McDonald's, fancy dress and a rainbow hearse: Britons are doing death differently

Co-op Funeralcare's rainbow hearse is requested, on average, twice a month by families across Britain.
Co-op Funeralcare's rainbow hearse is requested, on average, twice a month by families across Britain.PHOTO: WWW.CO-OPERATIVE.COOP

LONDON • Britons are increasingly shunning traditional funerals in favour of more unusual send-offs, which last year included a McDonald's-themed drive-through event and a service for a magician where the undertakers wore red noses.

Two-fifths of British adults now want their funeral to be a celebratory affair, according to Co-op Funeralcare, while soaring demand for personalisation means the provider has seen requests for alternative hearses, such as adapted Land Rovers and rainbow-hued vehicles, rise by a fifth in three years.

The trends are revealed in January - a grim month when there are typically 30 per cent more deaths recorded in the second week than in any other week during the rest of the year - and a busy one for the funeral industry, now worth more than £2 billion (S$3.5 billion) a year.

Last year, the Co-op launched a large-scale national study into dying in Britain - in which more than 30,000 Britons were questioned - in an effort to break taboos around the subject and to encourage people to discuss their wishes.

That revealed that 41 per cent want their funeral to be a celebration of life rather than a sad occasion. A further 20 per cent say they will ask mourners to wear bright colours instead of traditional black.

Britain's biggest funeral chain highlighted its "quirkiest" funerals from last year, which included a Christmas in July send-off with Santa, Rudolph and Santa's little helpers in attendance and family and friends dressed in Christmas jumpers despite the scorching summer heat.

In a McDonald's-themed send-off for teenager Joshua Connolly-Teale - a fan of the fast-food chain - the cortege travelled to the local McDonald's drive-through before stopping in the carpark to allow family and friends to dispatch balloons. The family returned to the restaurant for the wake.

Mrs Heather Perry devised a humanist service "full of fun and humour" for her husband, Arthur, who died aged 86 in July last year after a lifetime as a magician and children's entertainer for which he dressed as a clown.

"The undertakers all wore red noses and at the end, a traditional magician's ritual was performed in which a wand is broken indicating that it is no longer needed as the person has passed away," said Mrs Perry of Polegate, East Sussex.

"It was a day to remember and I am very glad I did it this way as it summed up Arthur's humour and personality."

Other alternative funerals included a fancy-dress theme - with the funeral director dressed as He-Man and guests including Elvis Presley, Red Riding Hood and a ninja turtle - and an Only Fools And Horses send-off for a comedy enthusiast featuring a Reliant Regal hearse.

"We all lead unique lives and our final goodbye should definitely reflect that," said Mr David Collingwood, the Co-op's director of funerals. "Personalised touches don't need to be extravagant - it can be something as small as changing the funeral directing team's ties."

Meanwhile, specialist transport companies have also stepped into the breach by offering unusual options.

VW Funerals, for example - based in Nuneaton - has expanded its fleet of adapted hearse-style VW camper vans which consumers can hire independently of their funeral director.

No-frills cremations - as chosen by the late singer and musician David Bowie - are also rising in popularity as an alternative to traditional services.

The Co-op launched a no-frills service last year, while Simplicity Cremations (the direct cremation arm of publicly listed company Dignity) launched a new cremation package in October last year to provide families with all the practical and essential elements of a cremation without expensive ceremonial extras.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'McDonald's, fancy dress and a rainbow hearse: Britons are doing death differently'. Print Edition | Subscribe