Money & Careers

Portrait of Theresa May, Britain’s Second Female PM


The first female prime minister of Great Britain was called ”The Iron Lady.” What will we be calling Theresa May, who is following Margaret Thatcher as the second woman ever to be PM? May has been likened to Thatcher, but Germany’s Angela Merkel may be a more apt comparison. Both are strong women—competent, stubborn, no–nonsense heads of state. Not surprisingly, men have called May “A bloody difficult woman” and “Ice Maiden” with “no small talk whatsoever—none.” Yet the former prime minister, David Cameron, grudgingly admitted, “She is instinctively secretive and very rigid, but you can be tough with her and she’ll go away and think it all through again.”

May is an unabashed feminist. Unlike Thatcher, May encourages women to aspire to high office. She founded Women2Win, an organization that mentors and supports women who are rising in the party. The new PM herself is a role model for younger women to emulate. In 2008 she campaigned to close the gender wage gap.

Since May maintains a dense thicket around her that effectively thwarts scrutiny, we know only the bare bones of her private life. She is 59, married 36 years to the man she met when both were students at Oxford University. The couple was not able to have children. Unlike her high-born Tory colleagues, May is a product of the middle class (both her grandmothers were domestics). It is said that even when very young she aspired to be the first woman prime minister and was vexed that Margaret Thatcher got there first. She likes to cook and take occasional walks in the hills. She has said she has 100 cookbooks. Three years ago she revealed that she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, so she has to inject herself twice daily with insulin.

Her love of fashion is one thing May can’t hide. She’s a “shoe fanatic” who’s been photographed wearing leopard heels. She has said that if she were stranded on a desert island she would take a lifetime subscription to Vogue with her. Like Hillary Clinton and her pantsuits, May is known for her shoes, and has had to tolerate sexist comments about her appearance. A woman, former Tory minister Esther McVey, on the other hand, finds meaning in May’s eye-catching footwear: “To see a little bit of personality on her feet . . . and that she has got a sense of humour and that she has got something else to say . . . it’s a subtle way of giving away a little bit of her personality.” The colorful shoes contrast with her “cool, calm exterior,” said her former campaign manager, Sam Olsen, “which people like.”

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