Nigel Lawson was the first politician I encountered in person. He had just won his seat in Blaby in the general election of 1974. He came to talk to our school about what it was like to be a new MP.

He made a favourable impression although I can’t remember much of what he said, and I don’t think I asked a question. The school was close to parliament, he was an old boy, and he sent his children there – I was still impressed that he managed to find the time. An ambitious career politician would not have bothered.

His choice of topic was practical rather than self-aggrandising. This was before the Thatcher revolution in the Tory party and there was no propagandising. In his pomp Lawson was often accused of arrogance and not tolerating fools but he spoke to us directly and without condescension. If anything, there was a twinkle of mischief about him. He seemed mildly amused by all he was involved with.

This temperament remained in place throughout his parliamentary career. For all his achievements, his was a restless intelligence. For him politics was never the whole game. He did not seek out political friends and allies and had no interest in becoming prime minister.

Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister he served as a minister, was the epitome of a conviction politician. She became convinced of Lawson’s talents, once declaring he was “brilliant” five times in a single answer. She admitted that she “shared Nigel’s high opinion of himself” but she also described the former journalist as “a gambler”.

After Margaret Thatcher herself, Nigel Lawson was probably the most consequential minister of “Thatcherism”. He is even credited with coining that term. He served in her government for ten of its eleven years, six of them as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His brutal resignation in 1989 was widely seen as the beginning of the end of her premiership, which came a year later. Even after he quit, Mrs Thatcher insisted that he was “unassailable”.

Lawson was the architect and constructor of many of the key policies which defined Thatcherism and which continue to mesmerise the Conservatives, and much of their opposition, to this day: low direct taxes, privatisation, low inflation controlled by low spending and interest rates, and the “Big Bang” deregulation of financial services.

Before he took over at the Treasury, he had already chalked up two achievements which would guarantee him a prominent place by themselves in the political history books of post-war Britain.

He instigated the lifting of exchange rate controls which allowed Britons to take only £50 with them when they went abroad. There were no electronic transfers available then.

He organised the build-up of coal stocks at power stations which enabled the Thatcher government to see out the 1984/85 miners’ strike. In his speeches the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill used to joke that the stockpiles were like his hair – plentiful around the edges but bald on top. It turned out that they were like Lawson’s thick dark thatch, of which he was always proud, and which he soon grew back after Mrs Thatcher ordered him to have a haircut.

When he came into parliament Lawson was 41, older than most first time MPs. He had substantial experience behind him both as a journalist and in politics.

He was one of that generation who had exceptionally interesting and “character-building” lives, including growing up through war time. He was awarded a first in PPE at Oxford and served two years National Service in the Navy, taking command of an appropriately named torpedo-boat HMS Gay Charger. Lawson failed to get into the diplomatic service or to become a Don. He turned instead to journalism.

Lawson worked for the Financial Times and the Sunday Telegraph. Then he became editor of The Spectator at the age of 38 in 1970, a post his son Dominic would also occupy 20 years later.

Meanwhile, he established himself in the Conservative Party. He was a speechwriter for prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. He stood unsuccessfully in 1970 against Labour’s Joan Lestor in Eton and Slough. He wrote some of the Conservative Manifesto for the 1974 General Election. Ted Heath lost but Lawson was elected an MP.

Journalism was an occupation of which Nigel was proud and with which he identified. Interviewing him, I once described him on air as a “distinguished economist”, or similar blandishment, he corrected me immediately: “I’m not, I’m a journalist”. He took some of his journalistic instincts with him into politics.

He was criticised for sounding bored while reading out his budget statements and party conference addresses. But the “tax cutting chancellor” always knew what headlines he was trying to generate. Unlike today’s ministers he was ready to argue for his policies at length. Each budget speech would be followed by an off the record lobby briefing, a news conference for specialist journalists the next day, and multiple media interviews.

He could be aggressive and was particularly provoked by Today on Radio 4. Brian Redhead demanded a minute’s silence after the Chancellor “dared to suggest” he knew how the presenter voted. Years later Ofcom rebuked the programme for “not sufficiently challenging” Lord Lawson’s attacks on the science of climate change.

I found Lawson good to interview. There was always some room for hinterland in our conversations. During a post-recording chat, I will always be grateful to him for almost ordering me to visit Ephesus on an upcoming holiday to Turkey.

Like Thatcher he enjoyed an intelligent argument. Famously they fell out over the poll tax and tying the pound to European currencies. Unlike the Iron Lady he could change his mind – a true journalist’s trait. Most famously in retirement the former advocate of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism became chairman of Vote Leave. He was probably the most widely respected figure to back that cause during the referendum campaign, though, typically, he was domiciled in la France profonde at the time.

Contemporaries who knew Nigel Lawson as a young man recall a dashing figure much sought after at fashionable parties and dances. The old newspaper pictures reprinted now of Lawson with his first wife, Vanessa Salmon, recapture some of that glamour. With his second wife, Therese, and second family, Tom and Emily, Nigel Lawson set the precedent, followed by the Blairs and Camerons, for bringing up young children in Downing Street.

He was always a dandy. He wrote the best-selling Nigel Lawson Diet Book, after shedding five stone. Long after Lawson left office, Norman Lamont was impressed when his fellow ex-chancellor turned up in a colourful smoking jacket singing Cole Porter and Noel Coward songs.

The last time I saw Nigel Lawson was at a party. It was dark, damp, and winter, so we helped Lawson, then well on the way to 90, to find a taxi. He was impressively dressed in what looked like an 18th-century coachman’s cloak/overcoat. Only the tricorn hat was missing. We had to ask. “Oh yes, I’ve always wanted one. I tried all the tailors in London and France and none of them could do it. In the end a Hollywood costumier made it for me.”

Nigel Lawson. Always his own man.

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at letters@reaction.life