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After 'storm of life' nation says a calm farewell to Iron Lady

THE crowds outside St Paul's Cathedral were quite enjoying themselves. There was plenty to keep them entertained as they waited for the funeral cortege of Margaret Thatcher to make its way to the steps at 11am. There were lots of impressive uniforms parading up and down and standing to attention, from the scarlet jackets and black furry hats of Welsh and Scots Guards, to navy chaps carrying very large guns.

Moreover, there were all sorts of dignitaries hurrying up the steps into the cathedral whom they could jeer or cheer, from former prime minister Gordon Brown (boo) to Margaret's old ally, Norman Tebbit, who kept faith with her until the bitter end (hurrah).

Inevitably, London's mayor Boris Johnson shamelessly milked applause as he happened to take the circuitous route past the citizenry into St Paul's. And of course, the crowd cheered and applauded the queen and Prince Philip when they arrived at 10.45am, the monarch clad in black.

But while the semi-state funeral may have had £10m-worth (€11.7m) of soldiery, security, the full panoply of pomp and circumstance, the silencing of Big Ben's mighty bell for the first time since the death of Winston Churchill in 1965, the closure of roads and a thunderous gun-salute from the Tower, it didn't have a dazzling array of foreign dignitaries.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Donald Tusk of Poland turned up. But there was no Barack Obama, no Francois Hollande or Angela Merkel. Instead there were middle-ranking ministers, (including Ireland's representative, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn).

But there were many faces from the past, Cold War warriors such as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and South Africa's last apartheid president FW de Klerk, who drifted up the steps like ghosts in a world that has moved on without them.

"God, there's Cherie Blair. Dreadful woman," sniffed one well-spoken, besuited chap. Nobody booed or cheered Tony who was walking beside her. As current prime minister David Cameron had declared on Radio 4 hours earlier, "We're all Thatcherites now".

So what emotions were in evidence on the streets of London as Mrs Thatcher made her final stately journey, her coffin draped in her country's flag?

Inevitably there were mixed emotions: much quiet respect, small pockets of protest and anger, but there was also widespread indifference.

Fearing the worst, the police turned up mob-handed, lined up along the procession route. But in the end, after a storm that raged in the media for over a week about the funeral of Britain's most divisive leader being disrupted, the tempest never materialised. They weren't all Thatcherites, but most were.

Outside St Paul's, Ben Diplock from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was waiting with his pal Eddie who had once served in the British forces. Both men were kitted out in Union flags tied cape-like around their necks.

"I feel strongly about being here, she was a great woman," he said. Ben, who was born after Mrs Thatcher stepped down as prime minister, hoped protests wouldn't ruin the day. "After all, she was someone's mother and grandmother," he said.

It was a mixed crowd rather than mixed emotions that encircled the Baroque cathedral. There were many silver-haired men in City suits. There were older women who remembered Britain both before and after Margaret. There were many quiet chaps sporting carefully polished medals.

There was an Australian who had moved to England in the '80s after the siren-call of the prime minister to follow an entrepreneurial dream was heard on the far side of the world. He heeded the call, came to Thatcher's Britain and set up an import business. He came to her funeral to say thanks.

But in the crowd also were working-class Britons, those who bought their council homes and British Telecom shares and went to war at her behest in the Falklands and respected Margaret for opportunities they believe she gave them.

Respect was the overwhelming emotion. There was disappointment that speakers hadn't been erected outside to relay the funeral service inside.

Acknowledging Mrs Thatcher as a divisive political figure, the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres told the congregation of 2,300 mourners: "After the storm of a life led in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher, who became a symbolic figure – even an ism.

"But the funeral of Margaret Hilda Thatcher is not the time for debate on her legacy. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings," he said.

There was no storm of protest, though protestations about the cost rumble on. But then Mrs Thatcher did plan her own send-off, giving herself the exit she deserved, at least in her own mind.

There was dignity on the streets and pomp in St Paul's. It was a military funeral for a leader who fought wars on many fronts – the unions, the Argentinians, Irish republicans.

The funeral may have been imbued with her towering self-regard, but London didn't burn. The funeral ended at the stroke of noon. At 1pm, the boom of Big Ben rang out.

The spectacle was over, quickly and efficiently. It wasn't personal. Just business. It's a free-market world, after all.

Irish Independent