Fans of Bernie Nolan brought Blackpool town centre to a halt yesterday as thousands gathered to celebrate a ‘beautiful life, beautifully lived”.
Singer and actress Bernie, 52, was laid to rest by her family after her brave battle with cancer.
Joining her family for a service of ‘celebration’ at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, were showbiz names including Cannon and Ball, Roy Chubby Brown, Shane Richie, Roy Walker, former Corrie star Andrew Lancell, Joe Longthorne, the cast of Chicago and former Brookside star Louis Emerick.
Speaking after the funeral Bernie’s youngest sister Coleen, said the “outpouring of love” for her sister was “totally overwhelming”.
Many of the fans who queued for hours to sign a book of condolence and pay their respects for Bernie had travelled miles to attend the funeral.
Timothy Spencer, 24, from Wigan, said: “Bernie was one of life’s legends. I absolutely love her music, her acting and her stage presence. I just had to come and say a proper goodbye.”
Anita Young, 48, from Nottingham, said: “I have followed the Nolans since I was 12 years old. I have all of their records.
“I would say I am a superfan. I lost a friend last year, and he used to drive me around the country to see them, so I feel I have a real connection.”
Home-grown fans also turned out to mourn the Blackpool-raised entertainer.
Mary England, 64, of Dutton Road, Blackpool, said: “I really loved Bernie. She was a lovely person and a real inspiration, especially with the way she fought cancer. This is a really sad occasion.”
Michelle Heaps, 42, of Warbreck Hill, North Shore, said: “I grew up listening to the Nolan Sisters and they formed a big part of my life. I just felt paying my respects was the right thing to do.”
The funeral was broadcast live over speakers so all those who had gathered outside the theatre could hear the service.
Bernie’s brother Brian welcomed guests and said: “Obviously today is a tragic day and very, very sad but we do want to emphasise this is a celebration of a beautiful life, beautifully lived.
“She was an incredible, incredible person and gave everything to everyone she ever could. So we will cry as you can see, but please understand and believe it is OK to laugh and to smile, as that was what she was all about.
He added: “This is a Bernadette Nolan production, believe me everything you are going to see up here was designed and produced by Bernadette when she was going through some very bad times.”
Guests then heard a personal letter penned by Bernie, read out by her sister Maureen. The letter said: “Hello everyone and thank you so much for coming.
“Don’t be crying too much for me, obviously I’d like a bit, I think I’m worth a little crying but not too much. No one has had a better life than me really, 50 years of singing, some of the best ever shows Chicago, Blood Brothers, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, City of Angels what an amazing time I have had. By the time I was 19 I had been all over the world, sang with Stevie Wonder and toured with Frank Sinatra.
“I mean do not mourn my passing please, celebrate my wonderful life.
“I have the most wonderful family, they have supported me always, given me great advice and constant love.
“As for my husband and daughter, how did I get so lucky?
“ Steve has been my constant rock misunderstood terribly at times but only if you all knew how he has set up Erin’s life so she never has to worry again and basically given up so much for me
“Every October 17, I want you to have a party or at least a good old drink for my birthday... make it vodka.”
As Maureen finished reading the letter, the crowds inside and outside of the theatre broke out in spontaneous applause.
This was followed by Bernie’s version of ‘You and I’ and the poem ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’ read by Bernie’s daughter Erin.
Rita Tweedy, 64, of Whitewood Avenue, Blackpool, said: “Bernie was a real inspiration when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve now been given the all clear and I credit Bernie with helping me get so far.”
Deborah Bell, 42, of Charnley Road, Blackpool said she had also found Bernie’s battle an inspiration after herself being diagnosed with cancer.
She said: “I also have children I need to make provisions for and seeing Bernie fight to the very end has shown me how to keep going. I will be following her example.”
Bernie’s sister Coleen told The Gazette: “It’s totally overwhelming, the amount of people, support and the outpouring of love for our sister really.
“When we pulled up in the car and everyone started applauding, that set us off (crying) in the car. It’s been an amazing day, we just can’t thank people enough for coming out, it just means so much to our family. We are just going to miss her.
“A big family like ours and she was such the driving force of it, the loud one and the party animal and the one that if there was going to be a day like today, Bernie would have organised it.
But, Bernie did organise it, right down to everything that has happened today. That shows what kind of person she is and our family will miss her terribly.”
Following the service, family and close friends headed to Carleton Crematorium for a private cremation.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE YOUR TIBUTES AND MEMORIES OF BERNIE NOLAN BELOW.