Rock ’N’ Roll Nanny: Sally looked after Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade and worked as a tour manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who

Rock ’N’ Roll Nanny: Sally looked after Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade and worked as a tour manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who

Rock ’N’ Roll Nanny: Sally looked after Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade and worked as a tour manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who

Transporting dead bodies in a van and storing them in a shed behind your home is usually reserved for plotlines in Midsomer Murders or Miss Marple.

But for Sally Arnold it became a life-affirming reality when her father Jim, 84, died, followed by her mother Margaret, 79, just eight months later. Sally says her parents, who lived in Devon, had often talked about their funeral wishes, which made it easier for her to carry them out when the time came.

The 74-year-old, who is the author of The Rock ’N’ Roll Nanny — a book about her colourful life as nanny for Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade, then as tour manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who — was left with strict instructions to take care of her parents’ bodies herself and to host a DIY funeral with the help of her two siblings.

They specified that no undertakers were to be involved, their bodies should not be embalmed and that they must be buried in the farmer’s field next to their son’s house, Sally says.

The non-traditional send-off felt more personal and poignant than a more conventional funeral — and also saved her thousands of pounds, she adds.

Her parents’ funerals cost less than £500 each. The ceremonies were hosted in the courtyard outside her younger brother’s home and her parents were buried in the same plot in the next-door neighbour’s field, with the farmer’s consent.

‘It might sound bizarre or disrespectful to some, but this is what they wanted, so we did it,’ says Sally. ‘The site is in a beautiful place, overlooking a valley and it is surrounded by nature, which they loved.

‘My parents didn’t want us to spend masses of money on their funerals by using undertakers or funeral directors of any sort,’ she adds. ‘They felt that these funerals were all so impersonal.’

In the UK, there is no legal requirement to use the services of a funeral director or to bury loved ones in a cemetery. Family and friends can legally carry out the process.

The price of a basic funeral — either cremation or burial — has breached the £4,000 mark this year, according to a report by over-50s financial services firm SunLife.

Across the UK 46 per cent of people leave too little money behind to cover the full cost of their funeral, with bereaved families having to fork out an average of £1,872.

A growing number of grieving families are choosing to conduct natural funerals themselves, experts say.

Sally had to transport her parents from their nursing homes to their home, where she lay their bodies for four days while the rest of the family made plans.

She says: ‘We carried Daddy down the stairs, me holding his head, my brother and partner carrying his body and my 12-year-old niece holding the doors open, and we put Daddy’s body in the back of the van.

‘Even though she knew exactly what would happen, the manager of the care home was still a little uncomfortable, saying: “Nobody has ever done it like this before.” ’

Family: Sally (far left) with her parents Jim and Margaret and siblings Mark and Faith

Family: Sally (far left) with her parents Jim and Margaret and siblings Mark and Faith

Family: Sally (far left) with her parents Jim and Margaret and siblings Mark and Faith

Sally says her father’s body was placed in the garden shed — his favourite place — with a trestle table covered with blankets, photographs, candles and with classical music playing. 

‘It gave us time to say goodbye and we didn’t want our loved ones’ bodies in an undertaker’s premises being poked and prodded by strangers.’

There were far fewer expenses, Sally says. The wicker coffin purchased online cost less than £100, they printed information for friends and family at home rather than using a commercial printer and they borrowed speakers and an electric piano to play music during the ceremony. 

She says: ‘We had Dad’s favourite Mozart clarinet concerto wafting over the courtyard. It was extremely moving.’

The main expenses included a digger for the grave and catering at the wake.

Rosie Inman-Cook, manager at the Natural Death Centre, a charity, says involving a funeral director can add £2,500 to £3,000 in charges. 

‘It saves you a fortune. By doing a DIY funeral you can cut that out; you just need friends and family who are capable of holding and transporting the coffin,’ she adds.

‘And that way you don’t have a grey suit twiddling their thumbs and rushing the process along.’

There aren’t many rules around where you can and can’t bury a body in the UK — fewer, in fact, than for animal burials.

There is no law that prevents the burial of a person in ground other than a cemetery so long as it does not create a public health risk. 

This means it is possible to conduct a burial in your own garden, but it must be registered — and be aware that if you sell the property, buyers can exhume the body and have it moved.

Burials should be at least ten metres from any field drain or ditch draining into a watercourse, 30 metres from any spring or standing or running water and at least 50 metres from any well, borehole or spring that supplies water for any use.

