Thousands give Stephen Sutton final thumbs up

THOUSANDS have bid farewell to an inspirational teenage cancer sufferer by joining a vigil in his honour.

Mourners young and old gathered at Lichfield Cathedral to pay respects to Stephen Sutton. Picture: Newsteam
Mourners young and old gathered at Lichfield Cathedral to pay respects to Stephen Sutton. Picture: Newsteam

A service marking the end of two days’ thanksgiving for the life of Stephen Sutton at Lichfield Cathedral yesterday was attended by hundreds of people, including his mother Jane, brother Chris, family and friends. Some 10,000 mourners had attended his vigil.

The 19-year-old succumbed to multiple tumours on 14 May after a determined fight.

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Also present was comedian Jason Manford, who was among a host of celebrities to praise Stephen’s courage.

Hundreds gathered outside the cathedral to give a “thumbs up” to the memory of the campaigner, who made the gesture his own and raised £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

As the 11th bell chimed, everyone’s thumbs went up, followed by a minute of applause. As the clapping died away, a lone voice from the crowd shouted, “Go, Steve” and a huge cheer went up.

Later, as his coffin emerged from the cathedral, the crowd burst into applause again.

A symbolic 19 balloons were released – one for each year of Stephen’s life – by his mother and brother, before a larger number were let loose to cheers, backed by a steady tattoo from the Pandemonium Drummers, with whom Stephen performed in front of 90,000 people at the Uefa Champions League final 2013 at Wembley Stadium, as part of his famous bucket list.

Last night cathedral officials confirmed 10,000 people had turned out to view Stephen’s white coffin as it lay in the cathedral, in what Dean of Lichfield the Very Reverend Adrian Dorber called a “phenomenal” display of human unity for the man he said “has become everybody’s favourite son around here”.

The teenager’s determination to live his life despite his life-limiting bowel cancer saw his initial campaign to raise £10,000 gain rapid momentum.

Stephen, who was diagnosed at the age of 15, said: “I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time any more. I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference.”

It was that attitude, which spread via social media, which earned the admiration of many, including celebrities Russell Brand, Simon Cowell and Ricky Gervais, as well as Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited Stephen in hospital.

During yesterday’s service, the Dean of Lichfield said Stephen’s memory had “energised people” both young and old, among them cancer survivors and sufferers, who had patiently filed through the cathedral since Thursday to pay their respects.

He said the enduring lesson taught by Stephen, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, was “to live not as a victim but as a free young person”, adding that his inspiration was to “offer an alternative to the bleak, mean view we often have of life”. Concluding the service, the dean said he was “glad and proud to be part of the same human race which had as one of its examples Stephen Sutton”.

He added: “It would be usual now to say, ‘Rest in peace’, but I can’t imagine Stephen doing that. He’d say, ‘Live it up’ so – one more time – let’s give him a thumbs up.”

Siobhan Dunn, chief executive of the Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “What really matters is what you do with the time you have. The difference Stephen has made has been immeasurable.”

She said the charity would spend the donations he raised supporting the trust’s 22 UK units, services, outreach nursing units and support workers.

“Young people should not be defined by their cancer,” she said, adding that the charity would continue to work under Stephen’s ethos that “while he may have cancer, cancer did not have him”.