Dignitaries from around the world joined the Queen in remembering one of Britain’s most divisive prime ministers today.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s coffin was driven from the parliament to the church of St Clement Danes for prayers before her full funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday.
Reports said world leaders and dignitaries from 170 countries were attending the funeral.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip were among the mourners, who included 11 prime ministers from around the world, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former US vice-president Dick Cheney.
Scores camped out overnight near the 17th-century cathedral hoping to catch a glimpse of Thatcher’s flag-draped coffin and its military escort, with hundreds even arriving hours before the funeral was due to start.
“I came to commemorate the greatest hero of our modern age,” Anthony Boutall, a 25-year-old clutching a blue rose, said. “She took a nation on its knees and breathed new life into it.”
Flags on government buildings were lowered to half mast across the country before the service, but not all Britons were joining in the mourning, as hundreds of political opponents said they would stage a silent protest by turning their backs as the coffin goes by.
“Like anyone else she deserves a decent funeral, but not at the expense of the taxpayer,” Patricia Welsh, a 69-year-old protester, said.
More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel were billed to line the route and around 4,000 police officers on duty as part of a major security operation which was stepped up after simultaneous bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded more than 170.
Hymns were sung at the service, and passages from the Bible were read by Prime Minister David Cameron and the late prime minister’s granddaughter, Amanda Thatcher.
Thatcher whose no-nonsense personality earned the nickname ‘Iron Lady’ transformed Britain during her 11-year tenure from 1979 to 1990, privatising state industries, deregulating the economy, and causing upheaval whose impact is still felt today. Those who were affected during the transformation however remain bitter and never hid their disgust for the baroness since news of her death broke.
Thatcher is being given a ceremonial funeral – not officially a state funeral, which requires a vote in Parliament. Still, the proceedings will feature the same level of pomp and honour afforded to Princess Diana in 1997 and the Queen Mother Elizabeth in 2002.
That has raised the ire of some Britons, those who believe her legacy is a socially and economically divided nation.
Retired teacher Henry Page stood outside the cathedral on Wednesday morning bearing a sign in protest at the funeral’s reported $15 million cost – “Over 10 million pounds of our money for a Tory funeral!”
Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the ceremony was “a fitting tribute to a great prime minister respected around the world”.
The dean of Saint Paul’s, David Ison, acknowledged the funeral has divided opinion, but said the service itself would be a somber affair.
“There is no tribute,” he said. “There is no eulogy, and that was Mrs Thatcher’s decision. It’s not being triumphalist. It’s not a celebration of her life and her achievements.”
Margaret Thatcher died on April 8. She was 87.