FRIENDS, family and colleagues gathered at a thanksgiving service yesterday to say farewell to the actress Lynda Bellingham.
Laughter rang out in St Stephen’s Church, in the heart of the City of London, during the service, which had been meticulously planned by the actress before she died in the autumn.
Bellingham, 66, probably best known for her role as the mother in the Oxo TV adverts and as a Loose Women presenter, had chosen the venue because it was where she worshipped, and where she married husband Michael Pattemore. He arrived at the service dressed in a bold blue suit, flanked by her sons Mike and Robbie.
Actors Christopher Biggins and Lesley Joseph, who read a poem Bellingham had written to her husband called “Remember”, were among the guests.
Actresses Sylvia Syms, Amanda Redman, Patricia Hodge and novelist Lynda La Plante were also among those who came to say a fond farewell.
One of the few tearful moments in the service was when Mr Pattemore told the 300-strong congregation that he clearly remembered his wedding day, when “my heart was bursting with happiness and now we are here again and my heart is bursting with sadness”.
He fought back tears and added: “It breaks my heart that the one thing I could not protect her from was this disease called cancer.” To warm applause, TV presenter Gyles Brandreth told the congregation: “Love, laughter and friendship, those are the gifts Lynda gave us. Haven’t we been blessed?”
Bellingham had colon cancer which later spread to her lungs and liver. She died in the arms of her husband at a London hospital last October.
In her last few weeks, she spoke openly about her illness and its effect on her family. She had been diagnosed last July but in late September disclosed that she had decided to end her treatment to limit the amount of suffering her family would witness.
She was remembered as a thoughtful, maternal, generous and fabulous woman who was also a natural clown.
But despite her successful comedy roles, it should not forgotten that Bellingham was a good actress and writer, Mr Brandreth said.
“Her control and artistry would take your breath away,” he said.
He jokingly described the bubbly actress as “so sexy that even gay men fancied her, and she fancied them too”.
Mr Brandreth added: “She fancied Biggins – I think that is why Michael has come in one of Biggins’s cast-offs. She showed us how to live and then how to die with such grace and kindness.” Bellingham’s book – There’s Something I’ve Been Dying to Tell You – discussed her illness in detail and spent weeks at the top of the bestseller lists.
Biggins said that the laughter was the thing he would always remember about Bellingham.
He said: “She would have loved this full house and would have loved the laughter we have had. God bless you Lynda. We love you.”
Peter Delaney, who conducted the service – which was jokingly dubbed as the second meeting of the Lynda Bellingham Appreciation Society, after her funeral – noted that she had handpicked the details of how the event was to play out.
He quipped: “The contents of this service are Lynda’s wishes because she planned her farewells. She was not a control freak but she did like to know what was going on.”
The showtune There’s No Business Like Showbusiness brought smiles to those who had come to pay their respects as it brought the service to an end.