Video: Fans pay tribute as Jimmy Savile’s coffin lies in state at Leeds Queens Hotel

THE QUEENS Hotel has hosted many funeral receptions in its function rooms in the past, but never a “lying in state” – the kind of ceremonial normally reserved for royalty and Popes, laid out in cathedrals or palaces. It was a unique event in the life of the city – but then there was only one James Wilson Vincent Savile.

The creamy gold casket was quietly ushered into place at 7.30am, and settled atop a plinth draped in gold-tasselled blue velvet.

Four enormous arrangements of white roses in full bloom scented the air of a room which more commonly hosts business meetings or parties. Yet more white roses and a crucifix were laid on the coffin lid. On an easel was a portrait of Sir Jimmy in rose-tinted spectacles, the famous showman looking downwards in an uncharacteristically contemplative pose.

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On a small table lay treasured possessions – the big red books from his two outings on television tribute show This Is Your Life, another crucifix and a more cheery photo of the DJ, TV personality and indefatigable charity fundraiser in younger days. Most poignant was a glass ashtray with the two part-smoked Cuban cigars he’d enjoyed shortly before he died at his penthouse home in Roundhay, Leeds on October 29, just short of his 85th birthday.

While the Savile family gathered for a brief private blessing of the coffin by Monsignor Philip Moger from St Anne’s Cathedral, a group of Sir Jimmy’s admirers got in line in the drizzle outside. By the time the door opened there were around 60, a hotch-potch of mostly older people with fond memories of a larger-than-life character who made them proud to be from Yorkshire. “My whole family loved Jimmy,” said Bill Jakes from Garforth, Leeds.

“He was one of us, but he was also very colourful, fun, a man who talked just the same to royals and sick children or a pensioner in the street.”

Among the early arrivals was Richard Firth, who’d jumped on the 5am train from London to pay his respects to a man he never met but fondly remembers for the Jim’ll Fix It TV series. Mr Firth had dressed up in a Savile lookalike tracksuit for the occasion. “I wrote three times in the early 80s to ask if he could fix it for me to train with the Arsenal footballer John Lukic, but it didn’t happen. I still liked him and followed him because he did so much good for other people.”

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As the fans slowly filed in to see the coffin, take photographs and sign the book of condolence, some bowed their head in prayer and others wept. Carl and Carolyn Rozenbroek from Pontefract reminisced about running alongside him three times in 10k races to fundraise for the Prince of Wales Hospice.

“He didn’t just turn up for a few minutes like some celebrities,” said Carl. “He did the whole thing and stayed around for an hour afterwards, talking to everyone.”

Those sentiments were echoed dozens of times over in writing by fans who continued to trickle in steadily throughout the day. No one seemed to feel that a “lying in state” was over-the-top for the former Bevin boy whose work for hospitals, hospice, and many other charities had reached £40m when his accountant stopped counting “I don’t think this is too much,” said Gay Dixon from Steeton, Keighley. “It seems to really fit in with who Jimmy was.”

Prince Charles – one of Sir Jimmy’s more illustrious fans – sent word that he would be carrying out engagements in Tanzania today, but the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire will attend the funeral as the Prince’s representative. Sir Jimmy’s best friend, 63-year-old Leeds hairdresser Howard Silverman, will give one of five eulogies.

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He said: “Privately, he was just an ordinary guy, but in public the ‘Sir Jimmy’ character appeared. We cycled and ran marathons together, and he never let you down. He became a good friend of Margaret Thatcher, and went to several Christmas dinners at Chequers. but one year my mum invited him to her house for Christmas, and he accepted.

“A few weeks later he got the invitation to Chequers again, and I said ‘I’ll tell mum you can’t come’.

“But Jimmy said he was still coming. He always kept promises.”

One fan summed up what many seemed to feel with: “Jimmy was such great fun because he never wanted to grow up.”

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