Sitting on the sun-drenched patio overlooking the Downing Street garden yesterday, Theresa May runs her fingers over the pretty blue necklace she is wearing.
It is one of a number of gifts, along with sacks of letters and cards, she has received from well-wishers since she tearfully announced she was stepping down as Prime Minister.
With typical modesty, Mrs May mentions that many people were saddened that she has been forced to stand down, having been bruised and battered by fellow politicians on both sides of the Commons divide.
Fingering the necklace proudly, she says it was sent in the post from ‘the ladies in the Jaeger shop in Marlborough in Wiltshire’.
Among other welcome parting gifts from voters in Middle England who felt sorry for her being the fall-girl for the country’s rancorous Brexit deadlock was a bouquet of flowers sent by someone who described himself as ‘a male boss and the lads who worked for him’.
With typical modesty, Mrs May mentions that many people were saddened that she has been forced to stand down
Mrs May says the warmth shown to her by the public was ‘truly humbling’.
In less than two weeks, she will leave No 10. She knows the history books could be harsh in their judgement of her failure to deliver Brexit during her three years as PM. There is no escaping the fact that her job was to deliver the wishes of the 52 per cent of people who voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum and of those who voted Remain but realised that the result must be honoured.
Certainly, the brutality of her eviction from No 10 has been very painful to watch.
Forever etched on our memories will be the way she finally crumbled as she stood in the middle of Downing Street on May 24 and told the nation that she was standing down.
She concluded by saying she was leaving the job that it had been ‘the honour of my life to hold – the second female prime minister but certainly not the last’. She continued: ‘I do so with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.’
Certainly, the brutality of her eviction from No 10 has been very painful to watch
I ask her about that moment. She replies: ‘If a male Prime Minister’s voice had broken up, it would have been said “what great patriotism, they really love their country”. But if a female Prime Minister does it, it is “why is she crying?”.’
Her hackles also rise when I refer to how her German counterpart, Angela Merkel, has looked worryingly wobbly in recent public appearances.
‘I’m interested you picked a female example,’ she retorts sharply. ‘Are you saying it’s only females who feel the strain?’
Has she had sleepless nights in No 10? She replies: ‘There are times you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about things that are going on.’
Without doubt, the way Mrs May, 62, has coped with the sheer physical and psychological strain of being Prime Minister has been compounded by having Type One diabetes, requiring her to have regular injections. But she has taken all that in her stride.
Although it is hard to imagine the vicar’s daughter swearing, surely she must have cursed when things went badly wrong?
‘I have been known to,’ she laughs.
What about using the f-word? With a tantalising laugh, she shoots back: ‘I have often said that I am… frustrated.’
Over the course of a conversation lasting nearly an hour, Mrs May insists that, despite failing on Brexit, she has a legacy to be proud of.
Over the course of a conversation lasting nearly an hour, Mrs May insists that, despite failing on Brexit, she has a legacy to be proud of
Candidly, she talks about reasons for those times she woke up worried about big decisions in the middle of the night and of mistakes she made. Despite the best intentions, she also failed signally not to take a couple of well-aimed swipes at Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond – who has been accused of trying to block Treasury cash for some of her legacy spending pledges, such as a £27billion school funding plan.
Acidly, she points out to me that her full title is ‘Prime Minister and First Lord of Treasury.’ Translation: she outranks Hammond when deciding whose hands control the public purse strings.
She laughed off her cruel ‘Maybot’ tag – given because of her robotic repetition of phrases such as ‘strong and stable’ during the 2017 election campaign.
Keen to dispel her image for being dull and work-obsessed, she says she knocked back Aperol spritzers and larked about on the plane while flying home from the recent G20 world economic summit in Japan.
Theresa May is setting up a new watchdog to promote a fairer society as part of her legacy.
The Office for Tackling Injustices, an independent body to be known as Ofti, will be tasked with combating injustice, with tough measures to hold Cabinet ministers to account on the issue.
Mrs May said: ‘Deep-seated social injustice requires a long-term focus and cannot be eliminated overnight. I am proud of what we have achieved to make the UK a more just society. But there is more to be done if we are truly to say that this is a country which works for everyone – no matter who they are or where they’re from.’
The watchdog will ‘shine a spotlight on injustices, provide better solutions and create lasting change’, she said.
But there was no time for such relaxation when she was fighting her forlorn battle to get her Brexit deal through the Commons. Thrice she tried and thrice she failed.
Undoubtedly she is scarred by highly personal attacks on her from hard-Brexit Tory MPs, disloyal Cabinet ministers, intransigent Brussels officials and unhelpful fellow national leaders who, in turn, opposed and patronised her.