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Milk float hearses, banana skin coffins and guests in wellies – the trend for less formal, more personal funerals

Posted on 9 October 2017

  • ‘Special requests’ for funerals rise to one in seven
  • Requests include drag queens dancing at the service, a steam engine pulling the coffin and a funeral director dressed as Darth Vader
  • Nine in ten funerals now ‘not religious’ as celebration of life gains popularity
  • Make your wishes known My Perfect Send-Off

Funerals are becoming less formal and more personal, according to SunLife’s latest Cost of Dying report, with one in seven people now making special requests for their funerals.

SunLife’s report also reveals that funerals described as a ‘celebration of life’ are becoming ever more popular, with a third of people organising a funeral choosing one of this kind. Eight in ten funeral directors say they’ve seen an increase in this type of funeral in comparison to just one in ten of those recently organised being described as ‘religious’. Hawaiian is the new black.

Many funerals are ditching funeral traditions such as wearing black and singing hymns and hearses for more personal alternatives.

“Just as people are having weddings that are more personal and less traditional, we are seeing the same trend with funerals,” said Dean Lamble, CEO at SunLife.

“People are less inclined to have a standard cremation or burial with a traditional religious service where everyone wears black, but instead, opt to celebrate the life of that person by asking people to wear the person’s favourite colour, or by playing a song from their favourite band, TV show or film. We’ve also seen people opting for different ways to be buried – woodland burials have risen by a quarter in the last year, for instance.”

While ‘no black’ is now quite a common request, our report shows that many people are much more specific about what they would like people to wear. Others have unusual requests about the coffin, the way the body is transported and what happens to their ashes. Below are this year’s top 30 unusual funerals:

30 unusual funerals

  1. Funeral procession did the conga out of the service
  2. Steam engine to draw the coffin from the family home to the cemetery
  3. Plane shaped coffin
  4. Deceased’s motorbike instead of a hearse
  5. Drag queens dancing at the service
  6. Sheep’s wool coffin
  7. Funeral service held on a boat
  8. Funeral with Doctor Who music and a Tardis
  9. Milk float instead of a hearse
  10. Everyone to wear Star Wars outfits (including funeral director as Darth Vader)
  11. Ex-race horses leading the hearse
  12. Everyone dressed as cowboys and Indians
  13. Dance couple performing a waltz after the cremation
  14. Big rig lorry instead of a hearse
  15. Ashes made into jewellery
  16. Motorbike and side car to transport the coffin
  17. Coconuts in the coffin
  18. Everyone (including funeral directors) in football shirts
  19. Gothic theme (deceased in goth clothes, black coffin with black interior)
  20. Asking everyone to write a message and sign the coffin with a marker pen
  21. Family photos printed all over the coffin
  22. Deceased cremated with a whistle around their neck because he was worried he would wake up in the coffin
  23. Turning the deceased’s ashes into a firework so they could ‘go out with a bang!’
  24. Bright pink coffin
  25. Everyone to wear wellies (Glastonbury fan)
  26. Funeral party dancing around the crematorium to Led Zeppelin
  27. Everyone to wear Hawaiian shirts
  28. All the men to wear lime green ties
  29. Coffin propped up in a jeep to transport to woodland burial
  30. Banana skin coffin
People carrying a coffin with colourful wellies on

As well as making requests about the type of coffin that they want, many people ask for special objects to be put in or on theirs. This year’s report revealed that one man asked for flip flops to be placed on his coffin, whilst another lady asked for a banana to be put on top of hers. Her daughter explains:

“We put a banana on top of the coffin as my mam had a stomach condition most of her life and always carried a banana in her handbag when on days out in case there was nothing she could eat.”

Others asked for things to be put in the coffin with them, like a photograph of a loved one or a pets’ ashes. One man even requested to be buried with a whistle in case he woke up and needed to get someone’s attention!


Music is another area where funerals can become much more personal, by choosing the person’s favourite song or something that conjures up particular memories about that person. Others use their song choice to show their sense of humour. Examples include:

  • Ding dong the witch is dead from the Wizard of Oz
  • Only Fools and Horses theme
  • Don’t worry, be happy by Bobby McFerrin
  • Fire (I am the God of hell fire) Arthur Brown
  • The Archers theme tune

Making our wishes clear

However, while most of us have strong views about what we want our funeral to be like, we are still not making our wishes clear to loved ones. This year, 21% of people organising a funeral had absolutely no idea what type of funeral to organise for the deceased as they had left no instructions behind. Just over half (55%) knew if their loved one would have wanted a burial or cremation and only a quarter knew what to do with the deceased’s ashes. Just one in seven knew which coffin to choose, while almost two thirds did not know the deceased’s preferred cemetery or burial ground.

And when it came to the details of the service, only 36% knew whether to hold a religious or non-religious service and only 22% knew which music or readings to have at the funeral.

In fact, just 1% of those who organised a funeral knew ALL of the deceased’s last wishes; most had to make the personal decisions themselves, based on what they think the deceased might have wanted.

Tracey Bleakley, CEO of Hospice UK, which runs the Dying Matters campaign said: “It’s great to see the continuing growth in non-traditional funerals as people take the opportunity to express themselves in ways that are personal and meaningful to them. It’s still a concern that so many people don’t know the funeral wishes of those close to them, but we hope that everyone will take this opportunity to start discussing what they’d like for their send-off.”

Dean Lamble, CEO at SunLife, added “Most of us know what we don’t want – perhaps we don’t want a religious funeral, we don’t want people to wear black, but often forget to say what we do want.

“By not talking about funeral wishes, our loved ones are left to make these decisions on their own, which can cause a great deal of emotional stress and even arguments among family members who disagree about what the person would have wanted.

Dean concludes: “Our My Perfect Send-Off tool is a great way to record your funeral wishes for free, so that your family know exactly what type of funeral you want, taking away the emotional burden from them, and ensuring that you have the type of send-off you would have wanted.”

Read more weird and wonderful requests.