Low public turnout at a low-key service for Princess Margaret

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The Independent Online

A lone piper played the lament, The Desperate Struggle of the Bird, as the coffin of Princess Margaret was carried out of Windsor Castle into the sunshine yesterday at the conclusion of one of the most low-key funerals for an immediate member of the Royal Family.

The Royal Household had wanted a private funeral but those who care about these things would have been worried about just how few people had turned up at all. The police claimed there were about 3,500 in the crowd but even half that figure would have seemed an exaggeration. There was barely any need to close Windsor's High Street apart from for just a few minutes after the ceremony.

There were obvious comparisons to the masses who had thronged for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the prolonged outpouring of seemingly cathartic grief that followed her sudden death. Yesterday, shoppers continued shopping and drinkers in pubs watched sports on television as the funeral cortège went by on its eight-mile journey to Slough crematorium.

There were no overt signs of public sadness but a few glimpses of private grief. Lady Sarah Chatto, Margaret's daughter, looked red-eyed and devastated during the service at St George's Chapel. Afterwards she tottered on the steps and the Queen steadied her, before wiping a tear of her own away.

The Queen had not, however, been to see her ailing sister for a month, during which time Margaret had suffered a stroke. "That is because she has been too busy with state business. They are not like ordinary people," said Ellen Ferguson, 57, who was trying to persuade her daughter, Kathy, to join other watchers outside the castle.

"Too right, that's the reason they won't stay in their jobs for much longer," said her daughter, dragging her away.

There had been uncertainty about whether the Queen Mother, who is 101 years old and ill, would be able to attend the service. She arrived at 2.58pm, two minutes before it was due to begin, in a people-carrier and was taken in a wheelchair through the north door of the chapel. The service was delayed by five minutes, as protocol says that the Queen should be the last to sit down.

Lady Sarah had chosen the final lament for her mother, a little-known and haunting tune played by Pipe Major Neil Hall of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, of whom Margaret was the Colonel-in-Chief. It was, claimed some of her friends, a reminder that her mother's natural free spirit had been suffocated by the tradition and conservatism of the Palace.

Among the 400 mourners were Margaret's former husband, Lord Snowdon, and her former lover Roddy Llewellyn, whose wife, Tanya, was seen crying openly.

Altogether, 37 members of the Royal Family were present. The only ones not there were the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, who were away skiing with their mother, the Duchess of York, and Princess Alice, who was too frail for the journey. Friends and acquaintances of Margaret present included many from the world of showbusiness including Dame Judi Dench, Felicity Kendall, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine, Bryan Forbes and Nanette Newman.