If you don’t have your own spot, you can buy a plot on the Association of Natural Burial Grounds’ site, which costs £850 on average.

Grave-digging and administrative help, should you need it, costs between £200 and £500, says Ms Inman-Cook. By comparison, burial plots in traditional cemeteries cost between £1,500 and £5,000.

Sally and her siblings have placed a bench near their parents’ graves in the field, which is used for grazing cattle, so they can visit.

Ms Inman-Cook says to conduct your own funeral you must first register the death. You must then arrange for the body to be moved and cared for in the days leading up to the burial or cremation.

In the UK cremations must be in a licensed crematorium.

Miss Inman-Cook says: ‘You must dispose of the body in a timely and proper manner. It is best to hold the funeral within a few days of the death where possible, before the body starts to decompose.’ You can also opt for a natural burial ground, which is a designated location that is looked after. 

Alternative funerals: There is no law that prevents the burial of a person in ground other than a cemetery so long as it does not create a public health risk

Alternative funerals: There is no law that prevents the burial of a person in ground other than a cemetery so long as it does not create a public health risk

Alternative funerals: There is no law that prevents the burial of a person in ground other than a cemetery so long as it does not create a public health risk

There are more than 300 in the UK, which are privately owned locations typically in a scenic setting where wildlife, flowers and plants are encouraged to flourish. 

Ms Inman-Cook says she regularly hears from families who have been told by a crematorium or cemetery office that they don’t deal with the public, and funerals must be booked by a funeral director. But this is incorrect.

She says: ‘You need to stand your ground if this happens and tell them they are wrong. 

A lot of gatekeepers — such as medics and council officers — are ill-informed over this. In some cases it is possible to leave the body with the hospital for a few days while you plan the funeral.’

The growth in non-traditional — and cheaper — funerals is especially timely as a new report today reveals just how few of us discuss our preferred send-off. 

One in four of us thinks about our death on a weekly basis and millions have decided what type of funeral they want by as early as the age of 30. 

But in a growing disconnect that could leave their financial affairs in disarray, fewer than half of UK adults have openly discussed it, the report reveals.

Millions of families are being left in the dark over their loved one’s wishes as growing numbers are failing to make financial decisions ahead of their death, a survey of more than 30,000 people by the Co-operative has found.

Three in four people haven’t made a will and four in five have not taken out life insurance, in a mistake that could cost their children their inheritance.

The investigation into death, bereavement and funeral planning, found most adults think of their own death once a month, but only one-third are comfortable talking to loved ones about it.

This could leave bereaved families spending more than they need to on a funeral, misguidedly believing needless features are what the deceased would have wanted.

This year there will be around 700,000 UK funerals, but for those taking on the responsibility of organising one for the first time, only 3 per cent will know how to go about it, says Legacy of Lives, an online legacy planning service.

In addition to the stress this uncertainty causes, it can lead to massive overpayments, it warns.

The cost of a standard funeral can vary by as much as 242 per cent for the same service across funeral directors in the same town, research by the group found. For example, two funeral directors in Battersea, South London, charge vastly different sums for a standard service: £1,060 versus £3,715.

Death and your wishes can be a difficult subject to broach with family members, but there are ways of opening conversations.

You may find it easiest to bring up the subject by speaking about your own wishes first, and then asking about theirs, says Legacy of Lives. Ms Inman-Cook adds: ‘Just as talking about sex doesn’t make you pregnant, talking about death won’t kill you.’

And, if you feel uncomfortable discussing your final wishes in person, you can make them clear in a will. A will is vital for ensuring your wealth is distributed according to your wishes. 

Administering an ‘intestate estate’ — the term used for those who die without a will — can be time-consuming, costly and painful for family members.

Many wrongly think their loved ones will automatically inherit their assets when they die. But if a person dies intestate they lose control over what happens, says James Antoniou, head of estate planning at Co-op Legal Services.

Gill Stewart, of Co-op Funeralcare, says: ‘It can be uncomfortable to discuss planning for death and funerals with loved ones, especially for fear of upsetting them — but we believe this is precisely why those conversations are crucial.

‘Putting in place funeral plans, life insurance, a will or even a Lasting Power of Attorney can go a long way in safeguarding loved ones when the time comes.’

Lucy Harmer, chief executive of charity Cruse Bereavement Support, says: ‘Facing our own mortality can be hard, but it can also inspire us to talk more with our loved ones about our funeral wishes.’

  • For more information about natural and DIY burials visit: naturaldeath.org.uk

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