Lady Olga Maitland seems almost a Monty Python caricature of an upper-class Brit: the veddy veddy proper voice heavily accented with italics, the slightly patronizing smile that freezes for a second or two when used as a punctuation mark of sorts. Her biography states that Maitland's speaking engagements include "ladies' lunches and Rotary Clubs" and she seems fittingly attired for them in a silk dress designed by Lady Tryon, described by Maitland as not only her friend but a "friend of Prince Charles." The single strand of pearls is as much in place as her conventionally coifed dark brown hair.
But when in the United States Lady Olga spends frazzling days, not with the garden club, but with the likes of Defense Secretary Weinberger and High Frontier guru Daniel O. Graham, retired Army lieutenant general. She's chatted it up with Reagan's senior arms control adviser Paul Nitze and Sen. John Warner about the North Atlantic Treaty alliance. She has sung Star Wars praises with Strategic Defense Initiative head Lt. Gen. James A. Abramson. At cocktail time she gets heavy hugs from former senator John Tower at a party in her honor at the Watergate. He calls her a "very brave friend" and a "radical street fighter." He says the English are perhaps too reserved to fully understand Maitland. "She'd go over better in America."
Lady Olga Maitland is considered a fool by antinukers but a darling by conservatives, a single-handed and single-minded countermovement to such British antinuclear campaigners as the women who camp outside Greenham Common to protest the deployment of America's cruise missiles.
Three years ago she started Women and Families for Defense and marched into the fray, battling the Labor Party and the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). She has been pelted by snowballs, doused with a pitcher of water in midspeech, ridiculed as the society matron who passionately regards the cruise missile as man's best friend. British TV satire shows "do tend to make me out this incredible hawk who loves war," she says with resignation. "They called my organization Mummies for Miss-EYE-les!" While spending countless hours decrying unilateral disarmament, Maitland also finds time to pen a gossip column for the Sunday Express, which caused Private Eye to immortalize her as the Fragrant Hackette.
"I don't mind that," says Lady Olga gaily. "They used to call me the 92-year-old toad. Oh it's just fun," says the 4l-year-old causeist."I reserve my battle for main issues, not that kind of nonsense."
Last week in London she was picketing Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze with some Afghan freedom fighters. And calling on Archbishop Luigi Barbarito, the Vatican's apostolic delegate, in an effort to win a pronuclear audience with the pope.
She was in Washington recently on her third trip to America -- "what I call my state visit" -- to tell this administration it has to provide her with down-to-earth material in order for her to pitch the importance of NATO and cruise missiles to England's "man on the street," whom she consistently characterizes as "ignorant and confused."
"We have an enormous challenge and a vital election back home within the next 18 months in the face of an enormous antinuclear movement. Mrs. Thatcher is lagging in the polls, the Labor Party has taken the stand that within a month of being elected, America must withdraw all its cruise missiles, all its F111s, facilities for the Poseidon submarines. And the British public have no idea what is at stake!"
Maitland would seem to favor defection rather than life under the Labor Party, which she sees as a possibility if organizations like hers -- "desperately strapped for money" -- don't get the cooperation and support of the United States. She is currently apoplectic over Labor Party deputy leader Denis Healey'svisit to the Soviet Union, where Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev revived a Chernenko proposal guaranteeing never to use nuclear weapons against Great Britain if the government "removed nuclear weapons from its territory."
At the mention of this, Maitland, who has been talking nonstop, rolls her eyes in disgust. "Welllll! I would not put my trust in Denis Healey. Going over to Moscow, rollllllling on his tummy like a great big puppy and having it tickled by Gorbachev, and to go back to Britain waving a piece of paper saying 'We will not attack Britain' -- what naivete'!"
Just as the British public is "ignorant and confused," her antinuclear opponents, who seem to Maitland to have bafflingly popular support, are dismissed as "naive." "We have the curious scenario of the Anglican church going quite over the top and promoting liberation and peace theology. Marxist pacifist really! And the head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Hume, too, has found it very difficult to condemn a pacifist position." Churches are "indeed running a very noisy nuclear freeze campaign." One such major British leader, Bruce Kent, whom she has debated, is a "naive fool. Terribly sweet, just totally misguided.
"They've got it in their minds the idea that a nuclear weapon has an animation of its own. Nuclear weapons, like a gun, are in the hands of the people who control them. Supposing Europe one-sidedly disarms, which I think is a real possibility. I think the Russians will look at Europe as a rich industrial prize and they will frankly Finlandize us." Nuclear weapons are vital, she says. "We have to be certain that we deter absolutely." Any unilateral measures to control the arms race are "absolutely naive."
"I like Olga," says a British friend of hers in a telephone interview, "but she is immensely naive. She doesn't get to the grips of serious questions; it's all a superficial froth. There's not a devious bone in her body but she's made herself into a somewhat ludicrous figure. It's as if she's playing a part. She's simply hopelessly naive about politics.
