‘HELLO… and welcome to my funeral.’
Although they were celebrating the life of an absent friend and loved one, those attending the send-off for Gary Burgess might have blinked and felt as if he was moving among them.
During a moving 80-minute service at St Helier Methodist Centre yesterday, Gary’s force of personality somehow managed to enable him to act as ‘the host with the most’ to hundreds of mourners who attended in person, and many more who followed as it was streamed online.
The Rev Tony Morling acted as co-host, describing how the event had been planned in detail over the past year with Gary and his husband Alan. Preparations began soon after a terminal-cancer diagnosis in November 2020 and continued until shortly before his death on New Year’s Day at the age of 46.
Writing the introduction to the order of service, Gary welcomed guests and described the opportunity to plan his own funeral as ‘an odd privilege’ and urged everyone to laugh, to cry and later to raise a glass.
‘Please don’t sit there with a stiff upper lip – I really don’t want that,’ he appealed to the congregation.
Close friend and former colleague Alistair Clarke, who worked with Gary during his first job at Wave FM in Blackpool, described the preparations for his eulogy.
‘Gary asked me if I would say something at his funeral and, after I agreed, he then told me what to say, how to say it and how long to speak for,’ Mr Clarke said during an address that delivered on the pre-match instructions regarding both crying and laughing.
‘Gary tackled his funeral planning in the same way as he lived his life and prepared for his death – head on,’ he said.
Mr Clarke described his friend as ‘passionate, intense, flamboyant and mischievous’, adding that Gary had instantly felt at home when he moved from the north of England to Guernsey in 2003 before relocating to Jersey in 2012.
The studios of both ITV Channel and Channel 103 were reduced to skeleton staff for the morning as large numbers of colleagues, past and present, came to pay their respects. A chilly but bright day allowed time for several attendees to partake of an al fresco flat white at Bean Around The World, one of the many coffee stops enjoyed by Gary while comparing notes with contacts or catching up with friends.
Karen Rankine, managing director of ITV Channel, described the contribution made by Gary during his decade of service, notably his coverage of major breaking stories and holding senior government figures to account during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mrs Rankine paid tribute to her former colleague’s ‘wonderful natural creativity’, adding that Gary had been equally as talented working behind the camera and mentoring less experienced members of the team.
Describing Gary as ‘the King of Social Media’, Mrs Rankine said that no one worked faster and that colleagues were frequently bewildered at how he managed to prepare scripts, record video clips, write blogs and take pictures while at the same time tracking a story on multiple social-media platforms.
The States Assembly adjourned ahead of the funeral service, allowing many of those who Gary had held to account to pay their respects. This included Chief Minister John Le Fondré, his predecessor, Senator Ian Gorst, and the Bailiff, Timothy Le Cocq, who had recognised Gary’s service through a silver seal award in 2021.
Mr Morling said that the three words he most associated with the late broadcaster were ‘good, trusted and positive’.
He added: ‘Gary had such conviction and positivity, and his zest for life and natural effervescence meant that we all felt we knew him, as he spoke directly to us.
‘He had the courage to ask the questions that many wanted asking and address issues that others might have avoided – he knew the balance between assertion and aggression, and we have been privileged to have had his journalism at such times as these.’
The service included songs such as Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys, performed by Piers Alexander, and compilation videos which captured Gary’s story in a couple of minutes – something he had done so capably during his career, whether preparing a package for the ITV evening news or tapping out another hard-hitting column for the JEP.
In a pre-recorded address, Alan Burgess described the time he spent with his partner and later husband during their eight years together, from a first date at a St Helier restaurant to supporting him during hospital appointments during his final months.
He added: ‘Gary was determined to live, not just exist, and that’s why he carried on working for as long as possible – what he did was more than just a job – and why we continued to enjoy trips away together. We lived, and loved, and laughed, and Gary meant more to me than I can ever hope to put into words.’