With red chilli peppers and artichokes, it was the strangest but “so utterly appropriate” wreath ever to adorn a coffin.
And food still played a big part in the funeral of TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright as her friends and family gathered for the “mass in thanksgiving” in the Capital’s St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral yesterday.
The Very Reverend Monsigner Michael Regan said it was a “privilege to celebrate” the 66-year-old’s life and the first burst of laughter came after he finished saying her full name: Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.
Quoting her own words, V.Rev Regan, told mourners that Clarissa had said going to mass in a big city church had all the pomp and ceremony of going to a sushi bar even though she was “quite fond of sushi”.
“She was like so many of us, a mass of contradictions,” he said.
“Through her education and upbringing she proved herself to be a brilliant woman and her career seemed destined for greatness but she had the self-destruct mechanism of so many gifted people and her downward spiral is well known.
“But from that downward spiral where she found herself homeless and penniless she learned a sympathy with others that stayed with her and through her association with Alcoholics Anonymous she found and gave strength to others.”
Dickson Wright was born in London where she trained as a barrister and was the youngest woman to be called to the Bar at the time.
However, her addiction to alcohol brought an abrupt end to her legal career and it was only after joining Alcoholics Anonymous that she managed to turn her life around and went on to work in the Capital’s Cooks Books shop where she was spotted by a TV producer, Patricia Llewellyn.
She then shot to fame with the late Jennifer Paterson when the duo travelled around in a motorbike and sidecar creating feasts as well as the hit BBC 2 series, Two Fat Ladies.
She lived close to her family in Inveresk, East Lothian, until her death at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 15 March.
An address by her friends and family paid tribute to a woman who had strong opinions and “was always happy to put you straight”.
Her nephew, Edward Armitage, described the delight of having Clarissa as an aunt who was “terrifyingly bright with a memory second to none” and someone who “did not suffer fools gladly.”
He also said Dickson Wright’s sobriety “was the only achievement that mattered” to a woman who would drink a pub-sized bottle of gin on a normal day at a time when “she simply wanted to drink herself to death”.
Friend, Charles Fletcher, first took Dickson Wright to A&E in November and said her passing from pneumonia was “uncomfortable”, “often painful” and at times “undignified” but that “there was not a whiff of self pity” even though she “deeply hated the hospital food”.
Describing the moment she passed away, he also made mourners giggle by saying one of the staff had said she looked more determined than peaceful and described how they applauded her dead body.
The 90-minute service was traditionally catholic and included a Horn Concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, hymns by Sydney Carter, Cecil Frances Alexander and John Greenleaf Whittier.
Clarissa’s friend, Morag MacKay, also performed the 1930s ballad ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, which was chosen by Dickson Wright herself, and Sally Merison recited Home is the Sailor by A. E. Houseman.
A collection was taken for local charities helping alcohol dependence and homelessness at the request of Dickson Wright who would have celebrated 27 years of sobriety on Thursday.
The chef, whose only apparent request was “to be taken out of the cathedral by good looking young men” was carried out to the accompaniment of a bagpiper who performed the same songs which were played at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002: My Home and Mist-covered Mountains.
A huntsman in full dress also paid tribute by blowing a horn before the coffin was taken for a private cremation.