Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s revered anti-apartheid leader, could become the first non-Briton to be honoured in a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, it has emerged.
“I think with all the prayers and good wishes that have been made, it certainly must do something,” he added. “We hope that very soon he will be out of hospital.”
If Mr Mandela were to be honoured at Westminster Abbey at a service attended by The Queen, it would mark an astonishing turnaround for a man once classified by the British authorities as a terrorist.
But since his release from 27 years in prison in 1990, he has been treated as a unique case by the British government. During a state visit to London in 1996 – once he had become South Africa’s first black president – he was accorded the rare honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. Today, his statue stands opposite to Sir Winston Churchill’s in Parliament Square.
Mr Mandela has also enjoyed a close relationship with The Queen.
In 1995, he became the first foreign recipient of an Order of Merit from her when she visited him in South Africa a year after he came to power. The following year, on his visit to London, he danced with the Queen during a concert at the Albert Hall.
Mr Mandela’s grandson Kweku told The Daily Telegraph in a recent interview that the Queen had rung his grandfather at home on several occasions.
“The first time he met her, he called her Elizabeth and she told him: ’It’s actually Your Majesty. And you have to bow’,” he said.
A palace insider agreed that the Queen enjoyed a “very warm relationship” with Mr Mandela but stressed that no decisions could be made while he was still alive.