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The big send-off: What would Northern Ireland's personalities like to have at their funeral?

A samba band, sequins and one last appearance on the stage of the Lyric - Belfast actor Peter Quigley's funeral this week was an extraordinary occasion. But how would six of our best-loved personalities plan their final farewell? They share their ideas for a send-off.

Published 26/06/2015

Centre stage: the funeral of Peter Quigley at the Lyric Theatre
Centre stage: the funeral of Peter Quigley at the Lyric Theatre
Pallbearer actor Packy Lee gets into the spirit
Friends and family arrive for the ceremony
Peter Quigley
Dan Gordon
Eamonn Holmes
Gerry Armstrong
Janet Devlin
Sarah Travers
Pamela Ballantine

It was a funeral that reflected Belfast actor Peter Quigley's flamboyant personality - a final curtain call for a much-loved man.

In keeping with his request for a theatrical farewell "performance", mourners at his funeral, held earlier this week, marked the occasion in a spectacular way.

Instead of a sombre procession with weeping relatives following a hearse, Peter's white, bejewelled coffin was escorted down the street by a brilliantly-coloured samba band. The service was conducted around the coffin, which was placed, literally centre-stage, at the Lyric Theatre in the south of the city. Pictures of the actor, in his prime were projected onto a screen, while the soundtrack from the movie Cabaret belted out from speakers.

Afterwards Peter's casket was waved off amid a fanfare of confetti and applauding onlookers - the dress code was strictly glitz, glam and glitter. It was a fitting last act for a man held in high esteem by all those who knew him.

His unconventional funeral had clearly been planned in advance, following his cancer diagnosis earlier this year.

And it's becoming increasingly popular for funerals to be themed these days, with many people wanting to celebrate their life rather than mourn a death.

When ovarian cancer campaigner Una Crudden passed away from the disease last year those at her funeral dressed in the colour teal to help raise increase awareness of the disease. And it was a similar story when Pretty In Pink charity founder Noleen Adair died from breast cancer, with mourners choosing to wear pink.

We talk to well-known personalities about their own special wishes for their final send-off.

Eamonn: ‘I would like lots of big sunglasses to give it a showbiz air’

Eamonn Holmes (55) is a Sky News and breakfast presenter. He lives in Surrey with his wife Ruth Langsford, with whom he co-hosts ITV's This Morning every Friday, and he has four children: Declan (26), Rebecca (24), Niall (23) and Jack (14). He says:

I would like to be buried from St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast. I would like a High Mass with lots of incense and the song I would like sung would be Bridge Over Troubled Water - but I want the Elvis version, performed by the impersonator Jim Brown.

Elvis was a gospel singer before he was anything else so his version was the best.

My coffin would be lifted first of all by my brothers - Liam, Brian, Colm and Connor - and then by my sons Declan, Niall and Jack. The fourth person for that lift would be John Linehan, aka May McFettridge. The dress code would be respectful - black suits, white shirts and black ties.

I want lots of big sunglasses to give it a showbiz air. I want lots of weeping too.

Afterwards, I would like a good do, somewhere like Fortwilliam Golf Club - and, of course, I would expect the whole affair to be front page of the Belfast Telegraph.

Sarah: 'I'd love a party on the beach close to summer solstice'

Sarah Travers (41) is a TV presenter. She lives in Portstewart with her husband, Stephen Price, and their children, Jack (18) and Evie (12). She says:

I would love my funeral to be more of a celebration of my life with everyone in bright colours. I would be traditional in the first instance and have a very regular church funeral service. I would like a nice eulogy - it would be lovely for someone to stand up and say something nice about me. I would also like Pie Jesu sung as a duet with soprano and alto - I used to sing that at school with my friend when we were both in the choir, and I always thought it was beautiful.

Then, a couple of months after the funeral, when all the fuss had died down, I would like a barbecue or beach party. I love Portstewart, and I think it would be great to have a little impromptu party close to the summer solstice. People would watch the sunset, have a dip in the sea and a few beers.

Somebody would play chilled tunes and everyone could sit around and reminisce about me.

