Pomp, grandeur and even a little joke – how a ceremonial funeral took the life of Margaret Thatcher beyond politics and back down to humanity

 

Share
Related Topics

If nothing else the sheer classiness of the route for Margaret Thatcher's last journey was of a piece with the grandeur of the occasion.

It passed through three of London's greatest buildings on its way to Mortlake, where she was cremated: from the more than millennium-old Westminster Hall to St Paul's for the funeral itself and on to that other high watermark of Christopher Wren's career, the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, where her ashes were finally brought back to be interred.

For this was a state funeral in all but name. The lavish military honours – amid which the coffin draped in the Union Flag, and topped with an ample bouquet of white roses from her family, arrived on a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery – were no less exceptional than the pomp inside the Cathedral itself. The 86-year-old Queen, clad in black from head to foot, and the Duke of Edinburgh were met at the West Door exactly 15 minutes before the service began, by a reception party including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of London, robed in scarlet and carrying something called the "Mourning Sword". All this executed with the precision for which British pageantry is justly famous.

The music, reaching its climax with the adaptation from Holst's "Jupiter" for that resolutely patriotic hymn "I vow to thee my country", made full, glorious use of the acoustics of Wren's great soaring dome. This meant, however, that those worried that a ceremony of this magnificence was somehow inappropriate for a politician, who for all her qualities was not Churchill, would not have their fears allayed.

It may be unfair to suggest that there was a hint of L'etat c'etait moi about the service; but there were times – despite the clearly genuine tears of George Osborne and others – when its solemn obsequies were more reminiscent of a coronation or an archiepiscopal enthronement.

Faced with a difficult task, the clergy did pretty well. David Ison, the Dean of St Paul's, welcomed the huge 2000-plus congregation by declaring that they had come to "recall with great gratitude, her leadership of this nation, her courage … and her resolve to accomplish [this a well judged eschewing of any partisan endorsement] what she believed to be right for the common good".

Like the Dean, the Bishop of London Richard Chartres stressed her well attested "personal kindness" including to those who "were not, in the world's eyes important". He skilfully risked annoying some of the mourners by reminding them that the Methodism in which she was brought up had also inspired the Tolpuddle Martyrs. And in a much needed flash of humour, recalled her grasping him by the wrist at a dinner and telling him "Don't touch the duck pate, Bishop. It's very fattening."

The clear, American-accented reading from Ephesians by Lady Thatcher's granddaughter Amanda was a timely reminder that this was also a family bereavement. And as at many less grand funerals, there were the necessary, if maybe temporary, soothing of old enmities, whether of Boris Johnson sitting alongside Michael Howard, who sacked him from the Shadow Cabinet for fibbing about an extramarital affair, or of Cherie Blair actually chatting to Gordon Brown.

Despite the 11 serving prime ministers paying their respects, the international presence was borderline B-list. But here too there were ironies of long-forgotten history. Was Dick Cheney, who read Mikhail Gorbachev so much less well than Prime Minister Thatcher, repenting his brutal dismissal of his capabilities when she was rightly courting the Russian leader? Had the Israeli ambassador reported to his Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Gerald Kaufman had recalled in the Commons last week her worry about the "rightward" trend in Israel's politics and her tacit advice to its citizens to vote Labour in the late 1980s?

Was her contemporary, the Canadian ex-premier Brian Mulroney wishing he too had been forced out like her rather than end as the one democratic prime minister with lower approval ratings than the level of interest rates in his country? And what, finally was going through the mind of the Queen, attending the funeral of her eighth prime minister as she had attended only that of her first, now that we know from the most faithful of all Thatcher lieutenants Lord Powell, that the Palace did indeed fret that the South African policy of the time might endanger the Commonwealth?

The danger of summoning the full "non-political" panoply of the state to bid farewell to a Prime Minister – albeit a hugely successful one who certainly changed Britain as only Clement Attlee did in her lifetime – is that it suggests a Conservative prime minister has a place in history "beyond politics". Which she hasn't.

But as Bishop Chartres eloquently reminded the mourners, she was not just a "symbolic" figure, but one subject to "the common destiny of all human beings". Here, he said, she "is one of us".

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV & HGV Mechanics

£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Anti-fracking activists near a proposed site at Westby, near Blackpool  

10 things you need to know about fracking – the case against

Donna Hume
 

How to really be a YouTube star: Be white and wealthy

Olly Lennard
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee