Sunday 22 February 2009

Flamboyant send-off for seafarer

Bon viveur Franco Fantini died on January 6 2009, aged 71. Born in Milan, Franco worked on a number of cruise ships in the heyday of campery, including on 'the world's queerest ship', the Andes. Retiring from the sea in 1973, he founded the Cabin Crew cafe, which later became the fabled La Margherita restaurant on Southampton's Town Quay.

On 15.1.2009 the much-loved restauranteur was seen off in style in a hearse drawn by white horses with pale pink plumes . His Italian imported walnut coffin was pulled by a white Victorian carriage and covered in a blanket of roses.

At St Edmund's Church, Southampton, the music was Italian grand opera, and Elton John's Candle in the Wind, which was played at Princess Diana's funeral. Shirley Bassey was an important icon for post-war show-loving gay seafarers and also dined at La Margherita. Her song, Hey Big Spender, boomed out as Franco's coffin was carried into the crematorium, and then I am what I am. Afterwards at the party many former stewards were happily reunited. Donations went to Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Terrence Higgins Trust.

During his last illness Franco was looked after by La Contessa, an ex-stewardess, also from Italy. She tells me her dream is to open a retirement home for gay seafarers where they can cross-dress, wear makeup and be themselves without fear of homophobia.

You can access the Southampton Echo obituary and funeral reports, including a video, on Look for Jan 6, Jan 9, and Jan 16.

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