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UK Politics

Margaret Thatcher funeral: Mourners outside St Paul's Cathedral pay respects to 'inspiring' woman

Devotees of the Iron Lady arrive early to watch funeral procession of leader who was 'simply the greatest'

The first thought in Margaret Kittle's mind after she learnt of the death of her namesake and former British prime minister was to buy a plane ticket.

Despite living some 4,000 miles from London in rural Canada, the 79-year-old grandmother of ten had made a vow to attend Baroness Thatcher's funeral, a woman she considers to be "just simply the greatest".

Resplendent in an overcoat in the hue of deep royal blue once favoured by her heroine, Mrs Kittle had taken her place behind barriers outside St Paul's Cathedral by 8am on Tuesday and was stood proudly at her station in front of a red telephone box at dawn this morning.

A veteran Thatcher watcher who stood outside Conservative Party headquarters to cheer Lady Thatcher's election victory in 1979, she said: "I felt I had to be here. She was a magnificent woman and I knew in 1979 she would do great things. I don't understand how people thought she was cruel. To me she was a woman with whom you'd want to be friends. She changed the world. I thought it was right to pay my respects."

As the hearse conveying Lady Thatcher's remains passed Downing Street a minute after a silenced Big Ben would have struck ten, other devotees of the Iron Lady in the noticeably sparse crowd provided a low ripple of applause.

John Martin, 64, a businessman from Chertsey, Surrey, was among those putting his hands together. He said: "I started my adult life as a Labour supporter but Maggie changed my mind. She had an aura about her that was inspiring. I'm not sure I agreed with everything she did but you cannot argue with her personality and her leadership. Like Churchill, she symbolised a Britishness. I applauded her for that as much as anything."

Shortly before the hearse approached, civil servants and Downing Street staff left their desks to watch Lady Thatcher pass her one time home and seat of power. Some joined in the applause. Another worker, who later disappeared into the Cabinet Office, held up a sign saying: "Churchill united. Thatcher divided."

In what was perhaps a symbol of the globalised nation that the former premier to some extent began, the first protest to greet her funeral was nothing to do with her profound yet divisive legacy. Instead, it was a gathering of British Sikhs demonstrating against the Indian government.

Grieving disciples of Thatcherism were nonetheless low in number among the throng of curious office workers and tourists.

A grim-faced knot of individuals at the top of Whitehall, their faces pale after what looked like an all-night vigil, turned out to be queuing for last-minute tickets to a production of Macbeth.

Joyce McClaren, 72, who had travelled from Coventry, said: "I loved her. But she divided people. I don't see too many people here crying."

As the gun carriage made its way past Ludgate Circus within sight of St Paul's, the shouts of protesters were largely drowned out by the pomp of the military band and applause from the seven-deep crowd.

Among them were fans of Lady Thatcher too young to have lived under her government. Archie Cadogan, 19, sporting an outsized blue rosette, said: "My father told me all about her and I've studied her at school. Everything I've learned makes me think she'd be a better prime minister than Mr Cameron. It's a historic day."

Closer to St Paul's a man who would only give his name as "John" was looking for buyers of copies of Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning The Iron Lady, albeit with a suspiciously photocopied cover, insisted he represented the former prime minister's legacy.

He said: "She said we should get in our bikes and make a few quid. So here I am."