UK Funeral Customs

Report into UK funeral customs  (Coop PR)

A major cultural shift in the UK’s approach to one of the most fundamental social rites, is highlighted in a new, wide-ranging report, which highlights that over half of today’s funerals are now a celebration of life.

The Ways We Say Goodbye is the first study of its kind to draw information from the arrangements being made at funeral homes across the UK as well as from the public. The Co-operative Funeralcare, the UK’s largest funeral provider responsible for 100,000 funerals each year, conducted the research* across its network of over 850 funeral homes.

Its findings have been backed by the country’s leading funeral historian, Dr Julian Litten, who says, “Funeral traditions are fundamentally changing, and I would expect contemporary funerals to overtake the more traditional sombre events within the next ten years.
“The splendour and ceremony once favoured by the Victorians is returning, but with a modern twist. High profile funerals, such as that of Princess Diana and, more recently, of Jade Goody, have encouraged people to adopt a fresh approach.”

Funeral Directors at The Co-operative Funeralcare report a significant shift-change in funeral preferences in the last five years; requests have included pink Cadillacs, a milk-float cortege, woodland burials and live jazz at the graveside. Mourners are watching firework displays, wearing bright colours, blowing bubbles and releasing balloons during funeral events.

These findings are backed by a new independent ICM survey, commissioned by The Co-operative Funeralcare, of 2,000 British adults**. It revealed that more than half of the population (54%) would prefer their send-off to be a celebration of life than a simple church service with hymns, and almost half of the population (48%) are keen for their funeral to reflect their favourite, hobby, colour, football team or music.

However, while funerals are becoming more contemporary, the subject remains taboo, as 55 per cent of people admit to never having discussed their wishes for their own funeral with friends and family.

The Co-operative Funeralcare’s study of funeral customs in the UK revealed:

  • Half of today’s funerals (49%) are a celebration of life and one in ten includes no religion at all.
  • One in three funerals now includes a favourite pop song, football theme or hobby.
  • In 60% of funerals the deceased is dressed in clothes that reflect their life, job or hobby. More unusual outfit requests have included a clown costume, cyclists’ lycra, fishermen’s waders and divers’ wet suits***. Common requests include wedding dresses, football strips, military uniforms, kilts and bikers leathers.
  • Personalised floral tributes, such as to ‘Mum’ or Dad,’ are seen at around 35% per cent of funerals. More unusual floral arrangements have included a pint of Guinness, a cricket bat and a pigeon.
  • One in 20 coffins is bespoke; requests have included a Lancaster bomber, a tardis and a yacht. The choice of materials now includes wood, cardboard, wicker and even British wool.
  • Religious music is declining with contemporary music, from love songs to favourite TV programme themes increasing in popularity. The most popular songs are My Way (Frank Sinatra or Shirley Bassey), Wind Beneath My Wings (Bette Midler or Celine Dion) and Time To Say Goodbye (Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli)****.
  • Requests for funeral ceremonies to be broadcasted live over the internet to allow friends and family to view at home or abroad are increasing.

Commenting on the research findings, David Collingwood, UK Operations Manager, The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “Our research, the largest study of funeral customs ever carried out, reveals a significant shift in attitude across the UK. Funeral directors are going to great lengths to accommodate a wide range of special requests, as funerals become more a celebration of life.

“Along with the rise in contemporary funerals there is more interest in woodland burials and coffins made of cardboard or wicker.”

‘The Ways We Say Goodbye booklet has been produced by The Co-operative Funeralcare and will be available from its 850 funeral homes across the UK. A copy of the booklet can also be downloaded from The Co-operative Funeralcare website:

Additional information
*The research into customs and practices was conducted among Funeral Directors from 559 of The Co-operative Funeralcare’s funeral homes. Its key findings were:

  • 49% of funerals where tone is of celebration rather than mourning
  • 67% traditional funerals, 21% contemporary, 12% humanist
  • 31% of funerals involve personal input from mourners
  • 35% involve flowers personalised to deceased
  • 6% of coffins personalised
  • 59% of deceased dressed in their own clothes
  • 36% of funerals have purely religious music, 64% contemporary, classical or mixture of music

**2,000 British adults were polled by ICM Omnibus. Thinking about your funeral would you prefer it to be?

  • a celebration which is more personal to you 54%
  • traditional (such as a church service) 27%
  • Have you ever discussed with family and friends what you would like for your own funeral?   yes 41%  no 55%

Would you like your funeral to be personalised to reflect any of the following?

  • music by favourite artist 40%
  • favourite hobby 12%
  • favourite colour 13% of female respondents
  • favourite football team 10% of male respondents
  • net: music, hobby, colour, football team 48%

***Although these requests have been made, they cannot all be accommodated due to cremation regulations in some areas.

****Top ten funeral songs in 2009:

  • My Way – Frank Sinatra/Shirley Bassey
  • Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler/Celine Dion
  • Time To Say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli
  • Angels – Robbie Williams
  • Over The Rainbow – Eva Cassidy
  • You Raise Me Up – Westlife/Boyzone/Josh Grobin
  • My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
  • I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
  • You’ll Never Walk Alone – Gerry and the Pacemakers
  • Unforgettable – Nat King Cole


Funeral Customs in the UK