Daniel Claridge runs Claridge Funeral Service in Marlborough. He lives in the town with his partner, Joe, and dog Toby.
You were the youngest ever, when you were 18, to qualify as a Funeral Director. What appealed to you at such a young age?
My mum used to help out at a local Funeral Director when I was younger, and at 13 I started there washing cars and doing various bits to earn some money. It meant I saw what was involved and became interested in the job, which is very varied and involves dealing with people of all backgrounds. When I was old enough to start work full time I went to work for Hillier’s in Swindon, which is where I was given the opportunity to take my diploma from the National Association of Funeral Directors.
Were you ever interested in doing something else?
Both my parents worked with the Ambulance Service, and before I started working at the Funeral Directors had thought that is what I would do too. After leaving Hillier’s I decided to work for the Ambulance service, as the work interests me, and I wanted to be able to do that alongside my other work. I worked as an Emergency Care Attendant (they work with a qualified Paramedic to make up a crew) for 3 years, to gain the experience that would enable me to volunteer as a First Responder once I went back to working as a Funeral Director. Towards the end of that time we were also planning to open the business, which we did in September 2017.
Did it take a while to find the right premises?
It did, yes. It needed to be fairly central, but discreet. We heard about the building off The Parade, which proved perfect from a location point of view. It was basically just a warehouse-like shell, so we were able to fit it out to our exact specifications which gave us our ideal space, which can be flexible, even allowing us to hold small services on site.
Who works in the business with you?
It’s a family business. My mum, Mary, spends a lot of time here, as and when needed. My dad, Richard, still works full time for the Ambulance Service, but helps out a lot too, usually when needed outside normal office hours. We also have a number of people we can call on to help at funerals when required.
Do you deal with a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds?
Yes, we are happy to do that. We like to offer a service that takes into account whatever a family want. I have experience of a wide array of funerals, dealing with people of many faiths, and people who are not religious at all. If you want a humanist or secular celebrant, we can help you with that, or even if you don’t want any sort of minister or celebrant at all.
What do you think is the most important part of your role?
Getting it right for the families of those who have passed away. It’s a very upsetting and emotional time for people, and we are there to make it as easy as possible for people to get through it. We always suggest to people that they talk to more than one Funeral Service to make sure they are happy with who they choose. Many people will never have had to organise a funeral before, so we are there to guide them through the process, helping them to ensure that they have a funeral that they feel reflects what their loved one would have wanted.
Have funerals changed much over the years?
I would say not hugely, except in the fact that there is now much more choice. Maybe 30 years ago, you were more or less told what you should do, without much say in the matter. Nowadays, there are more options, from the most simple service to the most elaborate. I feel this is a great thing as it enables people to have what they feel would suit their loved one. The majority of funerals are still fairly traditional, but the choice is there for people who want something different.
What sort of thing do people have that is different?
All sorts -such as what the person who has died is dressed in – if you never wore a suit in life, perhaps you wouldn’t want to wear one at your funeral for instance; there is a huge choice of coffins – willow or wicker, colourful or photographic designs; people choose unusual transport, colourful hearses (there is even one with leopard print), or different vehicles altogether, such as a lorry, or even a tank! It has also become more common for people to have a different dress code for the service itself – such as clothes of a particular colour. Whatever a family want, we will try and help them.
Any particularly memorable funerals that spring to mind?
We had a Barney the Dinosaur themed funeral once, for a young adult with learning difficulties who loved him. It was perfect – often celebrating in a way that is so relevant to the person that has died really helps their family.
Would you say you have a sad job?
Sometimes it can be sad, especially if a person has died at a young age or in tragic circumstances. Having a job to do in helping the families helps us deal with that.
However, often it is not sad. Talking to families to make arrangements can often be quite uplifting as they reminisce about the person that has died, and tell interesting stories about them. It’s not unusual for there to be laughter and humour as they remember their loved ones.
It’s also very rewarding to help people through a difficult time, and be a part of the community.
What do you like most about it?
It’s very varied, and I enjoy helping my local community. I meet some remarkable people, and hear some fascinating stories. I like working with people from all different backgrounds. I also like the fact that we work closely with our local community, not just with our clients, but with our suppliers wherever possible.
What are the most important attributes of a Funeral Director?
I think it’s to be approachable, and adaptable in dealing with all sorts of people – everyone is different. Attention to detail is also important, as often the little things can make all the difference.
What do you do in your spare time?
As mentioned, I volunteer as a First Responder for the Ambulance Service – which as it sounds means getting to someone first in an emergency. I usually do about 15-20 calls per month. You never know what to expect, but getting there more quickly than an ambulance is able to can make a big difference.
I love animals. We have a beagle called Toby, that we got from Dogs Trust. He was rescued from an animal testing facility in Ireland, where he had been kept in a cage for the first six years of his life. He was very timid to begin with, and had no familiarity with normal household objects as he’d never been out of the lab. He’s doing really well now.
Cars and vehicles are also an interest of mine – I have a 1985 vintage Range Rover ambulance – it’s the only one left from that time, so we often take it to shows. I also have a 1982 Range Rover which I plan to restore. I’m planning to get a runaround Land Rover – something that I can take the dog out in. I’m lucky that I get to drive high end Jaguars, but for the business they have to be kept pristine – no dogs allowed!
I like going away, but for the foreseeable I can’t be away for more than a couple of days at a time, so we tend to go away for weekends with friends.
I like eating out – I’m not a keen cook, and don’t enjoy clearing up after either! There are some great places locally – Pino’s, Dan’s, Zaika and Sarsen’s spring to mind, along with The Green Dragon and The Roebuck.
You enjoy putting back into the Community?
Yes, I think it’s very important. We sponsor a few things in the town, such as Kennet Community Transport, kit for one of the football teams, Burbage Cricket Club, and I’ve provided Medical Cover for Mantonfest.
As a family we run the Car Boot Sales on Marlborough Common, and we’re very proud that so far, we have raised £38,000 for the Air Ambulance.
Claridge Funeral Service can be contacted on 01672 511386, or visit claridgefuneralservice.co.uk