Margaret Thatcher was given secret driving lessons before Rover 800 PR stunt

Updated: 


Margaret Thatcher took a secret test drive before a Downing Street PR stunt, documents reveal.

The then prime minister was approached by Austin Rover in March 1986, asking if she would be interested in performing a short demonstration of the new Rover 800 outside Downing Street.

Mark Addison, her private secretary for home affairs, proposed that Thatcher drive the car from outside Number 10 to the end of the street, before reversing into a side road and driving back to the front door.

However, in personal papers just released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, it is revealed that both the PM and her civil servants were nervous about the stunt.

Margaret Thatcher was given secret driving lessons before Rover 800 PR stunt

Margaret Thatcher was given secret driving lessons before Rover 800 PR stunt


Thatcher hadn't driven in seven years, so requested a secret test drive away from the cameras to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.

The letters reveal that the Rover 800 would be transported to the country house retreat of Chequers in a covered trailer behind a Range Rover, where the prime minister could familiarise herself with the car in peace.

Thanks to her brief practice in private, the PR stunt went off without a hitch.

The letters also reveal some of the behind-the-scenes logistical concerns faced by her staff. For example, a similar previous stunt with Austin had seen Thatcher drive a red car – the colour of Labour, her opposition. This time they made sure the car was blue.

Aides also discussed unwanted press coverage of the test drive, which appeared to show journalists reporting that the car was being delivered as a gift.