17 Apr 2013

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: the view from inside

As the service was about to start an ethereal cacophony briefly filled the cathedral: the military brass outside and the cathedral bell mingled with the organ-playing inside.

The Queen and Prince Philip are of course no normal mourners – though sitting next to Mark Thatcher I saw no glance or acknowledgement to the grieving family on their left as the Royal couple took their seats, although they did speak after the service.


There were kisses and handshakes between the Blairs and the Browns on arrival, much mingling and chat before the music stopped and then minutes of quiet, broken by occasional coughs, as 2,300 people waited for the arrival of the coffin.

Then you heard military commands barked from outside signalling the arrival of the gun carriage near the Great West Door.

The first reading by Margaret Thatcher’s grand-daughter brought an American accent, like this cathedral and ceremonial such a long journey from the flat above the Grantham shop.

There was beautifully sung Brahams and Faure – did she know their nationalities?

The Bishop of London Richard Chartres is said to have rather hammily fallen to one knee and kissed Margaret Thatcher’s hand when he met her in retirement. His sermon was shorn of any such eulogistic touches.

Her wish, he said, was for a funeral service not a memorial service. But that is the same Margaret Thatcher who chose St Paul’s not only because it was the church of the City, linked to the market and commerce, but because it allowed the sort of ceremonial military procession associated with Royals that preceded the service.

The Bishop spoke of Margaret Thatcher’s Methodist upbringing, sometimes going to church several times a week in her youth. He said debates about politics were for elsewhere, but he had a pretty strong message about the importance of marriage.

He spoke of her “increasing debility” in old age and this did feel like a ceremony for someone who was very much, as the death certificate stated, a “retired stateswoman.” For all the once powerful and some still powerful people under the dome, this was not a highly charged event.

As Elgar’s Nimrod played on the organ and the coffin departed from inside the cathedral you could hear “hip-hip-hooray” cheers and clapping from outside, a spontaneous moment at the end of a minutely planned and polished ceremony.

Without a word or acknowledgement the Blairs and Browns, who’d been sitting next to each other through the service, got up and left through different doors. Awards for least adjustment to normal daily dress went jointly to Ken Clarke (hush puppies), Vince Cable, David Laws (dark blue suit), and the commentator Bruce Anderson whose shoes were barely attached to his feet.

Dick Cheney left with close protection guards who sprung up next to him just as the service finished and must’ve been lurking in the wings in the cathedral throughout. Benjamin Netanyahu nodded at a few ambassadors as he bustled out, not far in front of him were Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Manuel Barosso (not mobbed by admirers).

I saw only two silk top hats though I’m sure there were others – Lord Inge and Simon Heffer. Joan Collins had a very wide-brimmed black hat – at least I think that was her under it.

Some photographed each other on the steps as they left. The crowds hung on and watched as faces from political yesteryear filed out, a walking Madame Tussauds heading off to the Mansion House for drinks and gossip about the old days.

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