Middle England mourns one of its own
Saturday 22 May 1999
So there were two funerals yesterday in Weston-super-Mare: one for the few who genuinely knew the television presenter, murdered almost a month ago, and one for the thousands who believed that they knew her. They were linked by a loudspeaker set up in a little park just down the road from Clarence Park Baptist Church.
But first, hundreds behind the crush barriers watched as the 100 invited guests, most of whom were sombre in pure black, walked into the stone church, whose door was flanked by bright blue and white hydrangeas and ash-pink roses.
The public had come to pay their respects to the woman they all called "so ordinary and so nice", but many also admitted they were hoping to see a famous face or two.
Cameras came out for Sir Cliff Richard, who many said was very much like Jill. "She had the common touch, and no one else does except perhaps him. They don't have anything to prove to anyone," said Julienne Beckett from Weston. There were also flurries of excitement as Nick Ross, Martyn Lewis, Anna Ford and Jennie Bond arrived.
But it was not a celebrity funeral and, despite the crowds that later lined a four-mile funeral route to the crematorium, it did seem private. The people who came out on this grey and drizzly day were from Middle England and had come to pay their quiet respects to someone they thought of as one of themselves. There were tears, but most were shed quietly.
The hearse, its coffin laden with white flowers, drew up to the church, and the service started on time at 3pm. Only as the church doors closed did those outside go into the park, where the wind competed with the loudspeaker.
Many sang along to the hymns, and everyone stood and listened as the minister spoke. The Rev Roger Collins, who had baptised Jill Dando, gave a moving and very personal address.
He talked of her life in Weston, as a schoolgirl and a member of the church's youth fellowship, and of her excitement at having found the man she wanted to marry. Jill Dando was due to wed Alan Farthing this September and the minister said that Jill had been so thrilled when she had told him the news. "Life was about to enter an exciting, fulfilling new stage, until that fateful moment on Monday, April 26. Jill, the beautiful girl next door, known to every family in the country, was shot dead. And everyone was asking: `Why?' On the one hand the answer to that question lies in the hands of the police. But whatever they find, the larger question remains. I know of nobody who had fewer enemies than Jill."
There were also prayers for the police to find her killer, who shot her once at very close range as she returned to her home in Fulham, west London, after shopping. Almost 500 calls have been received since a special Crimewatch programme this week.
The funeral and the murder hunt seem entwined: the police had said they would be looking for the murderer in the crowd yesterday.
Most of those who came were women, and though none had met her they all said that somehow they knew her. "She had everything. She had a lovely face, a lovely voice, a lovely figure," said one woman who had come from London. "I thought she had a great pair of legs. What I would have given to have them!"
Others said that, as presenter of the BBC Holiday programme, she had been a part of their lives because they
followed her advice. "It will be sad going away now, knowing what has happened," said a woman sitting on top of a stone fence holding two red roses and two yellow roses.
She had taken the day off to come with her sister who was, she said, in floods of tears.
Margaret Hicks, from Merrow in Surrey, said she was not sure why she had come. She had woken up that morning intending to spend the day taking off wallpaper in the kitchen, but then realised that she wanted to come to this funeral.
She used to live near Weston, and came her often with her husband Jim to go bowling. Jim had died 10 months ago.
She got in the car and decided to try to make it to Weston. She arrived just in time. "The only good thing about this terrible massacre is now she is up in heaven with my husband," she said. "Her story is a rewrite of Diana but on a local and personal level."
The church service lasted an hour and then this girl next door was taken to Ebdon Road crematorium, very near the bungalow in Madam Lane where she used to live.
She is sharing a grave with her mother, whose death from cancer in 1985 affected her very deeply, on the very farthest edge of the ground near four large yew trees.
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