By now, most of the handbags — her unique symbol of political authority — are on their way to South Korea, destined to be a window display at a shop in Seoul.

As for the rest of the 400-plus historic items auctioned at Christie's this week, no one, not even Margaret Thatcher's most fervent supporters, would have forecast that two years after her death, so many of the personal items that so defined her would be treasured by people in the four corners of the Earth.

Carol Thatcher in April 2013 leaving the funeral for her mother at St Paul's Cathedral. Photo / Getty
Carol Thatcher in April 2013 leaving the funeral for her mother at St Paul's Cathedral. Photo / Getty

Baroness Thatcher's daughter, Carol, has made a very handsome sum from the £4.5 million ($9.96 million) raised at the sale. It has also made her behaviour a major topic of conversation around the smarter dining tables of Westminster and the Establishment.

The question people are asking is: how could she do such a thing?


For in placing the historic items under the auctioneer's gavel, there is not that many of Lady Thatcher's possessions left in Britain to create the kind of comprehensive museum in her honour that celebrates a prime minister who achieved almost nothing, Sir Edward Heath.

His museum at his old home in Salisbury includes everything from his grand piano and red government boxes to conductor's batons and yachting paraphernalia.

Significantly, the Victoria & Albert Museum was reported to have "politely declined" an offer to display some of the baroness's most famous power suits.

But so brisk was the bidding for Thatcher memorabilia this week, with buyers from 41 countries, that prices soared to many times their estimates, and supporters of the as-yet-unbuilt Thatcher Centre, which is planned at the private University of Buckingham where she was chancellor, managed to secure a mere dozen items, including three dresses and a coat.

No sign of Margaret Thatcher's prime ministerial red box — that disappeared over the horizon for £242,500 ($537,000).

For Carol Thatcher at least, it was good news.

She wasn't at Christie's, where she would have seen her mother's old personal assistant Cynthia Crawford, 78, following each bid with moist eyes. Carol wasn't even in London. As the accumulation of the great Thatcher years dwindled under the hammer, Carol went swimming in Klosters, the Swiss ski resort that these days she calls home.

She was well aware that her decision to sell so many of mother's possessions had angered her twin brother, Sir Mark Thatcher, who was said to consider the sale to be "simply abhorrent".


However, we can reveal he did have an item in the sale, but only one, described as an obscure "trinket" that had little personal significance.

Every other item was supplied by Carol, and as one old family friend who has observed the widening rift and animosity between the 62-year-old twins says: "I'm afraid the sad truth is that knowing how Mark felt about the auction would have been more of a spur to Carol to sell the lot and feel she was doing the right thing."

But was she?

One of her close girlfriends says Carol is "very hurt" by suggestions she has been selling off her mother's memory simply for financial gain.

"She is very proud of her mother and kept many things back from the sale. But the stuff has been in storage for two years because she didn't have the room and there's a lot of it.

"She simply had to do something with it all and this seemed the right time to let it go."

And yet friends and acquaintances of Lady Thatcher's spinster daughter also talk of her constant anxiety about money.

"She has always fretted about feeling secure and what the future holds," says the friend.

Carol's share of her mother's £4.7 million ($10.4 million) will was just over £1 million. This was after inheritance tax was halved in lieu of her mother's papers being given to the nation — they are held at Churchill College, Cambridge.

The other beneficiaries were Mark and his children Michael, 26, and Amanda, 22, who spoke so movingly at the former PM's funeral at St Paul's Cathedral.

Carol, who has been a journalist and broadcaster for most of her life, won ITV's I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Here! in 2005 and three years later published a memoir which shocked and upset many when she described her mother's descent into Alzheimer's disease.

But in recent times she has done little work. This year, she has been dividing her time between Switzerland and Spain, where she has been learning Spanish.

In Klosters, she still shares a modest flat with ski instructor Marco Grass, 15 years her junior, who has been her on-off companion for 22 years. Four years ago, he broke both legs in a skiing accident and it was Carol who nursed him back to health. At Lady Thatcher's funeral, Marco was at Carol's side and a stalwart support.

One has to look no further than the title of her memoir to understand the mindset that has divided her so bitterly from her two-minutes-older Mark. She called it A Swim-On Part In The Goldfish Bowl.

