Newly released National Archive files reveal late PM failed to declare diamond and emerald gifts and how the US president prepared for a cold war arms summit
A diamond and emerald necklace allegedly given to Margaret Thatcher by a Middle Eastern oil minister but never declared as a gift caused consternation inside No 10, newly released documents reveal.
Downing Street press officers were alerted when a Guardian journalist called about the supposed clandestine donation in October 1985, according to documents released by the National Archives in Kew on Wednesday.
The jewels, said to have included earrings and a bracelet, were allegedly given by the then president of Opec, Mana Saeed al-Otaiba from the United Arab Emirates. A No 10 press officer wrote in a detailed note: “David Pallister of the Guardian has been enquiring about certain gifts allegedly made to the prime minister in March 1982 by Dr Otaiba.
“The gifts were allegedly presented … in Flood Street [Thatcher’s house in Chelsea] when Dr Otaiba was on a private visit to London at a time when the oil market was very sensitive.
“The gifts allegedly comprised a necklace, earrings and bracelet, all in diamonds and emeralds; and were allegedly purchased from the jewellers Kutchinsky [Kutchinsky in Knightsbridge].”
Downing Street had no record of the meeting but noted that Thatcher had received gifts from Otaiba at official meetings in 1981. At the time, civil service rules said gifts worth more than £100 had to be bought by the recipient.
No 10 was told the jewels had been spotted in a car on their way with Otaiba to Flood Street. Charles Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary, and Bernard Ingham, her press secretary, were alerted to the dangers.
Another Downing Street memo said: “I’ve passed this info on to [the press officer] but asked him not to say what gifts have actually been received. It could be difficult if the PM did receive the gifts personally without our knowledge and Dr Otaiba was to see a denial in the Guardian.”
Downing Street’s file does not state whether Thatcher received the necklace. However, a diamond and emerald necklace featured in a Christie’s sale of her personal possessions in December fetched £158,000. The sale catalogue did not explain how it came into her possession.
A Christie’s spokesperson told the Guardian: “We had understood that this was not such an object [ie a gift]. However, any gifts which were given to Margaret Thatcher whilst serving as prime minister and deemed by the Cabinet Office to be of significant value were purchased … after Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister.”
The jewellers Moussaeiff, which now owns Kutchinsky, said it did not recognise the Christie’s sale jewellery and added that Kutchinsky files could not be accessed easily.
Reagan told Thatcher to read thriller to prepare for arms summit
Ronald Reagan urged Thatcher to read a blockbuster thriller to understand the Soviet Union’s cold war thinking in the run-up to a failed arms control summit in Reykjavik.
The then US president suggested the prime minister should read Red Storm Rising, the second novel by the thriller writer Tom Clancy, during a phone call in preparation for the 1986 meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Icelandic capital. Reagan and the former Soviet leader failed to reach an agreement on nuclear disarmament, but their talks paved the way to end the cold war.
Before the summit, Thatcher talked to Reagan about what might be achieved. She repeatedly stressed the importance of nuclear deterrence while Reagan batted away her concerns, saying: ‘The Russians don’t want war, they want victory by using the threat of nuclear war … I think we could have a strategy to meet that.’
Charles Powell later sent a summary of the discussion to the Foreign Office. In a note released by the National Archives on Wednesday, Thatcher’s private secretary wrote: “The president strongly recommended to the prime minister a new book by the author of Red October called (I think) Red Storm Rising. It gave an excellent picture of the Soviet Union’s intentions and strategy. He had clearly been much impressed by the book.”
Red Storm Rising imagines a third world war fought with conventional weapons, including an amphibious assault by US marines on Iceland.
Calm down, dear: Michael Winner feared No 10 didn’t know him
A classic “Don’t you know who I am?” moment seems to have happened when Michael Winner invited Thatcher to unveil a memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, the police officer shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
Winner, the late film director who founded the Police Memorial Trust, feared the invitation would be turned down. Another trustee of the charity then wrote to Thatcher’s private secretary David Barclay, saying: “It occurs to me you may not know of Mr Winner ” before listing his film fame, newspaper columns and support of the Tories on the Any Questions radio programme and at a number of rallies.
Newly released Downing Street files show No 10 was well aware of who Winner was. But the then home secretary, Leon Brittan, was delaying a reply at the time, over concerns that the unveiling was a local rather than a national matter.
Thatcher disagreed and said: “I should not refuse to unveil it, therefore I will do it.” But she insisted it should be an all-party affair to emphasise the impartiality of the police. The unveiling eventually went ahead on 1 February 1985.
How Apollo moon dust went from top to flop at Downing Street
A Thatcher aide found four specks of moon dust discarded in a Downing Street cupboard years after they were donated by NASA’s Apollo mission in 1970, documents detailing the lunar particles’ changing fates reveal.
The US president, Richard Nixon, gave them to the prime minister, Harold Wilson, initially triggering a battle between museums over who would display them. The specks were described as “disappointing” by the Science Museum in London, which said it would display other items to spice up any exhibition. They eventually returned to No 10 in 1973, kicking off further debate about where to display them.
When Thatcher gained power, an aide found the particles in a cupboard where they had “languished for several years”. Thatcher suggested the dust could be put in a display cabinet at Downing Street – but by 1985 their status had slipped. An internal memo said the four fragments, described as “scarcely more than 1mm across, encapsulated in a clear plastic hemisphere about the size of a golf ball and mounted on a not very attractive wooden plinth along with a silk union jack [which had been taken to the moon and back] had “curiosity, rather than scientific, value”. And while the Science Museum once again offered to house them, its director, Dame Margaret Weston, told No 10 “she did not wish to press [the] claims particularly strongly” as she could get better samples from NASA.
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