From cradle to graveyard shift: When he isn't studying for his A-levels, Steven Williams spends his time carrying coffins. Christine Smith meets Britain's youngest undertaker

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Steven Williams can see 100 tombstones from his bedroom window. His home is in the grounds of Penrhys cemetery, in South Wales, where his father once worked as sexton. It was there that he saw his first dead body at the age of five.

'I walked into the chapel of rest and saw this dead body just lying there. A fly was buzzing around and I could not understand why the person did not brush it away. My dad told me that he was asleep, and I still regard dead bodies as people sleeping.'

Steven is 17 and his idea of a good time is carrying coffins at funerals. He is the youngest undertaker in Britain even though he is still at school studying for A-levels.

'I am on 24-hour call-out and I often receive calls at school to fetch a body from the hospital. On Tuesdays I help out at funerals, as I have no lessons. My teachers don't mind, provided I do all my work. I do find that I can catch up.'

Andrew Chinn, headteacher at Ferndale Comprehensive, says he has never had a pupil quite like Steven before. 'We are encouraging him all the way. He is a good all-rounder and studies hard. When he first said he wanted to work as an undertaker, we thought he was taking the mickey. We now realise he is serious about it. Steven should go far.'

He is, of course, different from most teenagers. Funerals, rather than football and parties, take top priority. 'I carry a lot of responsibility and I am more mature than most young people I know. But I have to be like this as I need to earn people's trust. I am known as a bit of a quiet lad, but I don't mind.'

Steven began helping a local funeral director with services and carrying the flowers when he was 14. On his 16th birthday he set up his own undertaking business and bought his first limousine. With his parents' financial support, he now owns four limousines and two hearses - two of which are the oldest funeral cars in Britain.

He will never forget the first time he stepped into a morning suit. 'It was a total nightmare; I was sweating and turned bright red. I was so nervous, but people said that I did all right.'

By any standards, Steven's business is doing well; he puts everything he earns back into it. 'I have 15 funerals to my name and I have already carried out four this year. This may not sound very many, but other undertakers have told me that when they first started, they were lucky to do three all year.'

His determination to carry out traditional services is the secret to his success. 'I believe in old-fashioned ways and I spend two hours every day washing my cars from top to toe. I have to get rid of all the smudges. I am performing a service for the family, whose wishes always come first. I like to walk in front of the hearse, as this shows respect for the family.'

Sometimes, however, things do not always run smoothly. 'I once had to chase after another funeral director who was taking my dead body. Luckily, I managed to catch up with her, but it was a near miss.'

Steven has become a celebrity in the village of Penrhys: people are beginning to recognise him on the street. After he appeared on The Big Breakfast, he received a letter from a woman asking him how to become an undertaker.

He insists he is not obsessed by death. 'I have always lived in a cemetery and I don't feel that I have had an unusual upbringing. I have only ever wanted to be an undertaker and I'm pleased that I have become the youngest in this country.'

When he finishes his A-levels, Steven wants to continue building his business and plans to go to college to study embalming. He also intends to take the diploma in funeral directing even though it is not a requirement of the job. He believes it will help him in the future.

Steven also knows how he wants to be buried: dressed in top hat and tails - his funeral clothes - and laid out in a chestnut casket with brass trimmings and lined with the best white satin.

(Photograph omitted)

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