After the party, I would then like one of those benches that you see erected in memory of people. I would like one overlooking Portstewart Strand, with the words, "Sarah used to walk this beach, please enjoy". I think with the culture here, where people are buried very quickly after death, I would like to let things calm down before having the party.

That way it can be chilled and relaxed, not full-on raucous - a chance for everyone to reflect on happy times. The beach has been part of my life since I was born, and I've had all sorts of happy times there, so it would be a fitting place for a send-off.

Gerry: 'A big bash to celebrate, with some traditional Irish music'

Gerry Armstrong (61) is a sports commentator and former Northern Ireland football player. He lives in Majorca with his wife Debbie and has two children, Caitlin (14) and Marianna (7). He says:

For my funeral I think there certainly should be a party of some sort. It's traditional in Ireland for there to be some sort of wake where people sit around and remember the good times they all had together.

I would just like a big bash to celebrate. I would like traditional Irish music, although I love all types of music so any kind would be welcome. A proper session.

That's what we used to do when I played for Northern Ireland, we would have a proper session at the Culloden Hotel - Jimmy Nicholl and I were actually talking about them recently. Peggy in the Culloden would close the bar at 11.30pm and then open it again at midnight. It would just be us and the residents.

We would have some musician friends with us and they would, of course, bring their instruments and start playing. I think the camaraderie that we had as a team really helped, but I had such fond memories of the singing and the music and the craic that we had afterwards. I want that kind of party.

Pamela: 'All of the mourners would be made to sing Bon Jovi'

Pamela Ballantine (56) is a television and radio presenter and lives in Belfast. She says:

I've thought about my funeral - I know exactly what song I'd have played as I am brought into the church. It's Living On A Prayer by Bon Jovi and the congregation would have to sing it, even that really hard high bit in the chorus.

I'd want there to be lots of weeping, but it shouldn't be too sombre an occasion. People should wear lots of different colours.

I think the dos after funerals can be a bit flat so I would like someone to organise something like a cheesy disco to keep things lively. I'd want people to tell all the salacious and bad stories about me, as I will be gone, so I won't mind.

Finally, I would like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered over the north coast from a helicopter.

Janet: 'The service itself should  make everyone laugh at the end'

Singer/songwriter Janet Devlin (20) first came to the public's attention when she finished in fifth place on The X Factor in 2011.

Originally from Gortin in Co Tyrone, she now lives in London. She says:

At my funeral I would hope most of my friends would play some kind of music. I think I would prefer that it was more of a musical event than anything else, really. One song I would love to be played would be Alison Krauss' Down To The River To Pray, from the O, Brother Where Art Thou movie soundtrack.

I wouldn't be cremated, I would just make sure that there was a celebration of my life rather than a focus on my death.

I think the service itself would be one that would make everyone laugh at the end, not cry, but I cannot think what exactly I would go for.

I would want there to be a relaxed dress code. I certainly wouldn't want anything strict, so everyone could wear what they want.

I'm a fan of wearing all black anyway, so that would be normal for me. I would be happier if people wore white.

Dan: 'I want to bow out in the same way as Scotty did from Star Trek'

Dan Gordon (49) is an actor and playwright and lives in Belfast with his wife Kathy and their three daughters, Sarah (24), Hannah (21), Martha (15). He says:

I would like to live to the age of 222 so it will be a long time until it's my funeral.

I want to go the same way as James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in the original Star Trek series, bowed out. His ashes were sent up with a space shuttle and shot into space.

I wouldn't have a church service because I'm not really into that sort of thing. Instead, I would have a Van Morrison concert - he would sing everything from Tupelo Honey to Bright Side Of The Road. When that ended, I would like a rewritten version of Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire performed. I rewrote it once before for a Christmas satire in the Lyric Theatre, but I would write it again with all the things I've done in my life. While that played I'd want a screen showing pictures of me doing all the things I've done.

As that ends I'd like fireworks to go off down the screen - the whole thing would probably have to be over water like the Lagan on Belfast Lough.

The final thing would be for a big rocket to shoot off which would have me inside it, heading into space.

Belfast Telegraph

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