Salman Rushdie recalls ‘touchy-feely’ interaction with ‘auntie-like’ Margaret Thatcher

Salman Rushdie has shared an unexpected memory of his interactions with Margaret Thatcher.

The multi-award-winning author appeared on the most recent edition of Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail podcast, on which they discussed some of the most headline-making moments of his life and career, including his survival of a nearly fatal knife attack in 2022.

At one point in the conversation, Rushdie, 76, mentioned the late Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who led the country from 1979 to 1990.

Though Thatcher was known for her formidable demeanour and leadership style, earning her the nickname “The Iron Lady”, the Satanic Verses author recalled her showing more welcoming traits when meeting her in person.

“The most unexpected thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she’s very touchy-feely,” he noted.

“With men, I hear,” Day chipped in, to which Rushdie replied: “Yeah, she put her hands on your arm and shoulders and, ‘How are you, dear?’ et cetera. Very auntie-like, but very unexpected and quite disarming, you know?”

In April, Rushdie name-dropped the politician again, revealing at an event at London’s Southbank Centre that she inspired a stylistic choice in his recently released memoir Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder.

Salman Rushdie and Margaret Thatcher (Getty)
Salman Rushdie and Margaret Thatcher (Getty)

The book features Rushdie only referring to his charged assailant, Hadi Matar, as “The A.”, short for “The Ass” (or “Asinine man”), throughout.

Addressing the audience via video call from his home in the US, Rushdie gave his reason for the naming practice, saying: “I owe it to Margaret Thatcher.”

He explained that Thatcher had to find a way to tackle the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which launched a number of terrorist attacks against the UK throughout her time in No 10.

“She wanted to deny the terrorists the oxygen of publicity,” he said, comparing her method to his own when it came to writing about his attacker.

“That guy had his 27 seconds of fame and now he should go back to being nobody,” he said.

Salman Rushdie and his wife, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Getty Images)
Salman Rushdie and his wife, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Getty Images)

Elsewhere in the podcast episode, released on Wednesday (5 June), Rushdie paid tribute to his fifth wife, novelist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, to whom he’s been married since 2021.

“When I was at my really lowest ebb, physically, but also psychologically and emotionally, she just took charge of everything,” he said.

“Everything had to go through her. If the FBI came in the room, they had to be interviewed by her before they could do anything else.

“Every so often she would go out of the room to scream. But she never showed me that part.”