When Sandie Wood was diagnosed with tongue cancer in February that soon became terminal, she made a plan. Her funeral wouldn’t be a dreary, somber occasion. That wasn’t how she lived.
Wood, 65, wanted her coffin brought in late, because she never arrived to things on time. She envisioned it colored purple and decorated with letters that read: “Going out in style.” She asked that the funeral celebrant swear as much as possible.
And she wanted a troupe of dancers to crash her funeral, unannounced, and perform a routine to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
That’s exactly what happened Nov. 4 at a crematorium in Bristol, England, when Ryalls and a group of Wood’s friends managed to arrange a unique send-off that fulfilled her wildest requests.
Midway through the service, Queen’s famous bass line suddenly blared through the hall and several dancers stood up, shrugged off their jackets and launched into a three-minute routine. Video of Wood’s funeral went viral on social media after a BBC report this week captured the scene. Ryalls said it was everything her friend would have wanted.
“She wanted us to remember her for the outrageous person she was,” Ryalls said.
Ryalls, who met Wood on a pub-darts team, called her the life of the party. She recalled her friend dressing in bright colors and telling animated stories from years spent working as a barmaid in pubs across Bristol. Wood loved shoes and insisted her horse-drawn hearse and coffin be decorated with a collection of stilettos, wedges and studded boots.
“She was just a massive character,” Ryalls said.
The dance mob that upstaged her funeral almost didn’t happen. Finding a dance team to take on Wood’s dying request proved difficult, Ryalls said. She was turned down by 10 groups, some of whom called the proposal disrespectful. In desperation, she posted a request on Facebook.
When cabaret dancer Claire Phipps saw the post, she couldn’t believe her luck.
“All summer I’d been chatting to people about really wanting to do a funeral,” Phipps told The Post. “But everyone looked at me like I was mad, like that was never going to happen.”
Phipps, who runs a Bristol dance troupe called the Flaming Feathers, said she was excited to take on the challenge. After receiving Wood’s song request, the group, which typically performs at cabarets and festivals, choreographed a routine and rehearsed for several weeks.
Then they sneaked into Wood’s funeral ahead of the crowd to snag the right seats.
“It was nerve wracking,” Phipps said. “Because we didn’t know how it would be taken.”
By the end of the song, to Phipps’s relief, people were clapping and laughing.
Wood died of tongue cancer in September, seven months after her February diagnosis. She’d already been struggling with a hepatitis C infection, Ryalls said, after being treated decades ago with contaminated blood by Britain’s National Health Service, part of a national scandal that prompted a public inquiry in 2019.
Wood’s battle with cancer was painful, Ryalls said. But her sense of humor kept her going.
“She was dying,” Ryalls said. “And she would say that medicine is laughter.”
It was also medicine for those closest to Wood. Mark Wood, Sandie’s husband, didn’t know about her outlandish plans either, he told The Post. At the funeral, he was consumed by grief and couldn’t focus. Then the music started playing — Sandie’s music.
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my Sandie,’” Mark said. “There was a big smile on my face because that was her. She didn’t want me to know that because she wanted to surprise me. And boy, didn’t she do it?”
The funeral lifted Mark Wood’s spirits. Sandie was “one in a million,” he said, and he’s still struggling to sleep since her death. He expressed frustration over the NHS scandal that sickened Sandie. The British government announced in August that affected patients would receive about $122,000 in compensation, but Mark Wood said he wished the government would also apologize.
But he said Sandie got the send-off she deserved.
“If she’s up there looking down, she’d be smiling, ” Mark said.
Sandie asked that her loved ones end the funeral by exiting in a conga line, Ryalls said, which everyone happily obliged. After the excitement, she had one final wish: that her funeral make news headlines around the world.
“The last wish that we couldn’t achieve has actually happened,” Ryalls said. “It’s incredible.”