And they’re orf … stars pay tribute to O’Sullevan


ELEGANT: Joanna Lumley arrives at the memorial service in Chelsea


CLOSE FRIEND: Terry Wogan had known Peter O’Sullevan for years


To St Luke's in Chelsea for a celebration of the remarkable Sir Peter O'Sullevan, late of this parish, who graced the pages of the Express during its heyday, indeed he was key to making it the greatest newspaper in the land. 

More than 700 packed into Peter's local church including the greatest owners, trainers and jockeys along with stable boys and girls and of course his old chums, the bookies. 

Those who worked with the Great Man at the Express were well represented including Geoffrey Levy, John McEntee, James Hughes- Onslow, Richard Compton Miller, Colin Mackenzie, Ingrid Seward (Ross Benson's widow who wrote for us in the 80s and 90s), Jeremy Gates, John Roberts and yours truly. 


Peter, pictured left, wasn't just the Voice of Racing, he was also one of the best sources William Hickey ever had. Another former Expressman Hugh McIlvanney delivered a brilliant eulogy recounting many long lunches together and also, movingly, Peter's teenage acne, so debilitating that he wore a medicated mask and would only be seen in darkened rooms. 

The condition caused more psychological than physical damage but McIlvanney said in many ways it shaped his personality. Their friendship lasted until Peter's death in July aged 97.

Terry Wogan and Joanna Lumley read poems by Chesterton and Larkin and the service – more of a show in so many ways – came to a fitting and hilarious climax with Rory Bremner recounting his friendship  with Peter speaking as O'Sullevan. 

Then. as if a commentary for the National, Bremner/O'Sullevan sent us on our way: "And they're orf, first the Royal representatives (Lord Vestey for the Queen and Andrew Parker-Bowles for Princess Anne), the trainers, the choir and clergy, the rest of the spectators ... past the water jump (the font), on to the door, left through the paddock and into the winner's enclosure" (the marquee where champagne and canapés were served.

It was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable life reflecting every aspect of Peter O'Sullevan. A winner, the greatest show in town!

Hugh McIlvanney’s eulogy

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre