HUNDREDS of mourners attended the funeral today of tragic jockey Campbell Gillies, who drowned on holiday in Corfu.
An estimated 600 people – including trainer Lucinda Russell and Scotland manager Craig Levein – attended the service in Edinburgh, which had room for only 250.
Mourners, who had been asked not to wear black, heard moving tributes from friends and family of the 21-year-old Cheltenham winner from Haddington. His brother, Finlay, struggled through tears to tell the congregation at Mortonhall Crematorium that Campbell was the “exception to the rule”. Also in attendance were champion jockey Tony McCoy and former leading National Hunt rider-turned-pundit Mick Fitzgerald.
Gillies died just hours after arriving at the resort of Kavos on Monday, 25 June. He had flown to the island with a group of jockey friends from Gatwick Airport, but died in the early hours the next day after swimming in the pool at his rented apartment.
Greek police said the death was due to drowning and are investigating whether there were adequate safety precautions at the pool.
More than 300 mourners had to stand outside at the service and listen as the tributes were relayed by speaker. The humanist ceremony was led by Tim McGuire, who said Campbell “had a uniqueness in life that you would never find if you looked across the whole world”.
He added: “The quality of his life was not in its fullness but in how he lived each day.”
McGuire said that when Campbell first started riding horses he was scared of them. It wasn’t until he was 14 that he was able to start racing, said McGuire. He added that the jockey’s love of animals sometimes got him in to trouble. To laughter from the congregation, he said: “When Campbell was ten, he found a toad. He was marooned when he tried to set it free in the River Tyne.” McGuire summed up Campbell as “very quick-witted, cheeky and loveable with an infectious smile”.
Jockey Peter Buchanan – who also rides for Russell’s stable at Arlary House near Milnathort – gave his own tribute. He said: “It was the unique personality of the wee man that made you love him.”
Buchanan told how Campbell once went to England for five days and was so excited he forgot to take a change of clothes. And although he was known as having size six feet, he was fond of going out in size-nine Cuban heels. “Everyone was very fond of him,” he said. “He was the only jockey in the weigh room who could get away with six final warnings.”
The song Walking in Memphis was played halfway through the service. The heads of the entire congregation were bowed as the song played and many present wept. Campbell’s brother, Finlay, a professional rugby player with Glasgow Warriors, gave his own tribute. “Campbell was the exception to the rule,” he said. “You would hear his roars of laughter.”
Struggling to carry on through tears, he added: “I will miss him but I never forget him.” The service ended by playing the commentary from Campbell’s ride to victory on Brindisi Breeze – trained by Russell – in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival this year. The jockey won a total of 131 races in Britain during his racing career.
McGuire told mourners: “To close the service, I would just like to say that the affirmation of life is the best answer to death.
“The family would also like to thank everyone for their support and kindness.”