Theresa May has insisted Donald Trump was simply “being a gentleman” when he grasped her hand during a visit to the US, creating an image that caused widespread embarrassment.
The prime minister has used an interview with American Vogue to praise the meeting with the president, who she said had achieved a “stunning election victory” given his lack of experience in politics.
“I like to think we got on,” she said, adding that she would not reveal the details of private conversations with Trump, including whether she criticised his previous controversial comments about women.
“All I would say is, I’ve been very clear: I’m not afraid to raise issues. And the nature of the relationship is such that we should be able to be frank and open with each other.”
Her Vogue interviewer, Gaby Wood, said May laughed when she raised the issue of the hand-holding. “I think he was actually being a gentleman. We were about to walk down a ramp, and he said it might be a bit awkward,” she said.
May also talked about her relationship with her husband, Philip, in which she cooked and he loaded the dishwasher. Asked what the pair argued about, the prime minister responded: “Do you know, I think we argue about the same things that most people argue about – like, who has the remote? And what we’re watching tonight. His history programme? No – NCIS!”
Pushed on the regular comparisons made between herself and the Conservative’s only other female leader, she said: “There can only ever be one Margaret Thatcher. I’m Theresa May. I do things my way.”
Wood also described May’s Vivienne Westwood tartan trouser suit worn during her leadership bid in June and at her Lancaster House speech setting out the plan for Brexit. “People have described it as a lucky suit. I think I’m going to stop wearing it now,” May said.
On politics, the prime minister laid out what she believed in. “I suppose if I could sum it up: in opportunity, freedom, security,” she said, stressing that protecting the “fundamental freedoms that we have” remained a crucial part of her counter-extremism strategy. Because if you lose your freedoms, then actually the terrorists have started to win.”
She also described what she believed to be the key difference between the Conservatives and the Labour. “I think the Labour party believes in pulling people down to a level; we believe in helping people to rise up – to improve their lives and the lives of their children.”
May admitted that being an only child may have meant she was “exposed to more adult thinking … because the conversation around the breakfast table is more about current affairs – and cricket”.
She told Wood she decided she wanted to become a member of parliament at 12 and volunteered for the local Conservatives, stuffing envelopes.
The interviewer said May was most relaxed when meeting schoolchildren, who asked her a series of questions including if you had a superpower, what would it be?
“I think I’d want to make sure everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food, so we didn’t see people starving,” said May, offering girls who wanted to be prime minister the advice: “Be yourself. And if you have any setbacks, don’t ever think it’s because you’re a girl.”
The prime minister was also asked: “How much money do you get paid?”
“I get paid two salaries. I get paid as a member of parliament, and I also get paid as prime minister. And if you add those two up. I suppose it’s public knowledge that it’s £142,000.”
May also addressed the controversial issue of “trousergate” in which her choice of brown leather trousers worth £1,000 for an interview caused a backlash.
Asked if she was surprised, May said: “Look, throughout my political career, people have commented on what I wear. That’s just something that happens, and you accept that. But it doesn’t stop me from going out and enjoying fashion. And I also think it’s important to be able to show that a woman can do a job like this and still be interested in clothes.”
Stylewatch: clothes that say May’s a woman of the people
The fashion has clearly been chosen strategically – possibly in response the furore over the £995 leather trousers May wore for a Sunday Times shoot in December.
Wood, who wrote the Vogue feature, describes the prime minister’s style as “decidedly no drama”. The navy dress and coat worn in one picture are from LK Bennett, a favourite high street haunt of the Duchess of Cambridge. This is an approximation of clothes she is regularly seen in, and is there to communicate that May is a woman of the people.
But the shoot is also clearly something of a personal coup for a woman who said her luxury on Desert Island Discs would be a lifetime subscription to Vogue, who wears designers including Vivienne Westwood and Amanda Wakeley (those leather trousers), and has had entire articles devoted to her interest in shoes.
There are, then, signposts to show off May’s fashion credentials to Vogue’s fashionable readers. LK Bennett is, as those familiar with her style would know, where May’s leopard-print kitten heels come from. Her red coat and sweater are from Egg, a cult store in London’s Belgravia. In the sofa image, her jacket is propped on her shoulders – a style called shoulder-robing often seen on street-style stars outside of fashion shows.
Wood talks to May about everything from the Mays’ TV choices to feminism and the impact of Brexit. But this being Vogue, fashion is also on the list of subjects. May is revealed to have no style advisers and to shop at a store in Henley, near her home. She also takes the opportunity to make a political point. “I also think it’s important to be able to show that a woman can do a job like this and still be interested in clothes,” she says.
The message here is that May takes fashion – and Vogue – seriously. Expect to see her indulging in a half-tuck – 2017’s answer to shoulder robing – any day now. Lauren Cochrane