Maggie and Diana: on burying an icon

When blonde icons of the 80s die, it seems to be form for the Establishment to forget the intervening years, to gloss over the fact that the women had become, again, outsiders. The Conservatives appear to have forgotten that it was they, not the electorate, who removed Thatcher. The Royal family were criticised at the time for not hurrying to drape Diana in the pomp and circumstance they felt she wasn’t entitled to.

picture from  You should read this.
picture from You should read this.

No such mistake this time. I hope somebody does the research to show the learning. It’s true, Diana’s death was sudden, her funeral presumably not considered, while plans for Thatcher’s funeral have been in place for some time. (When these plans are criticised, the current government are quick to blame the last- standard operating policy- while not changing any of the plans. There’s not many plans of the last government that this one have chosen to honour.)

When Diana died she became “the People’s Princess” and there was a huge outpouring of national grief. It was fascinating. I was glued to the television, curious. Really? What on earth was going on with all the so called “reserved” English people? Thatcher’s death prompted street parties, the reserve all gone. Complicated, but somewhat crass. I’ll save my street party for the end of Thatcherism. I haven’t been watching, or listening. I won’t be watching the funeral. Normally, I’m not one to miss observing how the Establishment is choosing to display itself via what, for the rest of us, are essentially personal events. This time, I can’t bear it. It would be too much for my blood pressure. A protest of simply turning one’s back on the cortege has graciously been allowed by the police. There will be other protests at the amount of state money being spent on this, while we- those of us who aren’t millionaires- are living in an age of austerity

Thatcher is having a state funeral in all but name.

Remember this was not a well loved, cuddly, little old lady. This was not a monarch. This was a highly divisive, much hated, politician removed by her own party over 20 years ago.

Diana and Thatcher had much in common. They were outsiders to start with. They captured the public imagination. They were seen to personify an age, new ways of doing and being. They caused radical rethinking on the position of wives.


And when they left, the Establishment- not wider society- smoothed over the cracks, absorbed the lessons of image and carried on. Diana’s daughter in law dare not appear interesting. No political woman since has been allowed to have the power Thatcher had. The grocer’s daughter had crushed the post war consenus on mixed economy and welfare state, and was no longer needed. Status quo ante bellum, indeed.

The lesson of Diana’s funeral is that it’s the burial of a cipher, not that simply that individual. The funeral is defined by, and reinforces, the image.


8 thoughts on “Maggie and Diana: on burying an icon

  1. Good point about the outpouring of national grief for Diana (and the total lack of it for Mrs Thatcher). There are endless eulogies from the iron lady’s fans, but nobody visibly weeping buckets of tears or crumpled with grief. People’s true feelings (or lack of them) about her death are clear to see.

  2. The Beeb have interviewed everyone except the Downing Street cat to ask their views on Mrs T. Maybe the cat is being saved until the close of the year when we, once again, will be force fed the ‘Tale of Maggie’ on air, screen and in print.

  3. I still think that a funeral with such pomp and circumstance deserves a day off work for the rest of us. So we can contemplate our own insignificance!

  4. As i think I have said before, I loathed her, but I find the dancing on coffins distasteful. She was an old lady, and the time to celebrate was when she left office and when Thatcherism is dead. Both Simon Hoggart and Deborah Orr wrote good pieces in the Guardian last Saturday, but the most hopeful was the article by Nigel Wilmott, We Live in Atlee’s World, suggesting that in the long term Thatcher’s influence may be seen as less important, as Lord Liverpool, whose years in office she hoped to equal and who dominated his age, has become. Who remembers Lord Liverpool now?
    As for the funeral, traffic may be disrupted in London, but, as I may also have said before, tomorrow happens to be the anniversary of my father’s death and my thoughts will be of him, a man who I loved, rather than a cold stranger who died a lonely death in a luxury hotel.

  5. I dislike the thought of people turning their back on the cortege; it cannot not hurt her, it can hurt her family. Which is why I think it is heartless. Leaving that aspect of cruelty out of it I would never want to place myself in the position where I would turn my back on a coffin; perhaps that is due to how, as children, we were taught to respect the dead. All curtains must be closed if a funeral were due to pass the house. On meeting a funeral on the street you stopped and turned to faced the coffin with head slightly bowed; although you might not actually know who had died or what they had been in life. I think the most dignified form of protest is not to go or not to watch it on TV.

    1. I remember causing havoc on a main route into town one day by stopping the car as a hearse went past- turns out it’s less common in the ‘big smoke’ 🙂
      I didn’t watch, and stayed away from the computer so I’d not be tempted…

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