"When she embarked on this particular exercise she knew nothing about defense. I recall asking her where the women were coming from who would support her cause. Her answer was 'Oh my dear, the thing has just mushroomed.' " When her friend suggested that, where nuclear issues were concerned, "mushroomed" might not be the best choice of words, Maitland asked, "Why not?"
Friends and acquaintances feel that Maitland started riding the defense wave in hopes of becoming a conservative candidate for Parliament. Maitland makes no bones that she is lobbying heavily for such a seat ("I feel I've got a role to play"). But observers in England feel she has become too much of an embarrassment to the Conservative Party, with her public demonstrations and shoot-from-the-lip comments, to be selected to run.
*A friend recalls how Maitland moved into the defense battle in 1983 by writing an article about the women at Greenham Common for a conservative magazine "to impress the Conservative Party at a weekend training course for putative candidates."
Shortly after that, she started her Women and Families for Defense (since having dropped Women). She says she has no money, has only one paid employe but a "nationwide force of enthusiastic volunteers." Friends in England marvel at her "extraordinary access" to the Reagan administration.
"Did she actually see Weinberger?" says one with a chuckle. "Amazing. That's what makes me laugh and think 'good old Olga.' She does get out there and get right in it." Maitland paid her own way to the Geneva summit, and when no one from the administration would say anything to the press, found her way to the TV cameras and reporters and was widely quoted as saying that then U.S. National Security adviser Robert MacFarlane had told her this was not the time to say anything public.
"Middle-aged conservative men think she's wonderful," continues her friend. "Retired naval officers and admirals drool at the sight of this attractive and charming woman espousing neanderthal views."
The slim and driven Maitland relaxes for half an hour in her nonstop schedule. A smile crosses her face as she recalls her encounter in 1983 with the Grenham women, whom she has referred to as "the woolly-hatted, be-jeaned, gay ladies."
"It was miserable and cold and my moon boots melted in their campfire. They're made of that terrible plastic and I didn't realize they were melting away as I huddled over their campfire. They actually gave me one of their blankets. I actually looked like one of them." They were motivated by "fear" based on "ignorance," says Maitland.
As she became an opposition voice, Maitland received not only derision but physical abuse. One woman poured a pitcher of water over her head. At one CND conference "about 400 people were mobbing me up, tearing badges off my clothes. I had a dreadful time extricating myself from the building. These events always shake me. I left in a state of shock for three days after being mobbed at a Labor Party convention. The miners just took one look at me . . . "
The voice, the clothes, the hair, the faint air of noblesse oblige, did such class distinctions do it? Maitland says, "It's a confused cocktail as to why they object to me. But basically the issue is my stand on defense."
Maitland, married to a barrister, is the daughter of a former conservative MP who was also a London Times war correspondent during World War II. Maitland's mother is Yugoslavian, "hence my first name," and her parents were studying at Oxford when they met. Her father is "the Earl of Lauderdale, the 17th in fact, but he doesn't happen to live in a castle himself as some of our relations do."
She lives in Islington -- "not an overly smart area" -- with her husband and three children, Alistair, l3, Camilla, ll, and Fergus, 5. Her children have made sacrifices for her cause ("I have no private life"), but she says they weather it well. "Fergus is in danger of becoming more famous than myself. He's extraordinarily noisy and and disruptive. He comes with me sometimes."
Despite the weekday nanny and her two homes (a farm in Norfolk as well as the home in London), Maitland feels her life is far simpler than those of friends in America.
Despite the fact that we don't have any hugely rich people, unlike America we don't have any grovelingly poor people either." What about such posh sections of London as Belgravia? "They're all foreigners. A lot of Arabs. Quite a number of Americans."
Maitland has had "long talks" with Thatcher about the educational system in England, one which frankly appalls her. Thatcher is a "real leader; it will be a great loss if she's defeated. She's very supportive of Maitland's views on education . They're teaching children to be terrified in a nuclear war without showing that nuclear weapons have actually played a role in deterring a war. Teaching them anti-Americanism and antipatriotism. They're trying to suggest Britain is now a kind of worthless nation just riddled with unemployment. But we go in for redundancy buying out jobs , which is very generous. If people choose to reject it then all they have to live off is the dole."
But aren't people like unemployed coal miners among the poor? "Well! Had the coal miners accepted the very generous redundancy terms there was no reason for them to be in any way stretched."
Maitland leaves the impression she could go on and on about any number of topics, but it is off to her cocktail party in the Watergate apartment of friends Carl and Nancy Shipley.
"We met in England through friends who heard my husband just might be known to have conservative tendencies," says Shipley's wife, Nancy. Shipley, a prominent Washington attorney, is a former District of Columbia Republican chairman.
The room is filling up with politicians and activists who favor Star Wars and President Reagan's views on defense.
Nancy Shipley looks over at the smiling and animated Lady Olga, who seems to be charming a white-haired retired general into oblivion.
"Isn't she just a dear?"