Margaret Thatcher was the woman who, virtually single-handed and in the space of one tumultuous decade, transformed a nation.
In the view of her many admirers, she thrust a strike-infested half-pace Britain back among the front-runners in the commanding peaks of the industrial nations of the world.
Her detractors, many of them just as vociferous, saw her as the personification of an uncaring new political philosophy known by both sides as Thatcherism.
Tireless, fearless, unshakeable and always in command, she was Britain’s first woman Prime Minister - and the first leader to win three General Elections in a row.
Mrs Thatcher, who became Baroness Thatcher, resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990 after a year in which her fortunes plummeted.
It was a year in which she faced a series of damaging resignations from the Cabinet, her own political judgments were publicly denounced by her own colleagues, catastrophic by-election humiliations, internal party strife, and a sense in the country that people had had enough of her after 11 years in power.
But history will almost certainly proclaim her as one of the greatest British peacetime leaders.
Her supporters believe she put the drive back into the British people.
And as she transformed the nation - attempting to release the grip of the state on massive industries and public services alike - she strode the earth as one of the most influential, talked-about, listened-to and dominant statesmen of the Western world.
When Argentina invaded the Falklands, she despatched a task force to the South Atlantic which drove the enemy off the islands in an incomparable military operation 8,000 miles from home.
She successfully defied Arthur Scargill’s nationwide and year-long miners’ strike, which threatened to cripple Britain’s entire economic base.
Her triumphant achievement of power in May 1979 signalled the end of the era when trade union leaders trooped in and out of 10, Downing Street, haggling and bargaining with her Labour predecessors.
Instead she stripped the unions of many of their powers with the aim of transferring them to managements and individual consumers.
Within weeks of her arrival in Downing Street, foreign correspondents from all points of the globe - absent for so long from the House of Commons - flocked back to the press gallery. It was a sure sign that the world was sitting up and listening once again to what Britain had to say.
Whether you liked Mrs Thatcher or loathed her - and her Tory predecessor Edward Heath hated her beyond belief - whether you agreed with her or found her policies utterly repugnant, you could not deny her energy and drive.
Even many political foes secretly admired this single-minded woman, who never contemplated defeat and for whom all issues were black and white, not hedged about with grey.
Even - indeed particularly - her most bitter political enemies were forced to praise her crusading clarity of purpose and her determination, in their eyes, to serve "her people".
Veteran left winger Tony Benn frequently held her up as an example of how a great political party should be led, comparing her with what he regarded as Neil Kinnock’s fudged leadership of the Labour Party.
Margaret Thatcher towered above all other political figures in Britain and her dominance of the Cabinet was supreme and rarely challenged. She was the equal of statesmen across the world. She elevated Downing Street to something like the status of the White House and the Kremlin, symbols of the then two great superpowers. Nobody talked down to her.
Yet the Iron Lady - a title bestowed upon her by her enemies in Moscow, which, incidentally she relished - was not all stern, steely and strident. She was delightful with children and she could not disguise her glee - "We are a grandmother" - when her grandson Michael was born in Dallas in February, 1989.
She regularly and touchingly admitted that she could not do her job properly without the unfailing and unstinting support of her "marvellous" husband, Denis. He was, she said, the "golden thread" running through her life. His death, in June 2003, some weeks after major heart surgery, was a profound blow to her.
Sir Denis, as he became after she left Downing Street, was constantly at her side, an impeccable consort, protecting her and guiding her in all weathers and in all parts of the world.
He was a wonderful source of encouragement and comfort to her when, as sometimes happened, she returned home in tears after a particularly gruelling day. He made no attempt to disguise his contempt for those who opposed his wife, but he never got involved publicly in policy or political discussions.
His death came at a time when Margaret Thatcher’s own health - she was ten years younger than him - was the subject of speculation. She had suffered a series of strokes and her doctors had forbidden her to make any more speeches - instructions which she was occasionally known to breach.
Sir Denis’s death was a massive blow to Lady Thatcher. But there was more grim trouble ahead.
Her son, Sir Mark - he inherited the baronetcy from his father - was charged in South Africa in connection with a plot to overthrow the Government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. The charge carried a maximum penalty of 15 years, and possible death if Sir Mark was extradited to Equatorial Guinea.
