays, and to enable her twins Carol and Mark to develop a passion for the sport. Lenzerheide, in the Graubunden area of Switzerland, was a favourite destination. 

Carol and Marco  in 1996
Carol became an accomplished skier, and for a time worked as a ski journalist.  She's been in an 'on-off' relationship with Swiss ski instructor Marco Grass since 1992, and lives part of the time with him in Klosters.

MTs enthusiasm for skiing appears to have been at its height in the early 1960s, before the pressures of opposition, government and eventually the premiership were to dominate her existence. She attended the opening of Britain's first dry ski slope, at Battersea Park in London in December 1962. The occasion was presided over by her friend the hotelier and restauranteur Charles Forte. Despite being a good skier himself he didn't actually ski down the bakelite slope on that opening day:  instead he persuaded Mrs Thatcher to share a toboggan for the 60ft descent.

MT with Charles Forte on Britain's first dry ski slope
The picture, from the London Evening News, shows MT actually appearing to enjoy herself!
She told the Evening News reporter:

“Last year the children were eight and we decided it was time they learned.  Now we are all tremendous enthusiasts, in fact we are spending Christmas in Switzerland this year."

"It will be my first Christmas away from doing the turkey and all that sort of thing. It's a really wonderful sport.”

Mrs. Thatcher's period as British prime-minister coincided with rapid growth in the winter sports industry, notably with the emergence of the independent chalet operator (largely in response the widespread customer dissatisfaction with the winter sports packages offered by mass tour operators like Clarksons and Swan Holidays, who were only really concerned about getting extra profit out of their aeroplane fleets). Crystal Holidays was started in 1980, and went on to be the largest 'chalet holiday' operator, largely defining the chalet industry that we know today.

MT seems to have lost interest in skiing as her political career accelerated, and the savage spending cuts of the 1980s saw an end to funding for professional competitive ski training that has never been redressed.

There's a wonderful Pathé newsreel video of the opening of the Battersea Slope, including a few jumps and tricks. Didn't they dress well in those days!

Many thanks to my friend Robert Balchin (the man who introduced me to skiing!) for digging out MTs words about skiing.

1 comment:

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