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A British Woman's Last Wish: A Funeral Dance to 'Another One Bites the Dust'

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When Sandie Wood was diagnosed with tongue cancer in February, which soon became terminal, she had a plan. Her funeral would not be a sad and somber occasion. This was not how she lived.

“She wasn’t a boring person,” Samantha Ryalls, a close friend of Wood, told The Washington Post. “She wasn’t traditional either. She wanted her funeral to reflect her.”

Wood, 65, wanted her coffin brought in late because she never arrived on time. She imagined it colored purple and decorated with lettering that said, “Leaving in style.” Is it over there asked the funeral celebrant to swear as much as possible.

And she wanted a group of dancers to show up at her funeral, unannounced, and perform a routine to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”.

That’s exactly what happened on Nov. 4 at a crematorium in Bristol, England, when Ryalls and a group of Wood’s friends managed to organize a unique send-off that fulfilled their wildest requests.

In the middle of the service, Queen’s famous bass line suddenly rang through the hall and several dancers got up, took off their jackets and began a three-minute choreography. Video of Wood’s funeral went viral on social media after a BBC report this week captured the scene. Ryalls said it was everything her friend would want.

“She wanted us to remember her for the outrageous person she was,” Ryalls said.

Ryalls, who met Wood on a pub darts team, called her the life of the party. She remembers her friend dressing in bright colors and telling lively stories of the years she spent working as a barmaid in Bristol pubs. Wood loved shoes and insisted that his horse-drawn hearse and coffin be decorated with a collection of stilettos, wedges and studded boots.

“She was just a huge character,” Ryalls said.

The dancing crowd that overshadowed his funeral almost didn’t happen. Finding a dance crew to fulfill Wood’s dying request was difficult, Ryalls said. It was rejected by 10 groups, some of which considered the proposal disrespectful. In desperation, she posted a request on Facebook.

When cabaret dancer Claire Phipps saw the post, she couldn’t believe her luck.

“All summer I’ve been talking to people about really wanting to have a funeral,” Phipps told The Post. “But everyone looked at me like I was crazy, like that was never going to happen.”

Phipps, who runs a Bristol-based dance troupe called the Flaming Feathers, said she was excited to take on the challenge. After receiving Wood’s song request, the group, who normally perform in cabarets and festivals, choreographed a routine and rehearsed for several weeks.

So they snuck into Wood’s funeral before the crowd to secure the right seats.

“It was stressful,” Phipps said. “Because we didn’t know how it would be taken.”

By the end of the song, to Phipps’ relief, people were clapping and laughing.

Wood died of tongue cancer in September, seven months after his diagnosis in February. She was already battling a hepatitis C infection, Ryalls said, after being treated decades ago with blood contaminated by Britain’s National Health Service, part of a national scandal that sparked a public inquiry in 2019.

Wood’s battle with cancer was painful, Ryalls said. But her sense of humor kept her going.

“She was dying,” Ryalls said. “And she would say laughter is medicine.”

It was also medicine for those closest to Wood. Mark Wood, Sandie’s husband, was also unaware of her bizarre plans, he told The Post. At the funeral, he was consumed with grief and couldn’t concentrate. Then the music started playing—Sandie’s music.

“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my Sandie,’” Mark said. “There was a big smile on my face because it was her. She didn’t want me to know this because she wanted to surprise me. And boy, didn’t she do it?

The funeral lifted Mark Wood’s spirits. Sandie was “one in a million”, he said, and is still struggling to sleep since her death. He expressed frustration over the NHS scandal that made Sandie sick. The British government announced in August that affected patients would receive around $122,000 in compensation, but Mark Wood said he would like the government to apologize too.

But he said Sandie got the send-off she deserved.

“If she was up there looking down, she would be smiling,” said Mark.

Sandie asked her loved ones end the funeral by going out in a conga line, Ryalls said, which everyone happily thanked. After the emotion, she had one last wish: that her funeral would make headlines around the world.

“The last wish we couldn’t fulfill actually happened,” Ryalls said. “It’s amazing.”

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