LONDON — The funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest-serving leader of the 20th century, will be held in St. Paul’s Cathedral on April 17, officials said Tuesday.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, are expected to attend what will be the most elaborate funeral to be staged in London since the death of the queen’s mother in 2002. It will be the first funeral of a prime minister with the queen in attendance since the rites for Winston Churchill in 1965.
Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, will be given a ceremonial service with military honors, a service almost indistinguishable from an official state funeral.
Dignitaries from around the world will be on hand to remember the “Iron Lady” who transformed Britain through her free-market policies and thrust the country back onto the world stage through her staunch Cold War alliance with the U.S. and a war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
Thatcher’s coffin is to be taken to a chapel inside the Palace of Westminster, where the houses of Parliament meet, on the night before her funeral. On April 17, the coffin will be borne through the streets of downtown London to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the service, which will be televised live. A private cremation will follow.
The expected presence of the queen at Thatcher’s funeral is an indication of the influence Britain’s first and so far only female prime minister made, even though the two women, who were born six months apart, are believed to have had a frosty relationship.
Thatcher raised eyebrows with her increasingly regal style toward the end of her 1979-90 premiership, particularly her announcement of the birth of her first grandchild: “We have become a grandmother.” Elizabeth is said to have disliked the social division that Thatcher’s policies exacerbated among her subjects.
The reputed edge between them is on show in a new play in London’s West End. “The Audience” depicts imagined accounts of the meetings the queen holds weekly with the prime minister. Oscar-winner Helen Mirren portrays Elizabeth and actress Haydn Gwynne takes the role of Thatcher in a fraught but fictionalized encounter.
An influential and divisive figure in life, Thatcher dominated the national headlines in Britain in death. Television and radio stations broke into their regularly scheduled programming Monday and into Tuesday to broadcast obituaries, tributes and archival footage.
The conservative Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers devoted their front pages to the same smiling, back-lighted portrait of Thatcher. “The Woman who saved Britain 1925-2013” read the Mail headline.
The Times published a special edition with a wrap-around cover showing Thatcher waving to the crowds during a visit to Moscow in 1987. “Of British politicians, only Churchill has inspired more books, imitators and myths,” wrote Times columnist Ben Macintyre.
An editorial in the left-wing Guardian described Thatcher’s legacy as “public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed that together shackle the human spirit.” But the paper acknowledged that she left an indelible mark on British public life.
Thatcher’s passing drew the same mix of praise and scorn from ordinary Britons — including many who weren’t even born when she left office.
“She was very inspirational. She did a lot of good for this country, and she was the first woman prime minister,” said Stephanie Teed, 21, a university student from the town of Maidenhead, west of London, who left flowers outside Thatcher’s home in central London.
But not all those who gathered to mark her passing did so with sadness or in peace. The Avon and Somerset Constabulary in western England said Tuesday that some officers were injured when about 200 people who had gathered in Bristol to celebrate Thatcher’s death refused to break up their street party Monday night. Bottles and cans were thrown at officers. One person was arrested.
In the south London neighborhood of Brixton, the scene of rage-filled race riots in 1981, police were called in Monday night to maintain order among the dozens of people rejoicing in Thatcher’s death. Some had climbed up the facade of a movie theater and rearranged the letters on the marquee to read “Margaret Thatchers (sic) dead LOL.”
Nothing untoward was reported around Thatcher’s home in Belgravia, one of London’s most expensive districts. Ann Edwards, who worked in the House of Commons during Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister, called her “a superb woman.”
“We could do with more people like her now. She was very brave,” said Edwards, recalling the Irish Republican Army’s declared goal to assassinate her. “She never wavered.”