1200 pay tribute to Norfolk hotelier

Ian Clarke An estimated 1200 people, including an array of celebrities, today gave charismatic hotelier Paul Whittome a send off he would have been proud of - and had a big part in planning.

Ian Clarke

An estimated 1200 people, including an array of celebrities, gave charismatic hotelier Paul Whittome a send off he would have been proud of - and had a big part in planning.

Paul Whittome, owner of the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, died earlier this month after losing his defiant year-long battle with cancer.

And despite the grief felt at the north Norfolk hotel, Mr Whittome's family, friends and colleagues carried out the 55-year-old's own detailed funeral plans to the letter.

Mr Whittome was cremated at a private family ceremony on Thursday and on Friday there was a public thanksgiving service at Burnham Westgate Church.

The church was filled with 300 family and close friends, including Amanda Holden, Anneka Rice, Stephen Fry and Les Dennis.

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An estimated 700 people packed in to a marquee where the service was relayed on to big screens and about 200 others had to stand outside.

Everything from the cutting of the grass at the church to the choice of live music - and the assertion that guests must not wear gloomy black - had come from the hotelier's instructions.

Four of Mr Whittome's close friends gave a resum� of his well-travelled life and there was a 24-piece choir led by Thursford impresario John Cushing and music was provided by renowned organist Robert Wolfe.

Other choices of songs included My Way, Climb Every Mountain and Somewhere Over The Mountain and hymns Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, Lord Of The Dance and O Worship The King.

After the service, everyone who attended was invited to attend a party in the gardens of the Hoste Arms, at which Elvis Presley impersonator Jay Ashton sang - which one of Elvis-crazy Mr Whittome's choices. Mr Ashton also performed at Miss Holden's surprise party for Mr Whittome in May.

Mr Whittome's chosen charity will be the One Net One Life campaign run by explorer and humanitarian Kingsley Holgate to introduce mosquito nets in Africa.

After Mr Whittome bought the Hoste Arms in 1989, it became famed for attracting film stars and celebrities.

Miss Holden had jetted back from a working assignment in Los Angeles and went direct to Mr Whittome's family home at Brancaster to support his widow, Jeanne, and step-daughters, Lauren and Natasha, after hearing of her dear friend's death.

As she went in to the service, she said she found it difficult to accept the larger-than-life character, whom she referred to as the Lord Mayor of Burnham Market, had died.

She said: “He was hugely generous and I still refuse to believe he has died and I feel him around all the time.”

Miss Holden, who was a regular guest at the Hoste Arms and who threw a party for Mr Whittome about a month ago, added: “He loved a bit of drama and loved being in the spotlight and he would love it today.”

Miss Holden read a passage of Robert Louis Stevenson's work called He Has Achieved Success.

Les Dennis said: “He was a most remarkable, wonderful, lovely man and I cannot think about him without smiling.”

Long-time friend Stephen Bett prompted laughter from the congregation when he said that Mr Whittome had told him just before his death on July 2 that he wanted him to speak at his funeral and that instructions would be emailed to him after his death.

“Names, events of 32 years up to and including the buying and starting of the Hoste, you will have five to seven minutes, don't waffle! I'm afraid I could not bring myself to dress up as Elvis”, he said, prompting more giggles.

There were more smiles when Mr Bett told of how Paul was bet �100 that he would not streak down Biggleswade High Street.

“He took on the bet being the self-publicist par excellence he was and tipped off some of the national tabloids. The streak happened and so incensed Paul's father that he banished him to Australia for a year”

Miss Rice's address concentrated on Paul's love for his family and his wife, Jeanne, who he said he was his “dream girl”.

She said Jeanne had literally been by Paul's side day and night, throughout his illness.

“She has been extraordinary, more so because she has managed to keep a sense of humour, even on some very dark days. When Paul was discharged from the London clinic to spend his last few days at home, Jean blew her vuvuzela all the way down the hospital corridor and into the lift, causing total chaos. But Paul loved it and he loved her,” she said.

Miss Rice had earlier revealed that when she stayed at Paul's own family home at Brancaster, she and Paul would get up early and, both in their dressing gowns, would sit in the conservatory sorting out the world.

One of his best friends Brendan Hopkins said Mr Whittome would have already planned his first party in Heaven, such that Heaven has never seen before and everyone up there will want to be on your next guest list.

“Enjoy! All of our world's will be much emptier without you - you made all our lives so special. We love you my friend and always will”.

Mr Whittome's brother in law Nick Cawood began his remarks by giving the Zulu royal salute - the Bayette Nkosi - in front of a photograph of Paul at the front of the church.

He said Paul had an amazingly generous and compassionate nature.

“There are only a handful of people who come into your world and touch your life in such a dramatic fashion and Paul was one of those people.

He revealed that Africa was Paul's paradise, a reprieve from his beloved Burnham Market hotel.

“It gave him the opportunity to reflect and gather inspiration to form new ideas for his businesses. “Paul was not a man who would idly waste his time his time away, he was always on a new project be it writing a book, renovating his home, trying out a new restaurant or sharing quality time with his friends and family”.

Mr Whittome himself, being the showman that he was, couldn't resist having the last say at his thanksgiving service.

On June 29 just three days before he died, Paul wrote, the words being printed in his Order of Service: I am at rest and at peace; I have done what I could; I have had a wonderful rich life and now I am ready to move on.”

On Thursday the funeral courtege had started at Mr Whittome's home in Brancaster Staithe and drove slowly through Burnham Market and members of staff threw roses on to his car.

The courtege was headed by one of his close friends riding Mr Whittome's beloved Harley Davidson motorbike.