Alastair Yates was a newsreader for the BBC. When he passed away unexpectedly, his daughter Elspeth wanted to make his funeral as unique as he was.
“Dad was amazing. He lived in London and was a hilarious juxtaposition of styles. He loved the high life with its glitz and glamour but he was also incredibly thrifty with gaffa taped garden shoes and never a single bit of food wasted. He was famous among friends and family for his salads, which he could rustle up from leftovers. Nub ends of carrots were grated or put into soups, hummus pots scraped clean and grey avocados turned into dressings! It was a complete surprise when dad passed away he wasn’t ill and was still young and fit, in fact he’d been swimming the day before. He had a heart attack at his desk. It was just so unexpected.
“It was really important to us that we made choices that we thought he’d have been happy with for the funeral. I planned the funeral with my brother, James and we wanted it to reflect Dad and his passions throughout life.
“We visited Co-Op funerals first but soon realised they weren’t the right fit for us. The branch we contacted were quite formal and we were looking for something softer and with more options for personalisation. With this realisation we spent time googling what was possible and found that we could go fully independent. As soon as we found Louise, owner of Poetic Endings (funeral directors) and Hannah, an independent celebrant, we knew we had the perfect team.
“Louise was incredible, she had a website and social media that wasn’t all dark colours and sad faces. It was more about celebration and beauty. We liked that. Hannah was absolutely brilliant too, dad would have loved them both.
“We liked that both of them came to Dad’s house and spent a long time with us going through photographs and memories. They asked lots of questions and showed us the calm, kind and patient understanding that we needed having just lost our dad. They really cared and we could tell they really wanted him to have a nice send-off too. The way Louise spoke about Dad and how they’d be treating him while he was with them was almost like he was still alive, I really really appreciated that."
“It was quite a big funeral. We ended up booking a double slot beacause we had no idea how many people would turn up. It also gave us more time to enjoy the process and say a calm goodbye, I definitely wouldn’t have wanted it any shorter!
“Everything was thought through. Dad had always been into cars, so Louise found us a list of alternative funeral cars to choose from. We ended up choosing a vintage car for the hearse. He also loved his garden and getting out for walks, so we knew we wanted to make things quite natural and chose a wicker coffin. He’d actually spoken about that before he passed away. He’d seen a documentary that had a wicker coffin and he said it was nice idea. It felt like the right choice for him. Softer, less traditional. Less stark.
“Before he was a newsreader, dad was a DJ, and he absolutely loved music, so choosing that was a stressful but hugely important part of planning the funeral. We’re very lucky that one of my friends is an actress on stage in the West End, and dad had seen her perform in one of his favourite musicals – Phantom of the Opera. So that was an easy first choice, she sang for us, it was a real tear jerker! The rest was a mix of classical and Beatles.
“We said we’d rather people didn’t wear black. We weren’t strict on the dress code though, I think it’s really important for people to be able to grieve and go through that process, how they need to. Louise and her all female team wore blue with small accents of colour. The funeral was a real family affair with his brother, my brother and I all speaking about dad, there were tears and laughter in equal measure as we shared stories.
“The bit that I found hardest was the final goodbye. Having the curtains close and having to walk away was like receiving that awful call all over again. We had bunches of rosemary, symbolising longevity and remembrance. We each took our bunch and placed it on the coffin and said a last goodbye. That was the final part of the funeral service.”
Elspeth’s tips for planning a funeral
“I wish I would’ve known what he wanted. That was the really hard part of planning the funeral – not having any inclination of anything at all. What suit would he have wanted to wear? Would he have wanted anything in the coffin with him? What music? Music was so important to him so it was really hard choosing songs. It would make things a lot easier if people thought and talked about their wishes. It does help if you give yourself space and time to organise everything and really think about it. Make sure you find the right funeral director for what you want. We visited one and found it just wasn’t right for us and I’m so glad that we decided to step back and not rush into things.
“At the time you want things to just be over and done, but the pain isn’t going to go away just because you’ve got everything ready and organised. Take your time. Find the right funeral director. I don’t regret a single thing about the funeral, but if I’d rushed, I probably would’ve.”
To thank Elspeth for sharing her story, we’ve made a contribution to Great Western Air Ambulance in memory of Alastair.