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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 19:22 GMT
Thousands say farewell to 'Our Richard'
By John Henry
BBC News in York

Kathryn Apanowicz and Carol Vorderman
Kathryn Apanowicz and Carol Vorderman arrive at the service
They came in their hundreds to pay their respects and celebrate the life of a man many of them had never met, yet undoubtedly felt was part of their extended family circle.

Outside York's towering gothic minster, the largest cathedral in northern Europe, hundreds gathered on a grey wintry day to say goodbye to TV's Richard Whiteley.

Five months after the host of Countdown died the entertainment world rubbed shoulders with the men and women who had only known him as "Our Richard".

Under grey scudding clouds a crowd built steadily, waiting for the huge west front doors of the minster to be opened and they could file into the cavernous nave of the sand-coloured building.

Unkown man attending service
Some fans dressed as Richard Whiteley would have approved

Some were sombrely dressed, although the event was a celebration of Richard's life. Others had donned their Sunday best while the real devotees took their seats dressed in an array of raucous striped jackets and even louder ties.

The man would have approved wholeheartedly ...they had kept his outlandish dress sense alive and weren't afraid of showing it off.

Despite the dull weather and occasional biting gust of wind the spirit of those filing in was happier and warmer than the November day appointed for the service.

York's flamboyant town crier John Redpath, resplendent in his flame red jacket and tri-corn hat, rung his brass bell outside the church as the crowds made their way in, calling out: "No amount of words on a scroll today could say how the people of Yorkshire feel today." His sentiments were greeted with warm, spontaneous applause.

Inside there was not an empty seat in the 524ft [160m] long church.

Comedienne Jo Brand summed up her feelings at the doorway.

"Today it means a lot to me. I was very fond of Richard, I worked with him a lot.

"He would have loved it here today."

Former soap actor Peter Baldwin and singer Lesley Garrett remembered Whiteley
Former soap actor Peter Baldwin and singer Lesley Garrett remembered Whiteley

And regular Countdown guest Richard Stilgo quipped: "It's a very bad day for the striped material industry."

Former Tory minister Stephen Norris added: "I've worn my worst tie possible. It's the best tribute I can give him."

Among the stars of entertainment who packed the minster, opera diva Lesley Garrett said she would miss Richard Whiteley's enthusiasm for life.

"Today's an opportunity to really celebrate everything that was fantastic about him.

"He championed all things Yorkshire."

And TV giant Sir Alan Whicker said: "He was always funny, really the ideal television man."

In a stirring account of the family's tribute to the man they knew as either Dick or Ricardo his niece Georgina Stewart told a silent congregation that receiving the OBE was the proudest day of his life. "He was in spectacular form," she added.

Her eulogy gave an insight into the drive and zest for life Richard Whiteley had. "He hated illness, he had not finished with the business of living...he left the party too early, she said."

Long-time co-host of the Countdown show and personal friend Carol Vorderman, wearing a bright red knee-length dress, mounted the altar steps to tell the 2,000 people inside :"If he were here he would have welcomed you one-by-one, greeting every one of you by the hand and would have wanted a photograph taken."

Sir Alan Whicker
Sir Alan Whicker was among the mourners

And she introduced a piece of music Richard Whiteley had been particularly fond of entitled "Gone but not forgotten", which was written and performed by Rick Wakeman.

The rolling, haunting melody played on a piano was in stark contrast to the thundering accompaniment to the cathedral's organ which competed with the congregation as they sang Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; My Song Is Love Unknown and O Son of Man, Our Hero strong and Tender.

Countdown regular Gyles Brandreth, wearing for him an understated charcoal suit, said: "For once, just once, the tabloids got it right...Richard Whiteley was a love god ...but he was the most innocent love god you could imagine.

"He was like a ray of sunshine, and like sunshine we all warmed to him."

His long-time partner, actress and broadcaster Kathryn Apanowicz told the assembled celebrities, dignitaries and fans: "Thank you for being fantastic fans, a lovely family."

The one-and three-quarter hours long service ended with rousing rendition of Jerusalem.

On the back of the Order of Service booklet a small poem ended "So thank you Richard, for a life that merits a place where you'll find only friendly ferrets."

Watch people pay tribute to Richard Whiteley


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