Did Margaret Thatcher say bus users over the age of 25 were failures?

26 April 2019
What was claimed

Margaret Thatcher once said anyone on a bus over the age of 25 is a failure.

Our verdict

We can’t prove whether she did or didn’t say it, but she definitely didn’t coin the phrase.

"Margaret Thatcher once said anyone on a bus over the age of 25 is a failure,”

Jeremy Corbyn, 25 April 2019

We can’t prove whether Mrs Thatcher did or didn’t say this, but it appears that the phrase was originally coined by an acquaintance of one Loelia, the Duchess of Westminster, and then popularised by the duchess. At some point it became common to attribute the quote to Mrs Thatcher.

The Daily Telegraph reported in the duchess’s obituary that she once said: “Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life.”

In 2006, writer Hugo Vickers wrote to the Telegraph saying that the duchess had told him that the phrase was originally coined by a poet called Brian Howard and that she had repeated it and passed it off as her own aphorism.

If the duchess’s memoirs are anything to go by, she certainly echoed the sentiment, mentioning the indignity of going from being driven by chauffeurs to having to “queue in the downpour for the over-populated bus” following her separation from the Duke of Westminster.

We’re not sure why and when people started to attribute the quote to Mrs Thatcher, but the Economist says she reportedly said it in 1986.

The Guardian reported in 2005 that Mrs Thatcher may have quoted the line to the founder and chairman of Stagecoach transport group Sir Brian Souter at an awards ceremony. Sir Brian told us this was untrue.

Since 2003 numerous MPs have attributed the quote to Mrs Thatcher in parliament (and one has apologised on behalf of another for the misattribution.)

MPs seem unable to agree on exactly which age the quote refers to: some say 30, while others say 26 or 25.

Update 22 July 2019

We’ve updated this article after Sir Brian Souter told us Mrs Thatcher did not say this to him, as was previously reported in the Guardian.

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