Margaret Thatcher's funeral: A little heckling, a few tears, not much unity – but a lovely day out

Once the sun came out, the great British public's fiercely held political allegiances seemed soon forgotten

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
Share

Outside Coutts Bank in the Strand, a Filipino artist called Chito Salarza-Grant was showing off his Thatcher hat to cameramen. It was a fantastic creation, an elaboratel- wrought cube whose sides bear images of Mrs Thatcher's face, backlit by flickering holograms. On the crown was a miniature supermarket trolley, in homage to her birth as a grocer's daughter, surmounted by Union Jacks. Salarza-Grant admitted he wasn't around in Baroness Thatcher's heyday – he was studying art in Manila – "but I feel she empowered generations of women around the world. I like her because I'm gay and I like how tough she was in a world dominated by men."

An elderly passer-by, who had stopped to listen, turned away in exasperation. "Good riddance to the old bag," she muttered.

That brisk exchange set the tone for the funeral of the UK's first woman PM: great admiration, extreme condemnation, lots of voices and display, plenty of eccentricity, and absolutely no sense of a nation united in grief.

"We've come up to London for the day," said Melissa Cordingley from Salisbury, Wiltshire, "and felt we ought to attend Mrs Thatcher's funeral because, although she had many faults, she turned the country around. In the 1980s, I was bringing up young children and to have a woman in charge at No 10 meant a lot. My husband was serving in the first Gulf War and I think people felt secure with Mrs Thatcher. She wasn't perfect but she was, by and large, brilliant."

Patricia Welch, 69, a retired health-worker carrying a cardboard sign that bore the words, "10,000,000 FOR TORY FUNERAL – CUTS FOR US!", said: "I came up for the day from Winchester because I was so outraged I couldn't stay at home. To think they're closing down the SureStart nursery in Portsmouth and spending £10m on a Tory jamboree."

Some holders of rival views squared up to each other. In Ludgate Circus, a professorial-looking chap yelled "Shame! Shame!" at a Falklands regiment marching past. Red-faced with anger, several middle-aged men rounded on him. "Get back to your sewer!" cried one. "These men are war heroes!" screamed another.

Signs and placards were everywhere, many silently expressing the same outrage at the funeral's cost, while others simply read "Thank You, Mrs T" or "Margaret Thatcher put the Great back into Britain". Across the road a contingent from the Socialist Workers Party held up a huge banner showing Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir Fred Goodwin locked in a tendrilous embrace, while a sign nearby read, nostalgically, "We remember the miners, Falklands, Bobby Sands, Poll Tax – now bury Thatcherism."

This conflation of present and past was apparent everywhere, as if Lady Thatcher had only recently relinquished power. Claire Harris, 34, a vision in a Dennis the Menace jumper and V for Vendetta mask on the back of her head, was born in 1979, the year Lady Thatcher came to power. "I'm here representing the LGBT [Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community," she said, "because of Section 28, which left a generation of gay people bullied and berated for being gay.

"I have friends who lived through it. But I'm also protesting about this disgraceful waste of money. Why should taxpayers pay for a Tory funeral?"

For a funeral, there was little evidence of tears. One exception was Able Seaman Ian Scot Irving, a striking sight in his beret and medal and the words "Falklands 1982" tattooed on his right wrist. He was on HMS Invincible, one of two aircraft-carriers in the Task Force that sailed for the invaded islands on 5 April 1982. Irving vividly recalls the day. "It was Easter leave, and the whole Navy was fast asleep. I was down at the pub when the call came from our ship's regulator, saying 'Get back on board this minute'." When the cortege went by, "the tears came down," he said.

As the now-empty gun carriage returned down Fleet Street, and the bells of St Dunstan-in-the-West played a mutedly cheerful ding-dong, the sun came out. The mood of the crowd lifted. It felt as if Spring had come at last. By noon, there was standing-room only at bar El Vino, while The Earl of Sandwich began to do a roaring al fresco trade. The giant crowd, slowly wending its way towards the Tube, were harangued by another placard-wielder. But it wasn't about politics. "This is a country with no sense of shame," he thundered to the meekly ambling throng, "O you fornicators, you adulterers, you exhibitionists, you abusers of the self…" A drunk man offered the crowd a hilarious parody of the evangelist, until he was cautioned by a policeman.

The old lady beside me told her handsome grandson, "I think it's been a lovely day, all in all." Two men in suits furled up a giant banner saying "CONSERVATIVE". The edgy dissidents from the SWP addressed yet another camera crew about the military-industrial complex. And the great British public, having striven to their utmost to be furiously right or left-wing for a couple of hours, went to lunch. It had all gone off jolly well, on the whole.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine