Video: Ken Bates and Lesley Garrett join final goodbye to the Earl of Harewood

IT was the end of an era, said one mourner as she left the village shop just yards from Harewood House to attend Lord Harewood’s funeral today.

A first cousin of the Queen, he had been lucky to escape with his life while a young man during the Second World War when his death warrant was personally signed by Hitler.

Having survived this setback - thanks to an SS soldier’s canny reading of the shifting times - George Lascelles comfortably rode out the rest of his life though it was not without its stormy moments.

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Today the black and gold Harewood coat of arms flag flew at half mast as around 100 members of staff lined a road outside the stately home in warm sunshine and watched the funeral cortege pass by.

Later estate staff and volunteers joined family members for the service at Harewood House near Leeds.

While close family members packed All Saint’s Church in the grounds of the estate, dozens of staff and volunteers watched the service in Harewood Pavilion, via a live broadcast feed. Opera star Lesley Garrett performed.

It was Lord Harewood’s wish that the gardens remain open to the public and entry to the gardens of Harewood was free today.

Lord Harewood died peacefully at home aged 88 on Monday.

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George Lascelles, the seventh Earl of Harewood, was best known to opera lovers and served as chairman of English National Opera and was a founder of Opera North.

In a bitter-sweet coincidence, family members will gather today (Sat) for the marriage of one of Lord Harewood’s sons, Mark, at the family estate.

A friend of 60 years who had known him from university days at Cambridge, the Rev Dr Barry Till choked back tears as he reminisced about his life telling how he had been “captured by the Germans and terribly wounded.

“I am told his life was saved by a brilliant Italian surgeon.”

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He said he was particularly touched to see all the estate workers lining the road, demonstrating how “deeply loved” he was, adding: “he was a great man and we will all miss him.”

Lord Harewood also took a keen interest in football, and was president of Leeds United since 1961 and president of the Football Association from 1963-72.

Speaking shortly after his death, Richard Mantle, general director of Opera North, described Lord Harewood as “a great promoter of talent”.

He said: “It leaves an enormous hole for quite a lot of us. He was passionate that music and art should be enjoyed by everybody.

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“At English National Opera he wanted opera to be in the language of the audience. It may not have been to everybody’s taste, but it was certainly his.

“George was one of those people, if he had an interest in something it was a passion. He was a great promoter of talent. He made hundreds of careers in the arts.”

Mr Mantle added: “He was a man of enormous charm. He was a fantastic raconteur and was a convivial person to be with.

“Although he had his own mind I think he was quite liberal in the way he thought about things, this egalitarian right for everyone to have access.

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“He thought that if you had talent, you had a right to develop it. He was rigorous about ensuring quality was promoted.”

Leeds United said they had been planning a surprise party in September to mark his 50th anniversary as president. Chairman Ken Bates told the club’s official website: “Although he was royalty he always treated me as an equal and I feel like I have lost a true friend.”

A thanksgiving service and celebration of George Harewood’s life will be held in Leeds at a date to be announced.