Terminally ill Mandy Taylor is dying as she lived - by dazzling mourners at her own funeral and helping others with a new social media campaign
As a bubbly compere, Mandy Taylor is used to lighting up stages at big charity events with hundreds of people hanging onto her every word.
And if the 53-year-old former professional fundraiser has her way, her own funeral will be no different.
“I want to light up the sky!” laughs terminally ill Mandy who is planning to say goodbye to family and friends in her own sparking style.
After making her final journey in a coffin decorated with ostrich feathers, diamante, sequins and pearls, Mandy plans to make her mourners laugh as well as cry with a poignant speech she’s about to pre-record herself any day now.
“I won’t script it; it will come from the heart!” she promises.
Then as a last hoorah, Mandy’s arranged for her cremated ashes to be put in a giant firework and fired heavenwards at a second ceremony in her hometown of Huddersfield.
“I don’t want tears and sadness; I want to leave behind a legacy of positivity,” she says. “I’ve had a fantastic life and I want people to remember that.”
Despite being unlucky enough to get cancer three times in the past 10 years, Mandy insists that she’s also been very lucky as cancer has introduced her to a world of new opportunities in her forties when it first struck, as she’s volunteered tirelessly to raise money for others ever since. Her work as a professional fundraiser before then proved to be a distinct advantage.
Even though time is not on her side - in recent weeks she has discovered that her third tumour has spread to her liver and is untreatable - she’s refusing to “curl up and cry” or even waste time wondering whether she’ll be here for Christmas.
“I can only think as far as tomorrow. But while I can’t add days to my life, I can add life to my days. I am not feeling great but my brain is still alert and my soul is still alive,” insists Mandy who after defeating breast cancer twice in 2011 and 2017 has been unable to beat a rare, aggressive stage four tumour that was found in her nose in April this year called Sinonasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma. Despite chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, it’s not going away for good.
So the self-confessed showgirl who’s helped raise £2million in the past to provide a children’s hospice for her hometown and boost charitable causes, is focusing on leaving a last legacy for her family to be proud of.
While she may no longer have to energy to do sponsored sky dives, carpool karaokes, mountain climbs or 280-mile cycle rides as she has before, she’s doing her best to ignore her pain and fatigue, cheerfully hiding her bald head with a blonde wig and encouraging others to be brave and generous within their own communities.
“Cancer appears to bring out the slightly bonkers side of me!” admits the woman who during her radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer the second time organised a carpool karaoke campaign where she was chauffeured by volunteers on motorbikes, in pink cadillacs singing along to her favourite songs. Millions saw it on YouTube and other social media channels.
After having a hysterectomy and her ovaries removed as a precaution and finding herself in hospital one December, she asked the public to jingle in their Christmas jumpers and raise money for charity. Despite her latest cancer setback, in August she stood before an audience of 6,000 to host a charity music festival.
Mandy puts her tenacity down to her innate Yorkshire grit. To do her first charity sky dive, she had to overcome her fear of heights. And she’d only been out of hospital a fortnight after a mastectomy and radical breast reconstruction when she agreed to do the 280 mile cycle ride - despite never having ridden a bike since the age of nine.
But she also credits the legacies of the inspirational late Jane Tomlinson who ran marathons when terminally ill, and courageous murdered MP Jo Cox whose charity foundations she’s fundraised for.
This time, Mandy is focusing on her #bemoremandy campaign on social media which aims to encourage people to take action themselves by taking a leaf out of her book. Like the Charity Angels organisation she formed in 2012 to encourage relationships between people and businesses to aid needy causes it’s not all about money.
“It’s not a vanity affair about me seeking attention either but I am keen to encourage people to face their fears as I have many times and sign up to a charity challenge or spread some joy by carrying out random acts of kindness; maybe help take away the fear of cancer by encouraging open, honest conversations around the subject.”
“I know from experience that if you can deflect something bad, something positive and good always comes out of it. Like the ice bucket challenge, the idea is for people to do something and nominate others to follow them.”
Despite her brave words and actions, Mandy, who says she has the full support of her husband, 56-year-old financial controller Andrew Taylor in her campaign, admits that she does have some dark thoughts but in an effort to give hope to others, they remain strictly private.
“I am naturally a glass half full person but I wouldn’t be a human being if I didn’t have a few dark moments,” she admits.
“In my experience though, wallowing in the darkness will only makes things seem worse. When I find myself in that position, I retreat for a bit but then tell myself to come on and be more like my old self - be more Mandy!”
In that spirit - and the words of her favourite karaoke song by Meatloaf, she is determinedly hoping that ‘ Heaven Can Wait’ - at least long enough to see her campaign gather momentum and make her final funeral arrangements to inspire those she leaves behind including her 30-year-old son and 74-year-old mum.
Though she’ll be keeping the exact content of her funeral speech secret, she confesses it will be filled with wit and humour with just a touch of melancholy. The songs she’s chosen to be played will be ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood; ‘Rule The World’ by Take That and ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.
While planning her send off from her sick bed, there was one surprise Mandy was on the receiving end of. After pain forced her to reluctantly pull out of hosting a charity concert at an Italian restaurant in Leeds, Mandy was thrilled to get a video from its performer - former Westlife singer Brian McFadden singing ‘Mandy’ as a special tribute to her.
Even from her sick bed, while awaiting hospice care to relieve her symptoms, the smile she’s renowned for always wearing in public was megawatt. Not just because of the special tribute but because the fundraiser had been a success without her.
“I will take my smile with me to my grave!” she vows.
Mandy Taylor, of Golcar, passed away on the night of December 1. To donate to the Be More Mandy appeal in her memory, click here.