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Leeds says goodbye to 'king of cards' Sir Jimmy Savile

09 November 11 19:39
Requiem Mass for Sir Jimmy Savile
By John Henry
BBC News, Leeds Cathedral

As a marathon runner and fundraiser, Jimmy Savile pounded mile after mile of the streets in Leeds and not many paid much attention to the silver-haired runner.

But on Wednesday, on a bleak, cold grey afternoon, hundreds stood in silence for hours waiting to catch a glimpse of the sleek satin gold coffin carrying the body of one of their own; Sir Jimmy Savile, OBE, KCSG - Papal knight.

Cookridge Street outside Leeds Cathedral in the the heart of the city was cordoned off with a phalanx of press photographers, TV camera crews, radio reporters and newspaper journalists all waiting for the cortege to arrive.

The vaulted roof of the Catholic cathedral was brightly lit by television lights as the great and good of Leeds, media worthies and those who just reckoned he was a good man packed into the 700-seater sandstone building.

The Prince of Wales was represented, others came suited and booted, in jeans and trainers, in high heels and fur coats.

Every facet of Leeds life was there.

'So, so proud'

His close friend Howard Silverman looked down the street at the crowds of people, lined several deep behind the barriers and smiled.

He said: "I can see him now, looking down on all of this with a bit of smile on his face, he was a showman to the end, I'm so, so, proud, with all these people here."

The cathedral organ's notes faded and the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Arthur Roche, waited with clergy and co-celebrants for the coffin's arrival.

The minutes of silence waiting for the Royal Marines to bring the gold coffin into the building were broken with loud applause and chants of "Jimmy, Jimmy" from outside.

The normal order of service for a catholic funeral lasts an hour.

But this service, communion rite and eulogies for this extraordinary man ran a full two-and-half hours.

In their eulogies his friends, colleagues from his work at Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries unit and a Leeds cardiology professor all paid tribute to his work, sense of humour and sheer will-power to help those less well-off than himself.

Dr Allison Graham, from Stoke Mandeville, told the congregation Sir Jimmy was a man "who staff and patients felt better, just for meeting him".

"Yes, he was challenging, demanding and yet an amazing mentor - good was never enough for him.

"His devotion to the patients was unwavering to the very end," she said.

'Gold and diamonds'

Cardiologist Professor Alistair Hall said Sir Jimmy was like a pack of cards.

He said Sir Jimmy was "a King of spades because he'd worked in the coal mines and survived a serious back injury; King of Clubs because he ran nightclubs.

He was "a King of Diamonds because he had gold, jewellery and diamonds, but wealth meant nothing to him and a King of Hearts because he was as he appeared - a caring man."

Mr Silverman told the congregation Sir Jimmy had blagged his way into a Michael Jackson concert at the Roundhay Park venue - a stone's throw from his penthouse flat.

He arrived at a backstage gate with a big American minder who let a few of Jimmy Savile's friends in - Savile whispering to them "whatever you do don't tell them we don't own Roundhay Park".

After more than two hours Sir Jimmy Savile was carried out of the cathedral as clouds of incense rose at the back of the church.

Six ceremonially suited Royal Marines carried him from the foot of the altar and a huge round of applause and cheers broke out, this time from inside the cathedral.

Royal Marine buglers played the last post as a grey, miserable afternoon closed in, flashbulbs bouncing shards of light off the shimmering coffin in the street.

Jimmy Savile left Leeds Cathedral as hundreds looked on in near silence.

Just one woman shouted "Bye Jimmy".

Leeds had said goodbye to its high profile son.

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