The damage: More than half a million people die in Britain every year. Melanie Clulow looks at the grave business of going out in style

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Since the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, last year, "Candle in the Wind" has replaced "Abide with Me" as Britain's favourite send- off song. But the British approach to funerals was already undergoing a transformation before that.

Twenty years ago, the bereaved simply rang the undertaker and, motivated by a mixture of grief and guilt, tried not to select the cheapest option from a range of pre-packaged services. By the mid-Eighties, impersonal, assembly-line funerals were the norm. "We were almost on autopilot in our disposal of the dead," says John Harris, a partner at funeral directors T Cribb & Sons in London's East End. "The only way to go was up."

Since then, funerals have become much more personal. People are choosing their own music, readings and woodland burial plots in advance and the trend is towards eco-burials with biodegradable shrouds and cardboard coffins. But many still want to say goodbye with hang- the-expense Victorian flair. In London's East End, where a cortege of hundreds of cars might mark the passing of a well-loved market-stall owner, the price tag might exceed 30 times the pounds 1,100 cost of the average British funeral.

The preliminaries Death certificate, pounds 3.50; obituary notice in The Independent, pounds 100; new suit of clothes for the deceased, pounds 200

Getting there Hearse (must be drawn by coal-black horses), pounds 850; two horse-drawn mourning carriages, pounds 1,700; horse-drawn carriage for wreaths sent by friends and colleagues, pounds 850; one dozen flower-draped black limousines, pounds 900

Flora Coffin spray of red roses, pounds 400; 70 wreaths and flower arrangements, pounds 1,575

Procession Two pipers, pounds 160; drummer, pounds 80; six-piece New Orleans jazz band, pounds 480

Service Twenty-five-voice choir, pounds 1,000; soloist (to sing "Abide With Me"), pounds 65

Burial American-style solid wood coffin lined in velvet, pounds 3,000; lead shell (to prevent exposure of remains once coffin has decomposed), pounds 1,500; burial vault (sleeps four), pounds 16,000

The end Reception for 200 (tea and coffee, canapes and pastries), pounds 1,400

Total: pounds 30,263.50