LONDON, Apr 17 – Beneath the echoing dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, allies and opponents joined Margaret Thatcher’s grieving family to bid farewell to Britain’s political matriarch in a service that, typically, she had planned herself.
Patriotic hymns reverberated around the gilded ceilings as the 2,300 mourners stood in tribute to a woman who left no-one indifferent, in life or in death.
Thatcher famously allowed tears to well at the very end when she waved adieu to Downing Street in 1990 after 11 years in power.
Giving in to emotion was never a Thatcher trait, and the congregation did their best to do likewise.
But though the service was straightforward, much like the woman herself, there were tears and highly-charged moments around the fringes as people bade farewell.
Falklands War veterans queued up outside with former Cabinet ministers and political leaders to take their places inside Christopher Wren’s Renaissance masterpiece.
Before the ceremony began, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip were led down the aisle by the Lord Mayor of London, who carried the Mourning Sword, which was laid before their gold-framed red chairs.
During a lull in the music, the cathedral’s muffled bell could be heard, and, faintly, the military band approaching outside with the funeral cortege.
Prime Minister David Cameron and former premiers John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were at the royals’ right, with the current Cabinet behind them.
They included Kenneth Clarke, the only minister who also served under Thatcher and was one of those who told her she could not survive in office in November 1990.
Margaret’s son Mark and his twin sister Carol were seated to the left of the royals.
The guests included two foreign heads of state, from Bulgaria and Lithuania — lands Thatcher tirelessly campaigned to free from communism — and 11 serving foreign prime ministers.
As the cathedral clock solemnly chimed 11:00 am, the congregation stood in unison for the coffin’s arrival. The sound of the all-male choir grew stronger as they brought the procession through the nave and closer to the Dome Altar.
Dressed in the Union Flag and a bouquet of white flowers bearing the handwritten message, “Beloved Mother — Always in our Hearts”, the coffin was slowly brought to rest.
Thatcher’s grandchildren Michael and Amanda flanked the coffin as it was placed upon the black funeral bier, surrounded by six lit candles.
In keeping with the frugal Thatcher’s wishes, the altar was dressed with two modest arrangements of white lilies floral displays.
In closing his bidding, the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Reverend David Ison, used the words “harmony”, “truth”, “faith”, “despair” and “hope”, which echoed Thatcher’s own upon entering Downing Street in 1979, when she cited St Francis of Assisi.
During the first hymn, the clouds outside cleared, with sunlight brightening the cathedral.
In her clear American accent, Thatcher’s grand-daughter Amanda gave the first reading, chosen by the former premier from the Epistle to the Ephesians.
The churchgoing Methodist’s titanic political battles — and headstrong steadfastness — could be read in the text:
“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
In his address, the Bishop of London Richard Chartres reflected on how Thatcher spawned an “-ism” named after her and even became a “mythological figure”.
He noted the debate raging in Britain about her legacy, but said the service was neither the time nor the place to examine it.
“It must be difficult for those members of her family and close associates to recognise the wife, mother and grandmother in the mythological figure,” he said.
To quiet, but knowing laughter from those who had likewise received a Thatcher ticking-off, he recalled her firmly grabbing his wrist at a function and saying: “Don’t touch the duck pate, bishop — it’s very fattening”.
The most emotional scenes were reserved for the end of the service.
The blessing given, the sound of the bearer party’s highly-polished shoes on the floor sounded through the cathedral as they lifted the coffin.
Some members of the congregation dabbed their eyes after her casket passed, with British finance minister George Osborne seemingly among them.
Then, in the service’s crowning moment, the strains of Edward Elgar’s stirring and patriotic tune “Nimrod” arose as the coffin emerged from the cathedral, and the sounds of applause drifted in through the Great West Door.
Like Mrs T, some in the congregation shed a tear at the very last.