London - Since the ruling Conservatives appointed Theresa May as British prime minister in July 2016, she has presented herself as a no-nonsense guardian of the "will of the people," who voted for Brexit by a majority of 52 per cent.
May gave formal support to David Cameron's battle to keep Britain in the European Union, but she largely waited in the wings until Cameron fell on his sword after voters failed to back him in the June referendum.
The Guardian has called May an "inscrutable" and "sober-minded" politician, perhaps impressed by her sometimes stern demeanor and her reputation as a strict upholder of law and order.
Her strength of character is epitomized for many by a speech she gave in 2014 to a hostile, male-dominated audience of Police Federation members.
Start of her career at the Bank of England
May said that the police's working culture had to change, citing officers who – while investigating a woman's report of domestic violence – "accidentally recorded themselves calling the victim a 'slag' and a 'bitch.'"
"It is the same attitude expressed when young black men ask the police why they are being stopped and searched and are told it is 'just routine,'" May said, adding that such an attitude "betrays contempt for the public these officers are supposed to serve."
The Oxford-educated former home secretary started her career at the Bank of England and entered politics by volunteering for her local Conservative Association.
The daughter of a Church of England vicar, she has been married since 1980 and has no children.
May was elected to parliament to represent the southern English constituency of Maidenhead in 1997 and still lives in the area, according to her official biography.
She first joined the Conservatives' shadow cabinet in 1999, rising to a top ministerial post in a Cameron-led coalition government following a general election in 2010.
Speculate about a more calculating side
May said that, as home secretary, she led the government's work to "free up the police to fight crime more effectively, secure the borders and reduce immigration, and protect the UK from terrorism."
But she has been criticized for failing to keep her government's promise to reduce Britain's annual net migration to below 100,000 – an issue she is expected to address in her manifesto for a general election on June 8.
May's lack of engagement in the debate ahead of the Brexit referendum has also led some observers to speculate about a more calculating side to her character.
When she announced her Conservative leadership candidacy on June 30 last year, one week after the Brexit referendum, May played her cards close to her chest, telling reporters she was "not a showy politician."
"I don't tour the television studios. I don't gossip about people over lunch. I don't go drinking in parliament's bars," May said.
"I don't often wear my heart on my sleeve – I just get on with the job in front of me," she added.
By Bill Smith