Ripon soldier speaks of funeral honour

L/Cpl James Steel carries Margaret Thatcher's coffin at St Paul's Cathedral.
L/Cpl James Steel carries Margaret Thatcher's coffin at St Paul's Cathedral.

A Ripon soldier selected to carry Margaret Thatcher’s coffin has said it was an “unbelievable” experience he will never forget.

Talking to the Gazette two days after carrying the former Prime Minister’s coffin on Wednesday, April 17 during the funeral procession at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ripon soldier L/Cpl Steel said he was in “complete shock” when he found out he had been selected.

“Originally when I got asked I didn’t know I would actually be carrying the coffin – I thought I would just be on parade.

“I was just so shocked when I found out. I didn’t expect it at all.”

L/Cpl Steel, 24 – who was head boy when at school at Ripon College, now Outwood Academy – represented the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, at the funeral. He was the coffin bearer on the right-hand side of Baroness Thatcher’s coffin – which was draped in the Union Jack flag – third back from the front.

“Going into the shop on Thursday and seeing my face on the front of all the national newspapers was quite something,” L/Cpl Steel told the Gazette.

“I was quite nervous in the days running up to the parade but on the day I just tried to put it to the back of my mind and we had practised so much I just tried not to think about it too much.

I was sweating quite a bit on the day though!”

L/Cpl Steel said his Grandad inspired him to become a Para when he was in his late teens.

“My Grandad was a huge inspiration,” he said. “I know Margaret Thatcher loved the Paras and I think I was particularly chosen for my rank in the Army and because of my height, at 6ft 1in.”

And L/Cpl Steel found even more inspiration on the day of the funeral when he discovered two Falklands veterans were among his fellow pallbearers. The recapture of the Falklands from the Argentinians in 1982 is considered to be a pivotal moment in Baroness Thatcher’s political career.

“It has been a huge honour,” he said.

“I am going to the Falklands on May 8,” said L/Cpl Steel. “There are not many Falklands veterans left and meeting them on the day was quite inspirational.”

All of the eight servicemen chosen to carry Baroness Thatcher’s coffin have now been invited to meet her son, Mark Thatcher, this week.

But at the moment, L/Cpl Steel – who currently serves in Colchester – is enjoying relaxing at home since returning from Afghanistan.

“I love coming back to Ripon to see all my friends and family,” he said.

L/Cpl Steel celebrated his return in his home city at Ripon Racecourse at the first race meeting of the season on Thursday, April 18.