Thatcher laid to rest in very British funeral

2013-04-17 15:21

London – Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Iron Lady, has been laid to rest with a level of pomp and protest reflecting her status as a commanding, polarising political figure.

Queen Elizabeth II, prime ministers and dignitaries from 170 countries were among the mourners at St Paul’s Cathedral today, where Bishop of London Richard Chartres spoke of the strong feelings the former prime minister still evokes 23 years after leaving office.

“The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an -ism,” he said. “Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service.

“There is an important place for debating policies and legacy ... but here and today is neither the time nor the place.”

More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route taken by Thatcher’s coffin to the cathedral and about 4 000 police officers were on duty. Security was stepped up after Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170.

Spectators lining the route broke into applause – and scattered “boos” – as the carriage passed by, escorted by young soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Some clearly disagreed with the bishop’s exhortation to leave politics at home. Some staged silent protests by turning their backs on Thatcher’s coffin. One man held a banner declaring “Rest in shame”. Arguments also broke out in the crowd along the route between Thatcher supporters and opponents.

Guests inside the cathedral included Thatcher’s political colleagues and rivals and her successors as prime minister – John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former vice-president Dick Cheney were among the American dignitaries, while figures from Thatcher’s era included FW de Klerk, the last apartheid-era leader of South Africa; former Polish president Lech Walesa; ex-Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and entertainers including “Dynasty” star Joan Collins, singer Shirley Bassey and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The ceremony was traditional, dignified and very British. Mourners entered to music by British composers including Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the service featured hymns and readings chosen by Thatcher, who grew up as a grocer’s daughter in a hard-working Methodist household.

There was a passage from T.S. Eliot, a section of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem and the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country – also played at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana.

The late leader’s 19-year-old granddaughter Amanda Thatcher read a passage from Ephesians: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”

It was a classic Thatcher image, capturing what people loved and loathed about a leader full of strength and certainty.

The dean of St Paul’s, David Ison, recalled “her courage, her steadfastness and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good”.

Afterwards, a crowd gathered outside cheered and applauded as the coffin was carried out to the half-muffled peal of the cathedral bells. Thatcher will be cremated, in keeping with her wishes.

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