Former British PM Edward Heath dies at the age of 89

EDWARD HEATH, the British Prime Minister who took Britain into Europe, died last night. He was 89.

Margaret Thatcher, the long-term adversary who ousted him as Tory leader, hailed him as a "political giant" and "the first modern Conservative leader."

The queen, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and

Tory leader Michael Howard also paid tribute to Edward Heath, who occupied 10 Downing Street from 1970 to 1974.

The veteran politician suffered a pulmonary embolism while holidaying in Australia two years ago and never seemed to recover fully.

He was well enough to celebrate his birthday with a party only last week but had "recently become considerably weaker", a spokesperson said.

Mr Heath, who spent more than half a century in the Commons, had been "resting quietly" at the home which he loved in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in south-west England, when he died at 7.30pm.

Although in Downing Street for less than four years, his legacy is assured as the Prime Minister who persuaded Britain to join the European Economic Community.

He will be equally remembered for his long feud with Ms Thatcher, who defeated him in a Tory leadership contest.

His reaction was memorably described as the "longest sulk in history."

Friends say his feelings towards her mellowed after she, too, left Downing Street and there were warm words from her tonight.

"Ted Heath was a political giant," Ms Thatcher said.

"He was also, in every sense, the first modern Conservative leader by his humble background, his grammar school education and by the fact of his democratic election.

"For that, and much else besides, we are all in his debt," Lady Thatcher said.

The son of a housemaid and a carpenter, Mr Heath became the Tories'first working class prime minister in 1970.

In 1974, Mr Heath called an election asking "who governs Britain?" and did not get the answer he had hoped for.

Mr Heath entered Parliament as an MP in February 1950 and only stood down at the 2001 election, 11 years after becoming Father of the House, the longest continually serving MP.

A bachelor his chief loves were music and sailing, in which he competed at international level, captaining Britain's winning Admiral Cup team as PM in 1971.

His affection for his Salisbury home, with its view of the city's cathedral from the living room window, was also well known.

Robert Key, the local MP, said: "It is a sad evening for England because Ted was a great Englishman."

The funeral will be held at Salisbury Cathedral, which he could see from his living room, at 2.30pm on Monday July 28, "no ticket required", his spokesperson said.

A service of thanksgiving will be held in London later in the year.

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