A full dress rehearsal for Margaret Thatcher’s controversial ceremonial funeral was held at the crack of dawn in London this morning, with over 700 members of the armed services processing a coffin on a horse-drawn carriage draped in the Union Jack down the Strand to St Paul’s Cathedral. The funeral will have a Falklands theme, and a disproportionately high number of the soldiers involved in the ceremony, which will take place on Wednesday at 11am London time, will be drawn from British military regiments particularly associated with the Falklands War.
Military bands played funeral marches by Chopin and Mendelssohn as the dummy coffin made its way along the deserted streets closed to traffic at 5am this morning, although military and police personnel did not don the ceremonial uniforms they will wear on Wednesday. The band in place on the cathedral courtyard struck up Elgar's funeral march and God Save The Queen before falling quiet again as the coffin approached.
It is estimated that the full ceremonial funeral for the Conservative leader – the first accorded to a British Prime Minister since the death of the wartime leader Winston Churchill – will cost up to £10million. The Queen will attend, also a post-Churchill first.
The funeral has stirred up old divisions, and has been criticized by many as inappropriately partisan.
The rehearsal this morning came after a weekend in which tempers about the Thatcher’s funeral and her legacy became increasingly frayed, with some incidents of public disorder including an attempted ‘re-enactment’ of the poll tax riots in Trafalgar Square.
Protestors have said they will line the route of the funeral cortege and turn their backs on the coffin as it passes.
Anarchist and far-Left groups are believd to be massing in London, but police have confirmed that peaceful protests will not be challenged along the ceremonial route on Wednesday because it is not the police’s job to “uphold respect”. Police said that protestors along the cortege’s two mile route from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral would be allowed to make their views known, provided they did not break the law.
However the most prominent aspect of debate was the absurd row over the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead - propelled into the charts by opponents of Margaret Thatcher - which narrowly missed out on the number one spot when chart positions were announced yesterday night.
The recording, taken from 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, entered the charts at number two.
It was more than 5,000 sales short of this week's chart-topper Need U (100%) by Duke Dumont.
The Official Charts Company described Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead as "one of the most controversial chart contenders of all time".
There was a final rush of 18,000 sales between Friday morning and today, the Official Charts Company said, but its final total was 52,605 copies - 5,700 behind Duke Dumont, which achieved 58,321 sales in the past week.
BBC Radio 1 played a five-second excerpt of the song, sung by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, while a Newsbeat reporter explained its significance to listeners, but the corporation decided against airing the 51-second track in full.
Thatcher fans bought up a punk song entitled, "I'm in Love With Margaret Thatcher" (which rhymes 'Thatcher' with 'eye-catcher') but it only made it to the lower reaches of the chart, struggling to get into the Top 40.