The news broke when Lady Thatcher was on holiday in the United States. She doted on her son and the charge plainly devastated her.
However, after weeks under house arrest in Capetown, where he lived, Mark in January 2005, pleaded guilty to unwittingly helping to finance a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. He accepted a three million rand fine and a suspended jail sentence.
Judge Abe Motala told him to pay the fine as part of the plea deal, but if he failed to do so by January 17 that year, he faced a five-year prison sentence with a further four years suspended for five years.
Meanwhile his wife Diane and their two children had returned to Dallas, and he planned to rejoin them immediately. However his conviction led to problems about his entry into the United States and instead he returned to London to stay with his mother.
For her it was a massive relief that her son avoided a long prison sentence and also, more traumatically, avoided what could have resulted in a fatal extradition to Equatorial Guinea.
Thatcher always conceded, too, that personal attacks on her, and particularly on members of her family, wounded her deeply. And yet the woman who took on Argentina and who had the people of Moscow reaching out and yearning to touch her, could not bear the sight of creepy-crawlies or snakes.
Mrs Thatcher was obsessively British, batting for Britain wherever she went, wearing exquisite home-produced clothes, upbraiding those who did not, and turning up her nose at the French Perrier Water. "What’s wrong with British water?" she demanded.
Her dramatic downfall came about during the second of two challenges to her leadership. She realised that if she stayed on to take her challenger Michael Heseltine - a man she disliked intensely, personally and politically - into a second ballot, he would almost certainly supplant her. That was a prospect she could not bear to see happen.
And so, after consulting her Cabinet colleagues, one by one, she decided she must go, and tearfully gave the Cabinet the news the following morning.
By doing so, she paved the way for one of her favourite "sons" John Major to follow her into 10, Downing Street. But her support for him was luke-warm. She was to say later that she backed him because he was "the best of a poor bunch".
She marked her decision to quit with the historic expression: "It’s a funny old world" - pointing out that she had been summarily removed from power even though she had won every election she had fought.
Some of her friends believed that her decision to go to Paris, rather than remain in Westminster, during that first fateful ballot, demonstrated an arrogance and a misjudgment which may well have cost her those crucial handful of votes which would have kept her in Downing Street. If she had received just four more votes, there would have been no need for a second ballot.
But there was no let-up in her energetic activities once she arrived in the House of Lords. She remained a ferocious critic of the European Union, and led a crusade in the Upper House against the Maastricht Treaty.
She was accused, as well, of attacking her successor, John Major, in the same way that her predecessor, Sir Edward Heath, had constantly criticised her when she was in power. But her strictures on John Major did not carry the bitterness and resentment of Heath’s criticisms of her.
Years later, she was to be praised by two Labour Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom invited her into Downing Street soon after they came to power. These were events which enraged some factions in the Labour Party.
Baroness Thatcher maintained a gruelling programme of lecture tours worldwide, showing little, if any, sign of slowing down her scorching pace. But there were moments when her stamina and health came into question.
Once, in 1994, she collapsed in the middle of a speech in Santiago, Chile. but she shrugged off warnings from her friends that she should start to take things more easily.
And later that year, her friends were shocked at her gaunt and haggard aspect, three days before her 69th birthday, when she made a token appearance on the platform of the Tory Party conference in Bournemouth.
Her response to that renewed expression of alarm among her supporters was to dash off on another exhausting global speaking tour.
But there was little doubt that her health was affected by the combination of a massive four-hour dental operation, an enforced diet, and worry about reports of her son Mark’s alleged profiteering from Middle East arms deals she had negotiated as Prime Minister, as well as the apparently impending break-up of his marriage. But those reports came to nothing.
But neither age nor anything else was going to stop this woman from expressing herself vigorously and passionately whenever she felt the need. In 1997, she derided the British Airways decision to introduce "modern art" on the tailfins of their fleet instead of the symbol of the Union Flag.
She famously covered one of these offending tailfins on the model of an aircraft with a handkerchief while touring the stalls at the Tory Party conference.
And in October, 1998 she called for the immediate release of ex-President Pinochet of Chile, who was being held to face an extradition request by Spain for alleged murder.