Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher memorialized

Fans outnumber protesters outside St. Paul's Cathedral

4/17/2013
BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A Union flag draped coffin bearing the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is carried on a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery during her ceremonial funeral procession in London, Wednesday.
A Union flag draped coffin bearing the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is carried on a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery during her ceremonial funeral procession in London, Wednesday.

LONDON — The fans far outnumbered the protesters outside of the cathedral today where former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s so-called Iron Lady, was memorialized during her funeral.

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

However, he said her funeral was “neither the time nor the place” for debating politics. Supporters of Mrs. Thatcher, who came to pay their respects outside the church, agreed.

“My first vote was for her in 1979 and I voted for her every other time after that,” said Charles Bingham, 52, a retired banker who has lived on and off in London his entire life. “I was sad when I heard she had died, but I was much more upset when she resigned from office.”

More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route taken by the 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.

RELATED ARTICLE: Thatcher's last rites under tight security ahead of funeral

PHOTO GALLERY: Services for Margaret Thatcher

Spectators lining the route broke into applause — and scattered boos — as the carriage passed by, escorted by young soldiers, sailors and airmen. Arguments also broke out in the crowd along the route between supporters and opponents.

The debates continued outside the church several hours after the end of the ceremony. One counter-protestor, John Alvey, 70, held a large banner that included a photo of Mrs. Thatcher and the message “You gave millions of us hope, freedom and ambition. Thank you. RIP Baroness Thatcher.”

“She put the Great back into Britain,” said Mr. Alvey, a Tory (conservative) and former councilman in Shropshire, and former mayor of Wellington (a city within the county of Shropshire) near the Welsh border.

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

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, were among the American dignitaries who attended. Figures from Mrs. Thatcher’s era included F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era leader of South Africa; former Polish President Lech Walesa and ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Entertainers, including “Dynasty” star Joan Collins, singer Shirley Bassey and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, also were in attendance.

A supporter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher holds up a sign thanking her for her service to the United Kingdom.
A supporter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher holds up a sign thanking her for her service to the United Kingdom.

The service featured hymns and readings chosen by Mrs. Thatcher, who grew up as a grocer’s daughter in a hard-working Methodist household, as well as by her family.

It included the congregation singing the patriotic hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” which was also played at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana.

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

Before the service, the coffin was driven from the Houses of Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes, about half a mile from the cathedral, for prayers.

From there the coffin — draped in a Union flag and topped with white roses and a note from her children reading “Beloved mother, always in our hearts” — was borne on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses from the Royal Horse Artillery to the cathedral.

The woman nicknamed the Iron Lady transformed Britain during her 11-year tenure from 1979 to 1990, privatizing state industries, deregulating the economy, and causing upheaval - the impact of which is still felt. She died on April 8 at age 87.

Mrs. Thatcher was given a ceremonial funeral with military honors — not officially a state funeral, which requires a vote in Parliament — but proceedings that featured the same level of pomp and honor afforded Princess Diana in 1997 and the Queen Mother Elizabeth in 2002.

An honor guard of soldiers in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats saluted the coffin as it approached the cathedral, while red-coated veterans known as Chelsea Pensioners stood at attention on the steps.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the ceremony was “a fitting tribute to a great prime minister respected around the world.”

Some high-profile guests did not attend, including former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan — whose husband Ronald had a close relationship with Thatcher — and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Both are in declining health and Mrs. Reagan sent a representative in her place.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Tanya Irwin at tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.