Two memorial services have been held in the past few days.
The first service took place in London. It was for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. He was the consort of the British monarch from Elizabeth’s accession on 6th February 1952, until his death in April 2021, aged 99, making him the longest serving royal consort in history. The second service was held on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, Australia. It was for the former Australian cricket player, Shane Warne, who died, aged 52, on 2nd March this year.
Shane Warne, known widely as “Warnie”, earned cricketing fame as a right-arm, leg-spin bowler. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest, bowlers in cricket history, with few, if any peers in the art of spin bowling. He is often referred to as the “King of Spin”. In 2000 he was selected by a panel of cricket experts as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. Amongst the five, he was the only specialist bowler, and the only one still playing the game of cricket at the time. So too, of the five cricket players listed, he was the only one not to be knighted. One can only surmise that, had he lived on, he may also have been given this honour.
The Duke of Edinburgh died after a lifetime of what could be described as a prolonged period of “loyal service to the monarch and the British people”. He was someone who could identify with the aspirations of the people whom he served, if not be one of them. Whilst much of his time was spent fulfilling the duties of his station, Philip, the father of a daughter and three sons, engaged in a variety of philanthropic endeavours. He served as the President of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from 1981 to 1996, and his International Award Programme (The Duke of Edinburgh Scheme) enabled more than six million young adults to engage in community service, leadership development, and physical fitness activities. In 2011, to mark his 90th birthday, Queen Elizabeth conferred on him the title and office of Lord High Admiral, titular head of the Royal Navy. His last solo event took place on 2nd August 2017. His death was mourned by many throughout the world.
After retiring from cricket, Warne worked for the Shane Warne Foundation that assisted seriously ill and underprivileged children. He was widely praised for this work, and a known trademark of his character was that “he was a bloke who was always available for people.” The charity was launched in 2004 and distributed many thousands of pounds, with activities that included a charity poker tournament. This was so characteristic of the person that was Shane Warne. Unfortunately, due to financial problems, the charity closed in 2017. Warne had three children with Simone Callahan, to whom he was married from 1995 to 2005.
Outside of cricket, Warne lived what could be described as a very colourful life. He once described himself as a person who “smoked a little, drank a little, and bowled leg spin”. He also did a bit of gambling, as well as seemingly having an inevitable, ongoing, and magnetic attraction to women. His name was linked with a variety of celebrity figures in sport, entertainment, and the movies. He once commented that “My years with Elizabeth (the English actress, Elizabeth Hurley) were the happiest of my life.”
Shane Warne was a man of flaws, but not so flawed that he could not recognise them. In the one of the many clips doing the rounds this week, he said: “We are all human, we all make mistakes. Some of us have made more than others. It doesn’t mean we are bad people. Sure, there are things we would like to change along the way – but we can’t so we have got to learn to live with them and confront them and try to learn from them. Through some poor choices I’ve had some pretty tough times that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.” He was certainly a man of the people.
In August 2021, Warne was placed on a ventilator when he contracted COVID-19, “to make sure there were no longer-lasting effects” from the virus. At the time he was quoted as saying that “Australians will have to learn live with the virus.” Within a year Shane Warne had died from a heart attack while on holiday at a villa on the island of Ko Samui in Thailand. His death was mourned by millions of people throughout the world, within the cricketing community and wider.
The funeral service of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The service was conducted by the Dean of Windsor, with the Benediction pronounced by the leading bishop of that church, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The service was attended by royalty, leading figures in politics, the Church, and civil society. It was a religious service, with music appropriate for such a ceremony, most of which was from the sacred and classical traditions. It was entitled “A Ceremonial Royal Funeral”, not a “State Funeral”. Despite the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, state funerals are normally reserved for monarchs.
Warne’s private funeral took place at the St Kilda Football (Australian Rules) Club headquarters in Melbourne on 20th March 2022. The mourners were led by his parents and three adult children, with around 100 persons, including former teammates and sporting figures, in attendance. He was further honoured with a State Memorial event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 30th March. This event attracted around 50,000 people from all walks of life to the MCG, including the ordinary Australians to whom he undoubtedly gave so much sporting and personal pleasure. On this occasion, the music was more reflective of those with whom he had shared many of life’s aspects. Perhaps the one sacred consolation was the final song, Andre Bocelli’s “My Prayer” – sung, with evocative violin accompaniment, to a silent MCG that had once resounded to the cricketing glories of the undisputed “King of Spin”.
Two men from different backgrounds and cultures, each of whom were admired by many, adored by some, who, each in his own peculiar way, lived his life in a way that made a difference to the lives of others. Each with an epitaph worth the value of its words. RIP.