LONDON – The political and personal life of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is to be celebrated at a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral today expected to be attended by over 2,000 people.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is part of a small Canadian contingent attending the funeral, and is joined by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Gordon Campbell, Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom.
Upon arriving in London late Tuesday, Harper reflected on Thatcher’s legacy to the conservative movement, calling it “profound.”
He said her lasting contributions include breaking a path for women in politics, saying many of the women in his own Conservative party were inspired by her work.
Also in attendance at today’s event will be former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose years in office overlapped with Thatcher’s often controversial tenure as the Iron Lady.
She died last week of a stroke at the age of 87.
A coffin containing Thatcher’s body was driven from Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes for prayers ahead of the full funeral at St. Paul’s.
From there the coffin _ draped in a Union flag and topped with white roses and a note from her children reading “beloved mother” _ was borne on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses to the cathedral.
Dozens of people camped out overnight near the 17th-century cathedral in hopes of catching a glimpse of Thatcher’s flag-draped coffin and its military escort, and hundreds had arrived hours before the funeral was due to start.
Flags on government buildings were lowered to half-mast across the country ahead of the service, which will include a reading by her granddaughter as well as from the current British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Thatcher reportedly picked the passage to be read by whomever was prime minister at the time of her death.
Her choice is from the Gospels, John 14.1 which says “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Two poems which grace the program for the service were also selected prior to her death.
More than 4,000 police officers will be on duty as part of a major security operation, part of the broader funeral plan code-named “Operation True Blue.”
It was criticized by some as being too partisan, a nod to the blue that is the traditional Tory colour and one often favoured by Thatcher in her formal suits.
Security has been stepped up after Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded over 170.
More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel will line the route, and Parliament’s Big Ben bell will be silenced for the funeral of Thatcher, whose death certificate gives her profession as “stateswoman (retired).”
Some protests along the route are expected, including a group who intended to turn their back on the funeral procession, believing it to be a waste of money.
The preliminary cost of the event is approximately $15 million.
– with files from The Associated Press