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Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest today in London with much pomp and debate. The polarizing, strong-willed leader transformed Britain during her 11 years in power and earned the moniker the Iron Lady. Thatcher died earlier this month at age 87.
NPR's Eleanor Beardsley watched the funeral from outside St Paul's Cathedral and she sent this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF MILITARY BAND AND A CROWD)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: As the horse-drawn gun carriage approached St Paul's Cathedral accompanied by a military band, it was hard not to be moved. Margaret Thatcher was Britain's longest serving prime minister of the 20th century and the only woman. Today, her country gave her a spectacular send-off. Thatcher's admirers say she took a bedraggled nation that had become known as the Sick Man of Europe, whipped it back into shape and gave it stature once again on the world stage.
Sandra Kane watched the funeral procession from inside a cafe.
SANDRA KANE: Because I think she brought the country back from the brink after we had a horrific Labour government in the '70s. And we had to take a large dose of medicine and she had to give it to us, and she did. And she got Britain's standing in the world back up to what it should be, along with America. She was a great lady.
BEARDSLEY: Thatcher would have loved the patriotism on the streets of London today. Spectators clearly reveled in a ceremony that reflected centuries of tradition. We Brits do this well, many people told me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN")
BEARDSLEY: The queen arrived, the last guest to go into the church before Thatcher's coffin. The crowd spontaneously joined-in to sing "God Save the Queen."
CROWD: (Singing) Happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God Save the Queen.
BEARDSLEY: It was a day to be proud of being British. Inside, the baroque church was filled to the brim with 2,300 guests, including dignitaries from 170 nations.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We come to this cathedral today to remember before God, Margaret Hilda Thatcher.
BEARDSLEY: Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a small town grocer, raised on the principals of hard work and self-reliance. With a degree from Oxford, she rose through the ranks of the Conservative Party. Though she didn't consider herself a feminist, she surely blazed the trail for other women. Elected prime minister in 1979, Thatcher proceeded to privatize industry, cut government spending and face down the unions and the Irish Republican Army.
But many say her ruthlessness caused too much pain. Just this week, the dean of St Paul's spoke of the hurt and anger still lingering from her policies.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)
BEARDSLEY: With an enormous police presence, partly due to the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, the massive protests the media predicted today didn't materialize. But Thatcher's detractors, like 35-year-old Eva Moss, were out.
EVA MOSS: Shame on you all.
I'll never stop fighting for what I believe in, which is that Margaret Thatcher and Friedman economics are wrong. It's immoral, profit at any cost, you know. It's unsustainable. It's unethical.
BEARDSLEY: There were plenty of arguments between those who loved and those who hated the Iron Lady.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A splendid woman who did so much good for this country and helped freedom in Eastern Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I don't think so. You're just slagging someone off. It's you that's being unpleasant...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, no because she...
BEARDSLEY: Artist Louise Johnson says Thatcher changed British society for the worse.
LOUISE JOHNSON: She created this kind of idea in society that it was normal to push people out of the way, to get on top of everyone else. And she made it easier for those people to do that.
BEARDSLEY: Margaret Thatcher clearly divides Britons in death, just as she did in life.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.