We meet today to thank God for the life of Billy Fury and to commend Billy's soul to God's care. The large number of people who mourn him - both here and throughout the nation; the quantities of flowers and tributes; and the countless messages of love and sympathy that have poured in from around the world, all bear witness to a man who was deeply respected as a professional musician and as a human being.
Billy was born 42 years ago in Garston, Liverpool, and it was there that he was educated and grew up. It was whilst he was working on the Liverpool tug boats that he had an important break. He had for some time been singing rock and roll in the clubs around Liverpool, when he was given the opportunity to play backstage at a Marty Wilde gig. His talent was recognised and he was asked to continue with the tour. From there his career flourished quickly.
He came to prominence with the record Maybe Tomorrow in January 1959 and in the next 15 years he had 26 other hit records. One of his best-known records was Halfway To Paradise, which reached number 3 in the charts in 1961 and stayed in the charts for six months.
As a performer he was very talented, with a very individual voice, particularly suited to ballad. He has been said to be one of the only two English rock and roll singers. He was called the golden boy of rock and roll.
We know Billy also as a talented writer. He wrote all the tracks on the LP The Sound Of Fury though with characteristic modesty he signed half of these with a pseudonym.
He performed in three films, one of them, I Gotta Horse, reflecting accurately his love of animals.
He was well-respected by his fellow-professionals because he was retiring and quiet. Colin Irwin in Melody Maker said of his early performances: "They suggest vulnerability where everybody else was madly trying to be intimidating."
Billy's life was plagued by ill-health. An attack of rheumatic fever as a child left him with a heart condition that was a recurrent problem. He suffered several heart attacks and underwent open heart surgery. It was because of a heart attack that he died last Friday.
His illness changed his life in many ways. Although he loved his career, he happily bought a farm in Wales and began to enjoy life in the country. Here he was able to continue his interest in ornithology that he had begun when convalescing from illness as a child. On his farm he built a bird sanctuary and he became an RSPCA helper. He gained pleasure from sitting in a hide, photographing animals and birds.
He was essentially a very gentle man, enormously caring and kind. His friends recall that he would never say anything bad about anyone; in particular he wouldn't be drawn into criticising other performers. He was charitable and thoughtful.
And this is how we shall remember him - as a man of great musical talent, yes - but first as a kind, loving and gentle person.
We do not believe that death is the end for Billy. Those of you who have shared in God's work of Creation by having children know that you will never allow any harm to afflict them What is created through love will be sustained forever.
I am sure that our Heavenly Father loves us, his children, in the same way and that he will not allow us to be destroyed. By his resurrection from the dead, Jesus conquered death itself. We look forward in the fullness of God's time to the great resurrection when we shall all be raised and death is conquered forever.
Lord God, thank you for Billy's life. We would not have missed one second of it. Keep him safe in your love until that glorious day of resurrection.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
<The Rev Gary Scott Bradley was 30 when he delivered this address, having been Curate of St John's Wood since 1978. (A curate is a junior priest who helps the vicar or rector or priest-in-charge of the parish.) In 1983, he became Vicar of St Saviour's, Paddington, London.>