Thatcher funeral: Last hustings calm before the storm

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's coffin is carried into St Paul's. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's coffin is carried into St Paul's. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IN LIFE, Margaret Thatcher cast herself as Britannia, with a handbag instead of a shield; in death she was St George, the patron saint of England.

The funeral of Britain’s first female prime minister saw her figuratively wrapped in a shroud of white and red, serenaded by Elgar’s Nimrod and comforted by the words of TS Eliot: “History is now and England.” In the stillness of St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday morning, it was if the other colour of the Union flag had simply faded away.

Winston Churchill, the last prime minister whose funeral warranted the attendance of the Queen, said history would be kind to him, “for I intend to write it”. Baroness Thatcher, in her choice of hymns and readings, sought to bury herself deeper into the history books as a valiant warrior for freedom.

In the end, the spectre of confrontation raised by her critics amounted to a smattering of demonstrators who turned their backs on the cortège, but they were outnumbered by thousands who lined the streets to cheer the former prime minister on her last hustings, a woman whose departure brought tears to the eyes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

The final journey of Lady Thatcher began as a hearse drove from the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft at Westminster, past 10 Downing Street, where she had resided for almost 11 years, and then on to the Strand, where it stopped at St Clement Danes, the church of the RAF.

The coffin was carried by a team of pallbearers on to a gun carriage drawn by six black horses from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, as a drum, muffled by black cloth, was solemnly beaten eight times. The gun-carriage, draped in the Union flag, then set off at a steady pace along Fleet Street, under the watchful eye of 320 soldiers, sailors and airmen, each with a black mourning band, standing exactly nine paces apart. Each minute of the procession, a gun salute sounded from Tower Wharf at the Tower of London. Boom. Boom. Boom: 19 times. Like a reluctant metronome hastening journey’s end.

When the gun carriage reached the west steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, it was greeted by a guard of honour of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and 14 Chelsea Pensioners, their red coats a vibrant accent against the khaki, grey and black.

Prior to the start of the service, the pews resembled a politicians’ convention. Alex Salmond, who arrived in a blue mac, chatted amicably to Boris Johnson, while Cherie Blair leaned over to kiss Gordon Brown.

Among the 2,300 guests were 32 ministers and members of the Cabinet, 30 from Lady Thatcher’s Cabinet, and representatives from 170 countries.

AT 10:35AM, Carol Thatcher, clad in black, was led to the front pew, followed a few minutes later by her brother, Sir Mark. At 10:40am the Queen, in black dress, coat and hat, arrived with Prince Philip. As the Queen walked past Sir Mark, he bowed his head slightly.

In the silence of the cathedral could be heard the drill sergeant’s cries as the coffin drew nearer. When the bells tolled 11 o’clock, everyone rose.

Lady Thatcher’s grandchildren, Michael and Amanda, carried cushions bearing their grandmother’s insignia of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit, entering ahead of the coffin. Carrying the coffin into the church were representatives of those armed services who shouldered the dangers of retaking the Falkland Islands. The coffin was gently set down on a plinth surrounded by six large candles. Outside Westminster there was silence, as Big Ben’s chimes were stilled.

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Rev David Ison, delivered the bidding: “We come to this cathedral today to remember before God Margaret Hilda Thatcher, to give thanks for her life and work and to commend her into God’s hand.

“We recall with great gratitude her leadership of this nation, her courage, her steadfastness, and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good.”

Amanda Thatcher, 19, gave the first reading, from Ephesians 6:10-18, with its nodding allusion to her grandmother’s image as the Iron Lady: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

IT WAS left to Richard Chartres, the bishop of London to give the principal address. He began by saying: “After a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ism. Today, the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”

Afterwards, the congregation rose to sing Love Divine, all loves excelling and then, after prayers in which it was announced that: “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery”, I Vow To Thee, My Country. Both the Queen and Prince Philip could be seen singing along.

The pallbearers from the armed services then eased the coffin off the plinth and up on to their shoulders, so that with each of their steps Margaret Thatcher moved further from the present and on to the pages of history.

Yet what was absent from her funeral was what defined her: politics. The pressure of people’s violently opposed opinions have formed her new role in history: to fans she was a peerless diamond; critics can only agree that she was certainly as hard. Yesterday in St Paul’s the absence of political rhetoric and the addition of religious verse gave the impression we were witnessing the theatre of canonisation. She was to become England incarnate. To quote Eliot again: “History is now and England.”

The coffin was carried out of the cathedral accompanied by her family and on to its final rest. Lady Thatcher’s coffin was taken for a private service, attended by immediate family, at Mortlake Crematorium. The ashes are set to be taken to Chelsea Hospital.

The final note should perhaps go the Queen. From the view from the choir loft, I could see her bend down and pick up her handbag. Margaret Thatcher may be gone, but the emblem of a strong and powerful woman remains.

Key role for grandchild

Baroness Thatcher’s teenage granddaughter Amanda was thrust into the spotlight yesterday, with a key role in the funeral.

The 19-year-old daughter of Sir Mark Thatcher appeared self-assured as she gave the first reading, from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which says: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in The Lord, and in the power of his might.”

Amanda and her brother Michael flew to the UK at the weekend from Dallas, Texas, where they live with their mother, Diane Beckett.

‘We are all Thatcherites now’ – PM

DAVID Cameron said “we are all Thatcherites now” yesterday, as he claimed his predecessor had created a “new consensus” on the way the country should be run.

In a series of highly political interviews prior to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, the Prime Minister tackled claims she was divisive, saying that by winning the big arguments in her time in office, she had created a new

compact in society.

“Some of those big arguments that she had, everyone now accepts. Nobody wants to go back to trade unions that are undemocratic or one-sided nuclear disarmament or having private-sector businesses in the public sector.”

He told BBC Radio 4: “In a way we are all Thatcherites now. It is inevitable some people take a different view, but the point about division is important, because she was a bold politician who recognised consensus was failing… she created a new consensus.”

In reply, Stewart Wood, chief strategist to Labour leader Ed Miliband, tweeted: “No we’re not.” Socialist commentator Owen Jones added: “Speak for yourself, mate.”