Friday, 19 August 2022

Please smile, don’t mourn and think of me with a glass of wine

ANNIE HILL asked guests at a celebration of her life to smile and “think of me with a glass of wine in my hand”

ANNIE HILL asked guests at a celebration of her life to smile and “think of me with a glass of wine in my hand”.

The wife of singer Vince Hill dictated the message before she died from a degenerative lung condition on September 22, aged 78.

The couple were married for 57 years and shared a home in Shiplake for more than 35 of them.

About 150 family and friends attended the memorial service at Henley town hall on Friday and songs from Hill’s album That Loving Feeling was played as they entered.

Inside there was a basket of flowers and a photograph of Mrs Hill on a table.

The 82-year-old singer told the gathering: “It’s nice to see you all here — not a bad ask for a Friday!

“Welcome to this celebration of my dear, beautiful wife’s life. I guess a lot of you coming here this afternoon have a lot of thoughts about Annie — happy ones and funny ones.

“I want this to be a real celebration as much as we can. Try to keep a happy thought in your head for the rest of our time in here and the rest of the day. Thank you all for coming.”

The 30-minute service was led by Clare Grove, who had conducted a private farewell at Reading Crematorium in Caversham earlier in the day.

She read aloud Mrs Hill’s own words as follows: “Today should not be funereal but a celebration of Vince’s and my wonderful life together.

“I have been so lucky enjoying my wonderful marriage and our life together, enjoying particularly living in Shiplake and enjoying Henley.

“The worst part of my life was losing [her son] Athol but he left me with wonderful grandchildren.

“I feel so lucky to have these beautiful children in my life. I ask you all today to keep an eye on them and make sure you keep an eye on Vince too.”

The couple lost their only son in January 2014 following a drug overdose. He was 42.

Mrs Grove continued: “Since I have been unwell so many of my friends and family have been so kind to me and I think you know who you are.”

She gave special thanks to Pauline Buckett, widow of former Henley Mayor Terry Buckett, who has been the couple’s helper.

“I thank you all for coming today and when you think of me, think of me with a glass of wine in my hand! Please smile, don’t mourn and I love you all.” Hill met his wife in 1957 when she was secretary to top London agent Tito Burns who was looking after Cliff Richard and the Drifters, as they were then known, among others.

They were married on June 4, 1959, just before her 21st birthday.

With her guidance, the singer launched his solo career in May 1962 when Piccadilly Records released his debut single The Rivers Run Dry, which became his first UK hit and led to TV appearances.

Hill went on to have a string of hit singles, including his million-selling signature tune Edelweiss, taken from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The Sound Of Music.

Mrs Hill’s younger brother George Davison told the guests: “Today is like a tribute and a celebration of my lovely sister, who I knew for 70-plus years.

“They were a team forever and for 57 years they kept together.

“She was a superb publicist for Vince. She developed and practised her management technique and used me.

“I was taught manners and etiquette. They were gentleman’s manners of the Fifties. If somebody comes in the room I stand up, I open doors for ladies.

“She helped make me what I am today and we could say for better or Hill!

“She enjoyed things like travel, entertaining, hostessing — I often thought of her as the hostess with the mostess. She was very, very  generous.”

He added: “I believe mottos are a good thing. We came up with another especially for today. It was combining two phrases. It’s carpe vino — seize the wine!”

Mrs Grove also read a passage from a poem by William Wordsworth, and If I Should Go, a non-religious funeral poem by Joyce Grenfell.

She said that Mrs Hill wanted, in her own words, a “short, simple gathering in the town hall, one that is uplifting and bright, to celebrate my wonderful life”.

Mrs Grove described her as a “vibrant, fearless, straight-talking, strong woman”, a “generous and very welcoming hostess” and a “devoted wife, mother and grandmother”.

“What you’ll never lose is the joy in having known her,” she said. “I encourage you to fix her loving image in your minds and recall the qualities that made Annie totally unique. What matters now is not that Annie has gone but that she lived a life that was full of love and lots of laughter.”

A tribute written by Mrs Hill’s grandchildren called We Remember You Happiest was read by Jules Bishop, Athol’s partner.

Hill’s recording of I’ll Be Seeing You was played after the speeches.

Mrs Hill had asked for donations to be made to the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley and a collection was taken. Guests could also sign a book of condolence.

Hill finished the service by saying: “I was her number one singer, her favourite.”

He then led the guests out to music by Michael Feinstein, Mrs Hill’s “number two singer”, and said “somebody has to be first” to which he received a standing ovation.

Later there was a celebration at the Baskerville Arms in Shiplake.

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