Last honours for ‘Iron Lady’ Thatcher

The coffin bearing the body of Baroness Thatcher makes it way to St Paul's Cathedral, central London for her funeral service.

The coffin bearing the body of Baroness Thatcher makes it way to St Paul's Cathedral, central London for her funeral service.

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ALLIES and opponents were among the congregation of thousands who gathered at the funeral of Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

Baroness Thatcher was granted the honour of a ceremonial service at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Queen, dignitaries from around the world and all her successors as prime minister.

Margaret Thatcher suffered ill health during her later years.

Margaret Thatcher suffered ill health during her later years.

The Conservative leader, who became the United Kingdom’s first woman PM, was given full military honours as the coffin bearing her body was taken to the cathedral in procession, through streets lined with mourners, on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses.

Protesters with loud-hailers were also among the crowds outside as they made their views known about their objection to the decisions she made during her time in office.

At St Paul’s, a congregation of more than 2,300 guests heard the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, pay tribute to Lady Thatcher’s “perseverance in struggle and courage”.

Among those present were more than 30 members of the Iron Lady’s cabinets from 1979-90, including Lord Heseltine and Lord Howe, whose challenges to her leadership triggered her removal from power.

Every member of the current cabinet attended, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave a reading from the Gospel of St John.

A clearly-moved Chancellor George Osborne appeared to wipe tears from his eyes during the ceremony.

Lady Thatcher’s coffin, placed beneath the dome of St Paul’s, was draped in a Union flag and topped by a floral tribute of white roses bearing the handwritten note “Beloved Mother – Always in our Hearts” from her children Mark and Carol.

Her grandchildren, Amanda and Michael, who flew to the UK from their home in Dallas, Texas, for the ceremony, joined them, with 19-year-old Amanda offering another of the readings during the service.

They walked ahead of the coffin as it entered the cathedral, carrying cushions bearing her insignia of the Order of the Garter and Order of Merit.

The bishop deliberately steered clear of mentioning the former Conservative leader’s political legacy in his address, insisting that the funeral was “a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling ... for the simple truths which transcend political debate”.

Ahead of the service, Mr Cameron insisted the funeral was a “fitting tribute” to a major national figure who was the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.

He accepted that opinions remain divided over the legacy of Lady Thatcher, who died last week aged 87, but said she had created a new consensus during her time in power, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In a way, we are all Thatcherites now.

“She was the first woman prime minister, she served for longer in the job that anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her life. I think what is happening today is absolutely fitting and right.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Labour leader Ed Miliband and their wives were also guests, along with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

In addition to a who’s who of the political world, the funeral was also attended by Falklands veteran Simon Weston, broadcasters Sir Terry Wogan and Jeremy Clarkson, opera singer Katherine Jenkins and composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber.