This morning, the Iron Lady was laid to rest. Unlike basically any other British political event bar the general election, there has been a lot of interest around Margaret Thatcher's funeral; it was to be the most hotly anticipated funeral of the year. Most of central London shut down for the day as people hurtled in on trains from the provinces. It had Twitter sewn up for the duration too, as people cracked jokes about it just being a very expensive Spitting Image reunion, laughed at pictures of George Osborne crying, perved over Thatcher's grand-daughter and wondered if any form of worthwhile protest would manifest itself.
All of which was testament to the fact that people seemed either to love Margaret Thatcher, or really, really fucking despise her. Supporters and haters alike promised to attend, either to bid her safe passage to the other side or to try to hoik a farewell spitwad at her passing coffin. So I journeyed into central London to see who'd win the battle for the memory of Britain's first female Prime Minister: the lovers or the haters?
It's weird, you don't really notice Tories in the street until an occasion like this comes along, they either tend to hide in plain sight as bog standard rich people or frequent places most of us would usually only be let into by mistake. But this is what I saw when I arrived: Tories, everywhere. Front and centre were these guys, who, in a touching display of commitment to Thatcherite values, had used their sharp elbows to push their way to the front of the pack and grab the best viewing spots for the grief parade.
On the other side of the road were some Thatcher-bashers, who had cancelled their plans for the day to come along and jeer a woman's corpse as it went past them in the street. It all seemed a bit disrespectful, but at least nobody was camping it up and being openly gay all over the place – she wouldn’t have appreciated that.
Oh, for fuck's sake, who invited the guys with the rainbow flag?
The dress code for many of Thatcher's boo boys and girls was "anything red", presumably because she didn't like the Labour Party very much. The £10m cost of the funeral was charged to the state, an irony not lost on Nik Clarke (above, left), who thought this was, “a criminal waste of money in a time of austerity", money that would have been better spent on "hundreds of teachers and nurses." What was her conclusion? "It’s bloody disgraceful."
I asked whether she thought Thatcher deserved a normal, unmolested funeral and then felt stupid when she pointed out that this wasn’t a normal funeral. Then I asked the women how Thatcher had affected their lives personally. Rhian (centre left) told me about the Welsh mining community she grew up in which remains devastated to this day. Which clearly sucks, but far more visually spectacular was the reaction of the woman to her right, who started tearing up, got a lump in her throat and couldn't speak.
I had brought a little old lady to tears – a journalistic coup of which Paxman himself would have been proud. I decided to go and watch one of the debates that were occasionally breaking out between Thatcher’s mourners and jeerers. It turns out, the internet hasn’t debased our political discourse. People are just as willing to insult and shout at each other at the funeral of an old lady as they are on Twitter. I found this strangely heartening.
This city worker observed the scene from a balcony. His elevated height seemed to be an allegory of his social position compared to the lefty protesters. He looked down forlornly at them, as if to say, “I have a six-figure salary and company car. Can’t you just be happy for the rich for once?”
I talked to Alan Day here, who had turned out to wave farewell to his hero. Despite being an accountant, he was keen to stress his working class roots. He was pretty sanguine about the protests, saying, “Mrs Thatcher would love to see this – a good political battle, fantastic.” I asked him why he admired Thatcher so much. It was as if he was talking about a completely different person to the one Nik and Rhian remembered: “She was an amazing lady, particularly for going from living above a shop in Grimsby to be the first female Prime Minister. She championed hard work and responsibility. Mrs Thatcher is in the realm of Nelson, Wellington and Churchill. She’s the fourth greatest Briton that has ever lived.”
Speaking of famous generals, I asked him if he was sad that Maggie’s dear friend General Pinochet wasn’t able to be here to pay his respects, but he pointed out that he couldn't possibly be here, because he’s dead. Clearly, this guy was in no mood for edgy satire.
A dog that had been trained to detect bombs with its nose began sniffing around, presumably adding a frisson of danger to proceedings for anyone with a gak-laced tenner in their pocket.
The paranoia levels weren't lowered by this man's giant gun, his gaze suggesting he was ready to spray the crowd with lead on the say-so of whoever was on the other end of that walkie-talkie.
As the coffin went past, a line of riots cops materialised from out of nowhere to stop any would be Trenton Oldfields running into its path and throwing themselves on the bonnet, or tipping over the casket, or whatever it is that anarchists usually do at funerals.
It turned out that nobody felt like spending a night in the cells and a lifetime as a tabloid villain. Instead, some of the protesters turned their backs. Others started chants of “Maggie, Maggie Maggie! Dead, Dead, Dead!” and “What a waste of money!” but they were drowned out by the brass band that a lot of that money had been spent on. This drew cheers from the amassed Tories, not least my friend Alan the accountant, who clapped enthusiastically and shouted, “You were the best, Maggie! We love you! We’ll never forget you!” at the passing coffin.
The jeers caused this man next to me to let out an audible grunt of rage. He started biting his fist and sobbing, which made me nervous he was going to explode and/or shit himself. Thankfully he settled for having a go at the protesters once the coffin had gone past, along with another guy who, in a tragic concession to stereotype, shouted, “Shouldn’t you get jobs, you fucking scumbags?”
“I would certainly ban them from the route. It’s respect for the human race,” he told me. “I think they’re deplorable, a disgrace. If that’s what this country has come to, what’s the point in our soldiers doing what they do?” he asked, which I found kind of an odd question. “I agree with democracy, but a silent democracy,” he continued, which I found even odder.
Over at St Paul’s, a couple of thousand of the world’s most rich and powerful lizard people were queuing to pay their respects.
This Orthodox Priest wasn’t treating the occasion with the quiet dignity it deserved, asking a stranger to take a snap of him to put on Instagram.
This guy cursed his ceremonial garb which was giving him endless hassle with the security guards.
Meanwhile, in hell, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Clarkson discussed the possibility of a Margaret Thatcher themed musical.
Lloyd-Webber snarled his pigman approval.
As Thatcher's coffin entered the cathedral, her fans strained to capture the solemn moment on their camera phones, because apparently the entire world’s media weren’t doing a good enough job documenting this event.
After the coffin made its way into St Paul’s, the city boys tried to race off to the nearest tube stop while the middle-England mums surged towards the front to get in prime celeb-spotting positions ahead of chucking out time. This resulted in a weird, incredibly posh kettle. For more than half an hour the crowd barely moved and even the anarchists couldn’t be heard over snaps of “Would you just keep moving – I’ve got to get back to the office!” The mood was more rush hour depression than post-life transcendence.
After the crowd had cleared a bit, these guys finally got to bring out the big guns, unfurling a huge “no mourning here” sign.
I’m not sure if it was out of respect or the fact they were totally surrounded by Thatcherites, but they ditched the usual “ding dong” and “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie” chants in favour of occasionally shouting vague slogans about society and coal mines. Timid though their protest was, it still attracted the wrath of some of the mourners, including the man with the hood.
I managed to catch up with him and ask why he was so mad: “Well, first and foremost this a funeral, it’s a grandmother’s and a mother’s funeral and I think it’s disgusting. I mean, where’s the humanity? It’s just sick.” He was very worked up about the protesters, so I tried to calm him down by asking him about his bouquet. He told me they were for Thatcher and he wanted to lay them somewhere around the cathedral, but that he hadn’t found a decent place yet because “the crowd was too big”.
After most of the noise had died down, we came upon two sign-wielding protesters making even more noise than the surprisingly timid anarchists. The pair were busy spouting Bible verses at the lower-level Tory councillors and ageing right-wing glitterati streaming out of the cathedral. Naturally, common sense dictates that a man holding an “America was responsible for the 7/7 bombings” poster would provide a welcome voice of reason among such heated opinions, so we asked one of them for his thoughts.
“No, I didn’t agree with Margaret Thatcher. She has done some right, but she’s also done many wrongs. Margaret Thatcher cared more about her Iron Lady image than looking after the nation. There is no Iron Lady, only the Iron Man. And that is me, Arshad Khan. She sold the country and she never brought peace to Ireland. It was Arshad Khan, a taxi driver, who brought peace to Northern Ireland.” Then he started talking about saving the world from nuclear Armageddon, so I decided to leave.
When it was all over, mourners left to filter away to a lot of mini-wakes across the city, where they could finally discuss the indisputable brilliance of the Iron Lady without having to answer any awkward questions about why she called Mandela a terrorist and what the point of the Falklands War was really.
After all the bitterness Thatcher’s death has dredged up, it seems that both sides of the debate may actually end up satisfied. Her death in the Ritz has provided the left with a cathartic release, but more than that, they were determined that Thatcher’s canonisation wouldn’t go unopposed. They seem to have managed that. Any history book that isn’t written by whoever is filling Niall Ferguson’s shoes in 30 years’ time will have to put on record that her death was marked not only by the tears of many but also by parties, protests and riots. As for the right, well, they can raise a glass in the knowledge that Thatcher’s ideas still basically rule the country and much of the planet. Perhaps that will provide them with some solace.