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Rachel Jenkins

Why Margaret Thatcher gave the No 10 cook a roasting

A book promising to expose the secrets of Downing Street was scrapped after a searing rebuke by Margaret Thatcher about the breach of her privacy.

It was not planning to reveal the secrets of her war cabinet or her downfall as prime minister. Instead, it detailed her favourite recipes, including egg sandwiches and gooseberry soufflé.

Sherry Warner, a senior cook at Downing Street since 1981, sought permission to publish Downing Street Cook: Recipes from the Thatcher Years.

Her dedication had been rewarded with an MBE in Thatcher’s resignation honours list. But when she sent a copy of the proposed book to Downing Street with a request for permission to publish she received a stern reply from Andrew Turnbull, Thatcher’s principal private secretary.

In a note released by the National Audit Office he said: “Mrs Thatcher was most unhappy — feeling the book was intrusive. She also felt it overstated Sherry’s role at No 10.”

His reply followed criticism from Cynthia Crawford, Thatcher’s personal assistant. Mr Turnbull wrote to Ms Warner in a letter in January: “You will be aware from Crawfie that Mrs Thatcher was very upset, feeling that the privacy of occasion in No 10 had been invaded. I do not think Crawfie was exaggerating.”

He referred Ms Warner to the civil service code, adding: “If it concentrated on the recipes and menus . . . rather than the occasions on which those meals are served, there would be less of a problem”.

A chastened Ms Warner replied: “I truly apologise for the great embarrassment I must have caused you: it was never my intention to upset or betray anyone and I shall always regret the distress the proposal for this book obviously caused Mrs Thatcher.”

The introduction to the book says that Ms Warner had witnessed “all the victories and crises of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership”, including feeding the cabinet during the Falklands conflict of 1982.

It says it includes “the simple yet superbly conceived dishes she [Thatcher] has requested time and time again, from egg, cucumber and watercress mousse, chicken cooked with lime and tarragon and veal braised with oranges and watercress to summer pudding and gooseberry soufflé with elderflower”.

Examples of menus include a celebration supper for a small group of political colleagues, including Norman Tebbit and Willie Whitelaw, on the night after the 1987 election win.

They were served cold salmon mayonnaise, mangetout and French bean salad. The recipe notes that the “prime minister always insisted on serving British cheese”. A dinner of a rack of roast lamb with mint, orange and redcurrant sauce for industrialists in 1989 included the note: “I never used garlic at No 10.”

Cucumber sandwiches were served for a 1982 tea with King Hussein of Jordan, with the cook learning to cut the sandwiches “into tiny triangles”.

The files also reveal that Mr Tebbit was asked to delete a reference in his memoirs about Thatcher asking each member of the cabinet if they favoured sending a task force to the Falkland Islands. Mr Tebbit replied that his book was already at the printers.

The archive contains “potentially explosive” extracts of the draft of a 1990 book by Alan Walters, Thatcher’s former chief economic adviser, which he was ordered to delete by Mr Turnbull because they were highly critical of Nigel Lawson, the former chancellor.