Almost 20 years ago, when she was 43, and Mark was still married to his American first wife, Diane, and living in South Africa, Carol was already feeling like the one member of the family who had been left off the Christmas list.

She let out her feelings of frustration and inadequacy with these words: 'Mark is married to a beautiful girl, has two fabulous children and various mansions scattered around the world. I'm an ancient spinster of no fixed abode living in a rented holiday flat in a ski resort. I still don't measure up awfully well on the Richter scale.'

Many family friends find this bitterness understandable. But for the moment, let us go back to the day she and Mark were invited by the former director of Lady Thatcher's private office, Julian Seymour — also executor of her estate — to choose things for themselves from her Belgravia home, a house which, for them, had no value as it was not hers but provided by a trust.

"They were invited to take as much or as little as they wanted," says a source close to the executor. "These did not include a number of items which had been specially put to one side for Mark's children to have when they are older.

"Mark felt that Carol deliberately chose items of high value and that it was her intention to sell them. He made it plain that he was keeping the things he chose. It's hardly surprising that he has been objecting so vehemently about the auction this week."

But then, as one of Carol's friends says: "It's all very well for Mark to carp — he has millions. What does Carol have?"

The answer to that question is, apart from the inheritance and a flat south of the Thames in London which she rents out, not much else.

Just how far Lady Thatcher was prepared to give extra love and preference to Mark — always viewed as the "favourite" twin — has always been a matter of intriguing speculation.

From having failed his accountancy exams and struggling to establish himself in business, he suddenly emerged in the late-1980s as a multimillionaire. Reports have suggested he was privately enriched with huge commissions as a silent "middle-man" in major arms and construction deals negotiated in the Arab states by his mother.

One of these was the huge Al-Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia, worth £40 billion ($64.6 billion) to British companies. Mark Thatcher is alleged to have received between £12 million and £20 million for his role as a "facilitator".

He is also alleged to have earned commissions from an earlier contract to build a university in Oman, a deal personally secured by the then Mrs Thatcher on a visit.

The company principally concerned was Cementation Ltd, for whom Mark was acting as a consultant. The firm admitted: "We did pay him. We used him because he is the Prime Minister's son."

For her part, Mrs Thatcher was not complicit in any of her son's business arrangements and implacably denied there was any impropriety or that her son had grown rich on the back of her trade deals.

Of course, his name was also dragged into allegations about a plot to overthrow the despot ruler of the tiny, oil-rich West African state of Equatorial Guinea.

The intended target, Teodoro Obiang, a brutal multimillionaire and reputed cannibal, is due to bring a private prosecution against Mark Thatcher.

No business fortune similar to her brother's came Carol's way, who got a good law degree at University College London before becoming a journalist. One close Thatcher family friend says Carol has never tried to exploit her mother's name.

"Margaret's favouritism to Mark was not only emotional but financial. Later, she would say things like, 'Well, Mark has children, he has heirs, so of course Denis [her husband] and I needed to be more generous to him." They were not ungenerous to Carol — and Margaret actually loved and cared about her more than she realised — but Mark always seemed to get more.'

Over the years, friends noticed the perceived "resentment" building up inside Carol. Her brother was the one who ended up with a fortune as well as a hereditary baronetcy, both of these widely perceived to have come about simply because he was Margaret Thatcher's much-loved son.

Lady Thatcher's dream to see her daughter wealthy and happily married with children never materialised. But as one old friend explains, "She calculated that Carol was tougher than Mark and therefore needed less of a push to succeed."

This was one calculation that Margaret Thatcher may have got badly wrong, for Carol has never felt comfortably off. It is almost certainly a key factor in why Carol put all those possessions up for auction this week and was in another country when strangers were bidding for them.

According to one friend, she had considered giving them away, but feared they would reappear for resale on eBay "within 24 hours".

On the other hand, was it not time, at last, for Carol to benefit from her mother's success?
One who thinks so is her former beau Jonathan Aitken, a Cabinet minister under John Major.

Many years ago, he dated Carol. Despite being clearly one of the more talented Tory MPs of his generation, he remained firmly on the backbenches while Mrs Thatcher was in power after dumping her daughter for someone else.

But his regard for Carol is undimmed. "She has behaved honourably," he declares. "It's her turn to make hay while the sun shines, and any resentment against her for doing so is completely misplaced."