Margaret Thatcher funeral: Political giants pay tribute to former prime minister at St Paul's Cathedral

 

A “who's who” of the political world past and present packed into St Paul's Cathedral for the ceremonial funeral of one of Britain's most divisive figures.

Baroness Thatcher's family was joined by more than 2,300 fellow mourners for the service, with guests ranging from royalty to political leaders and members of the showbiz world.

The Queen, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, was among the last to arrive at the ceremony - it is the first time the monarch has attended the funeral service of a former prime minister since Sir Winston Churchill's state ceremony in 1965.

The front row of the congregation was made up of Britain's prime ministers past and present, with David Cameron, joined by wife Samantha, sitting alongside his predecessors Tony Blair and John Major.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine were also invited, along with Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez, and Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.

Every member of the current Cabinet was in the congregation, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and chancellor George Osborne, who appeared to shed a tear during the 55-minute service.

Their predecessors from Lady Thatcher's tenure as premier were also at the packed cathedral, with more than 30 attendees from her Cabinets between 1979 and 1990.

They included Lord Heseltine, former Tory party chairman Lord Tebbit, and Lord Howe, thought by many to have played a significant role in Baroness Thatcher's downfall.

Tory grandee Ken Clarke, Baroness Warsi and Michael Portillo were also invited, as well as former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown.

But there were also some notable absences from Lady Thatcher's history - including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was too unwell to attend, and former US first lady Nancy Reagan.

More than 50 guests were associated with the Falklands, including veterans. Simon Weston, one of the most well-known Falklands veterans, was at the ceremony, and earlier this week called for it to be a dignified occasion.

Senior military figures at the service included Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Chief Of The Defence Staff General Sir David Richards, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and Chief Of The General Staff General Sir Peter Wall.

There were figures from the showbiz world at the occasion, including broadcasters Sir Terry Wogan and Jeremy Clarkson, Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins, composer Lord Lloyd-Webber.

Two heads of state, 11 serving prime ministers and 17 serving foreign ministers were due to attend, with 170 countries altogether represented by dignitaries such as members of Royal Families, politicians, and senior diplomats.

Among the foreign dignitaries were Kuwaiti prime minister Sheikh Jaber Mubark Al-Sabah, the son of the ruler of Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah, Italian prime minister Mario Monti, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lady Thatcher's children, Sir Mark and Carol, were accompanied by her grandchildren Amanda and Michael, who flew to the UK from their home in Dallas, Texas, for the ceremony.

Amanda, 19, gave one of two readings at the service, along with Mr Cameron.

Earlier this week, Sir Mark said his mother would have been "humbled" to know the Queen was to attend her funeral, saying she would be "greatly honoured as well as humbled by her presence".

At the end of the service Lady Thatcher's family followed her coffin out of St Paul's and stood in a row at the bottom of the steps to the cathedral as it was placed into a hearse.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh stood waiting at the entrance to St Paul's until the hearse drove away, before walking down the steps to speak to the family.

Former solicitor general Sir Edward Garnier said: "It was a quite extraordinarily affecting service which was very understated, very English.

"I think she would have been very pleased by how it went.

"Certainly the congregation sang lustily.

"I could see there were crowds all along the route from Westminster to here, I think that's a great tribute to her."

Tory backbencher Oliver Colvile said: "I thought it could be summed up in one word: Britannia.

"There was a real sense of here was a woman who helped us through some very difficult times and was certainly responsible for helping this country."

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said the day had gone off without a hitch and demonstrated again Britain's ability to rise to the big occasion.

He said: "I think this will increase the international respect for our country."

Broadcaster Andrew Neil said: "The most moving part of the service took place when the coffin came out and everybody inside could hear the cheers.

"It was then, when you looked around the congregation, the most tears appeared in people's eyes."

Derek Cole, chief executive of the Falklands Veterans Foundation, said Lady Thatcher was given a "very fitting send-off".

"She left the cathedral in essentially the same manner that she would when she left a room during her lifetime - to a resounding round of applause and three cheers," he said.

Mr Cole, from Gosport in Hampshire, recalled that he was "lucky enough" to have escorted Lady Thatcher at a number of functions and said the former prime minister always showed great compassion to those who fought in the Falklands conflict.

He added: "The Bishop of London spoke very well in his address and explained Lady Thatcher in a 'T', even mentioning her compassionate side.

"It brought back the pleasure I had during the hours I spent with her. She was always very sincere in what she said and wanted to meet as many of the veterans as she could.

"She was especially compassionate to family members who lost loved ones. The service reflected that, for me."

PA

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