|Roy Wendy Gibson on the Norland at Falklands.|
Camp men who sailed in the 1960s and 1970s have and some spectacular send-offs. Glitz was the byword in life and in death.
Franco Fantini was maybe the star. Palamino horses with powder-pink ostrich feather plumes drew the fairytale glass carriage bearing his coffin in Southampton in 2009. See https://tinyurl.com/fantini-2009.
This time, 29 June, it was Hull’s turn, at Chanterlands crem. Flamboyant Roy Wendy Gibson, formerly a North Sea Ferries steward, got the Splendid Sendoff he deserved, under a Union Jack. It was an iconic event, probably the first camp LGBT+ Falklands Conflict veteran's funeral.
50 mourners were distanced inside. A further 80 were outside watching it on their mobile phones. Some mourners wore glittering eye shadow and Hawaiian shirts.
It was, as they say in Polari, fantabulosa. The curtain number was Abba’s Dancing Queen. And Pet Clark's Sailor, stop your roamin' gained a whole new meaning.
|Wendy at a piano on land, c 2000. Picture |
courtesy of Wendy.
Mourners enjoyed the hilarious story of how Wendy’s late mum coped with his coming out: by clocking him over the head with a frying pan.
The dented pan was used to cook him a Full English breakfast anyway. Of course it carried on being daily used in the family home that Wendy left, but stayed connected to, back in the 1960s.
Hull Daily Mail had already carried background articles on the death of someone acclaimed as a 'living legend'. For historic photos see https://tinyurl.com/Wendy-3-June; https://tinyurl.com/Wendy-11-June; and https://tinyurl.com/Wendy-29-June.
For funeral pictures see Jason Shipley's remarkable images at https://www.instagram.com/jason_shipley_/
National hero and game-changer
|Wendy with his precious Para tie|
In a climate that was still homophobic in 1982 he changed military attitudes because of the indefatigable cheer he constantly offered to 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment on board the Norland.
It wasn't just the hours of morale-boosting tunes he belted out nightly on his pink piano to and from the South Atlantic.
It was also the banter too that 'Our Wendy' offered 'his boys' who were champing at the bit on the boring, entertainment-less seas. His wit cracked people up, even at breakfast, with quips like 'Could you fancy an extra sausage, dear?'
Several out gay men were working on the ship. But Wendy, with his self-taught musical skills and willingness to play on, led the field as the morale booster.
He was so appreciated that the Paras have given him an unprecedented accolade. They've put up a plaque to him at their Aldershot headquarters.
|In July 2021, after the funeral, a Wendy memorial plaque was placed on the Goose Green bench at Aldershot 's Military Cemetery, near the former home of British Airborne Forces.Pics courtesy of Ron Webster.|
It’s no accident that uniformed men bearing serious official standards marked the momentous day. 'One standard is good at a funeral. But five!!!" marvelled one Para I spoke to. Wendy was always one for sequins. However the gold and tassels on show here were of a different sort. They were for this civilian as esteemed veteran.
|At the funeral parlour: Norland 1982 veterans|
prepare for Wendy's final trip.
Wendy had been part of creating that climate, in ships and then ashore. Just days before he suddenly died he’d still been raising morale by entertaining on the joanna.
A People’s Liberace, Wendy was a man who was never afraid to say he loved men.