Belfast Telegraph

Stars remember 'great' Attenborough

The life of the "truly great" Oscar-winning film director Richard Attenborough has been celebrated by a host of A-list stars.

Film veteran Lord Attenborough, who dominated the British movie business for more than half a century, died last August at the age of 90.

The service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey, central London, had a dazzling congregation including his brother, TV wildlife presenter Sir David Attenborough, actors Sir Michael Caine, Sir John Hurt, Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench.

The ceremony, which lasted just under an hour, featured Sir David reading from Lord Attenborough's 1994 maiden speech which opens with a line that got the congregation chuckling.

"I have it on the best authority - from a not too distant relative - that we are related to apes," he read.

After reading the extract, which included the words "the arts are not a luxury" but "are for everyone", Sir David added: "My brother lived by his words."

As the service opened, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, said: "We come to celebrate the life and achievement of Richard Attenborough, a truly great man: certainly a star of stage and screen, but also a pioneer film-maker, an exemplary leader of his profession, a man of deep commitment, of great generosity of spirit, and of personal warmth."

He added: "We shall also pray that his story might continue to inspire and inform others to follow his example, that our world might become a little brighter and better."

Sir Ben Kingsley read from the writings of Gandhi, while fellow actor Tom Hiddleston also did a reading.

After the ceremony, Sir Michael said: "It was brilliant. So beautiful."

And Dame Judi said: "I thought it was absolutely perfect."

Sir John said: "It was excellent. Very moving."

Robert Lindsay said: "It was very uplifting and it was a testimony to his amazing gift.

"I used to call him the magician."

Dame Penelope Keith said it was "marvellous", adding: "I think he'd have loved it."

In his address, Lord Puttnam described Lord Attenborough as "gifted, loyal, tenacious, but also deeply sensitive".

He recalled a story from 1990 when Dickie, as he was called by his friends, led a delegation to Downing Street to discuss the creative industries with then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Lord Puttnam said the PM asked why it had taken them so long to get together, to which Lord Attenborough replied: "Because you never asked me, darling."

Other people at the service included the famous footballer Gianfranco Zola who played for Lord Attenborough's much-loved Chelsea.

Twiggy was also there and was joined in the atmospheric abbey by others including Katherine Kelly, Peter Bowles, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal, Edward Fox, Jane Seymour, Simon Callow, Patricia Hodge, Sue Barker, Maureen Lipman and Melvyn Bragg.

Others included shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, Tony Hall, Peter Hain, Michael Grade, Lord Neil Kinnock and Jeffrey Archer.

Tourists stopped to watch the spectacle of the celebrities arriving and departing, with camera phones at the ready, eager to snap a famous face.

Politicians, Hollywood stars and industry leaders reflected on the life and times of Lord Attenborough after his death last year.

Born in Cambridge in 1923, he championed the British film industry through its triumphs and trials, enjoying success as one of Britain's leading actors before becoming a celebrated director and prolific movie-maker.

His career highlights included appearing in 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park and clinching eight Oscars for 1982 film Gandhi, including best film and best director.

As an actor he was respected enough for top directors Satyajit Ray and Steven Spielberg to lure him out of self-imposed retirement to appear respectively in The Chess Players and Jurassic Park.

Spielberg, who chose Lord Attenborough to be ''the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life'' in the films, said he was just one person in a long line of ''Dickie's'' fans.

Lord Attenborough married actress Sheila Sim when he was 21. His son Michael was born in 1949, followed by two daughters, Jane and Charlotte.

Tragedy struck on Boxing Day 2004 when his elder daughter Jane Holland, and her daughter, Lucy, and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the South Asia tsunami.

Michael is a theatre director and former artistic director of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, north London, and Charlotte is an actress.

Lord Attenborough struck up a friendship with Diana, Princess of Wales, after the Prince of Wales asked him to help her write speeches.

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