The funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, and the one and only woman to have held the job, has made her exit in full splendour, honoured by a send-off that was only one step down from a state funeral.
Civilian pall-bearers first carried the casket from the chapel in Westminster Palace to the hearse. The body of the world-famous Iron Lady was then taken in polished ceremony to one of London’s foremost landmarks, where the farewell services of national heroes Nelson, Wellington and Churchill were conducted.
Guests at St Paul’s Cathedral included eleven prime ministers among the 2,000 mourners paying their last respects at the foot of the Union flag.
Thatcher’s quotable quotes
- “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.” – as Education Secretary in 1973, six years before becoming Britain’s first, and so far only, woman prime minister
- “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” – Quoting St Francis of Assisi after her 1979 election victory
- “I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.” – 1979
- “I don’t mind how much my ministers talk, as long as they do what I say.” – 1980
- “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.” – On the 1984-85 miners’ strike which provoked some of the fiercest union opposition to her economic policies
- “We are not asking for a penny piece of community money for Britain. What we are asking is for a very large amount of our own money back, over and above what we contribute to the community, which is covered by our receipts from the community.”- At a European Economic Community summit 1979
- “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.” – 1980 Conservative Party conference, to colleagues urging her to soften her economic policies that were blamed for high unemployment
- “This is a day I was not meant to see.” – To reporters the day after surviving a deadly 1984 Irish Republican Army bomb attack on the Conservative Party conference
- “We have become a grandmother.” – On the birth of her first grandchild, 1989
- “No! No! No!” At the House of Commons in 1990, the climax of an anti-European outburst that moved Geoffrey Howe to quit as deputy prime minister and deliver a resignation speech which called for her to be challenged for her job
- “I fight on, I fight to win.” – In November 1990, after failing to win enough votes to avoid a second round in the Conservative leadership contest. She resigned the next day
- “It’s a funny old world” – On her decision to quit in 1990
The coffin was driven to St Clement Danes for a short service. Eight members of the armed forces then took the coffin back out and onto a gun carriage, which was accompanied by honour guards from units which saw action in the Falklands War.
The Royal Marines Portsmouth band played Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin.
The procession marched at 70 paces per minute from Westminster, which has been the seat of the government for almost a thousand years, to “The City” (London’s business district), which can be said to have benefited in no small part from Thatcher’s 1986 removal of many restrictions.
Thatcher’s immediate successor, Conservative John Major, and Tony Blair, who ousted him as Prime Minister as the head of New Labour, were on neutral ground in St Paul’s, with today’s leader, the Tory, David Cameron.
The Lord Mayor ushered in Her Majesty, the Mourning Sword held high. Queen Elizabeth II has not attended a former Prime Minister’s funeral since Sir Winston Churchill’s, in 1965.
The Queen is around six months younger than Thatcher was when she died of a stroke ten days ago at the Ritz Hotel, aged 87.
The coffin was carried in through the cathedral’s western entrance. Thatcher’s grandchildren Amanda and Michael walked in front of it.
Music included British composers Elgar, Purcell and Vaughan Williams.
Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, helped put things into perspective: “After the storm of 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. But today, the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us.”
A private cremation ceremony was held later.