ABSOLUTELY Fabulous co-stars Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders have joined mourners at the funeral of “national treasure” Dame June Whitfield.
Family and friends had been asked to wear bright colours for the service at All Hallows Church in Tillington, near Petworth, West Sussex.
The veteran actress died “peacefully” last month at the age of 93.
Speaking before the service, Dame June’s daughter, Suzy Aitchison, who starred in Jam & Jerusalem, said: “I am delighted so many people could be here, it’s a lovely day and everyone has been so helpful and lovely.
“I think she would have been overwhelmed. We are trying to have a celebration of life, that is why we are so brightly dressed – Mum asked for us to wear bright, lovely attire.”
Reverend Debbie Smith, who led the service, said: “We are holding the balance between June as just a wonderful woman who was part of this community and contributed wonderfully, as well as having a public face as well.”
She told the congregation: “She is remembered as an adorable, much-loved woman, known as a national treasure, a role model to many.”
A selection of Dame June’s favourite music was played, including tunes by Gershwin and Porter sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Judy Garland.
Her wicker casket was covered in bright flowers.
The poem She Is Gone by David Harkins was read by Dame June’s granddaughter, Bianca Quinn, before a eulogy by Roy Hudd with whom Dame June appeared on radio for many years.
He said: “She was that rare bird – a goody that looked magical. I had a 35-year course in comedy from the very best.”
This was followed by a eulogy by Ms Aitchison, referred to by her married name of Suzy Quinn, called Memories of Mum.
She said: “Mum was not special, she was very special, not because she was super-talented and fantastic but in spite of it.
She was known as lovely, approachable, kind, supporting, effervescent, funny and beautiful. Everyone loved her and she loved everyone.”
She added: “I am just happy you passed away peacefully in your sleep, as you wanted, and now you are going to rest with Dad.
“You had the perfect end to your wonderful life, no-one could have written your final exit better, no-one could have written you better, you will always be much-loved, missed and unforgettable.”
The service concluded with the hymn Jerusalem and Get Happy sung by Judy Garland.
The order of service featured an engagement photograph of Dame June with husband Tim Aitchison, who died in 2001.
Donations in Dame June’s memory were requested for Age UK.
During her career spanning eight decades in showbusiness, Dame June tackled bawdy comedy in the Carry On films, and starred in the long-running sitcom Terry And June, as well as playing the grandmother in Absolutely Fabulous.
Joanna Lumley said she had to “mop up” her make-up after shedding tears at the “touching” funeral of her co-star.
Speaking with a glass of Champagne in her hand, the 72-year-old said: “The service was just beautiful, the feeling in the church was more like a wedding than a funeral.
“June insisted it wasn’t going to be all black and gloomy and the music was the best with Sinatra and Ella.
“The funeral was touching beyond words, funerals are always touching because the person is actually there and so many people have said they have the feeling she hasn’t gone, her spirit was there, funny, generous and lovely.”
Jennifer Saunders, who also starred in the popular comedy, said: “It was absolutely marvellous, which was so typical of June, perfectly judged, we all had happy tears of joy.
“She wanted people not to be miserable, she wanted to have a happy memory of her and ending with ‘Everyone get happy’. It was perfect, it was so typical and beautiful and graceful and light.
“She had the lightest touch and the sun came out, which couldn’t have been better. She was an amazing woman.”
Ab Fab co-star Julia Sawalha said: “The service was absolutely beautiful, very moving to hear memories from Roy Hudd and Suzy (Aitchison).
“We try to stop the tears because June wouldn’t have wanted us to cry but you can’t help it.
“It doesn’t feel like she has gone anywhere and I was extremely moved as she was taken out of the church to the music of Judy Garland – it was like she was dancing out of the church.
“That was the hardest bit to be happy because it made me feel so sad.
“It was perfect and everything she would have wanted, it was humble and beautifully glamorous.”
Other famous faces among the 300 mourners were actress Nerys Hughes and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.