Royalty, dignitaries and admirers from all walks of life paid their final respects to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher yesterday in the grandest funeral for a British leader in half a century — although a few boos from the London crowd were a reminder of her divisive rule.
The former prime minister, who the Soviet Union christened the “Iron Lady,” was bid farewell with military honors, patriotic hymns, cheers and tears.
Her coffin was borne on a horse-drawn gun carriage, then soldiers and sailors carried her casket into St Paul’s Cathedral for a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II and 11 serving prime ministers from around the world.
Outside, thousands of supporters lined the route, some throwing blue roses in her path.
Opponents chanted Ding Dong the Witch is Dead and turned their backs on her coffin as it passed by — an indication of the divisions that Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century still provokes.
Thatcher sought to arrest Britain’s decline with free-market policies, and she enraged her opponents by smashing the unions and privatizing national assets.
Her supporters view her as a champion of freedom, while her opponents accuse her of destroying communities and ushering in an era of greed.
“The storm of conflicting opinions centers on the Mrs Thatcher, who became a symbolic figure, even an ism, but today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Roberts are here at her funeral service,” the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, told mourners.
Tears ran down the face of British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
The cleric brought smiles to the faces of former British prime minister Tony Blair and other mourners when he recounted a story about her telling him not to eat duck pate because it was fattening.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Amanda Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher’s 19-year-old granddaughter, read from the New Testament while patriotic hymns echoed around the cathedral.
The service was attended by 2,300 mourners, including former British prime ministers and the entire Cabinet, two heads of state and 17 foreign ministers.
Thousands lined the streets as her casket made its final journey. Most clapped in respect, but about two dozen opponents turned their backs on the procession.
Thatcher, who governed Britain from 1979 to 1990, died on Monday last week aged 87.
Polls have shown that many Britons are unhappy that the estimated ￡10 million (US$15 million) bill for the ceremonial funeral is being picked up by taxpayers.
“She was the first woman prime minister, she served for longer in the job than anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her life,” Cameron said.
“What is happening today is absolutely fitting and right,” he said.