Tony Bray, who has died aged 88, was a stockbroker and the first boyfriend of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher while they were at Oxford together; it was also he who first suggested to her the idea for what became one of her most iconic and popular policies: the sale of council houses.
When they first met, Bray recognised at once her commitment to politics; he also thought her thoughtful but perhaps rather lonely too. They saw each other regularly throughout their time at Oxford, with Bray at one point going to Grantham to visit her parents and stay above the family's shop.
For many years, their relationship was not in the public domain, with the former prime minister, later Baroness Thatcher, maintaining the fiction there were no boyfriends before Denis Thatcher, whom she eventually married. But last year details of the relationship with Bray emerged in Charles Moore's biography of Baroness Thatcher, which was published shortly after her death. The book also revealed she had had another relationship before Denis with William Cullen, a young farmer from Cardross, Dunbartonshire, whom her sister Muriel eventually married.
Bray was born in Brentford, Middlesex, and educated at Brighton College before going to Oxford in 1944, where he combined his military training with general sciences.
He first met Margaret Hilda Roberts, as she was then known, through the Oxford University Conservative Association some time in the autumn of 1944 and the two began a friendship. Moore discovered the relationship through letters written by Roberts to her sister between 1940 and the early 1950s. Bray thought Mrs Thatcher a good conversationalist and was struck by her enthusiasm for politics which, at the time, was unusual for women.
They became close and the letters reveal her deepening feelings for Bray. In one letter, she talks about a dance they had attended together. "We had a marvellous time," she writes. "Tony hired a car and we drove out to Abingdon to the country Inn Crown and Thistle. I managed to borrow a glorious royal blue velvet cloak. I looked simply smashing. I felt absolutely on top of the world as we walked through the lounge at the Crown and Thistle and everyone looked up and stared."
As the relationship developed, Bray was invited up to meet her parents Alfred and Beatrice, but the meeting was not a success. Bray found the atmosphere austere and it probably contributed to the cooling of the relationship. Shortly afterwards, Bray's time at Oxford ended and he began his full military training in Dorset. For a time, they wrote to each other but Bray's replies petered out.
Mrs Thatcher appears to have been upset by the situation and wrote to Bray's mother about it (Muriel believed he had ended the relationship because he was snobbish and looked down on his girlfriend's background), but Bray and Mrs Thatcher did begin seeing each other again in 1948, by which point Mrs Thatcher had left Oxford and was working at BX Plastics in Essex. They had several more dates before the relationship ended for good in 1949.
The pair met again in the 1970s after Bray had success as a stockbroker. He had also become involved in the study of housing policy and had the idea that council tenants should be allowed to buy their homes. He approached the Conservative Party with the idea and the then leader Edward Heath put him back in touch with Mrs Thatcher, who was the party's spokesman on the environment. She was receptive to the idea but Bray observed that she was a changed woman. "She was more the grande dame," he said, "aware of her own presence, a little bit condescending." His conversations with Charles Moore were the first time he had publicly spoken about that time.
Bray married Valerie Randall, who died in 2006, and had four daughters, who survive him.