Memorial Service James Hughes-onslow
The parish church of St John the Baptist in Cirencester is the largest in Gloucestershire, as the vicar, Canon Leonard Doolan, announced while introducing a thanksgiving service for Mark Vestey, horseman and landowner.
The church has 850 seats, but more than a thousand friends, including the Duchess of Cornwall, the Countess of Wessex and Princess Michael of Kent, turned up to pay their respects to the champion polo player who was paralysed by a hunting accident in 1984.
Normal life might have ended for Vestey in many respects after he fell off his horse but, as his school friend Robin Courage, High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight, and his son, Ben Vestey, pointed out in their tributes, he continued to go at life at full tilt.
‘Mark was determined to help others who had suffered the same misfortune as him,’ said Courage. ‘In 1991 he became president of Wheelpower, [the charity supporting] the national disability sports centre at Stoke Mandeville. Without Mark’s generosity this organisation would not have survived. During Mark’s presidency the charity has raised over £17 million and built a state-of-the-art sports centre for the disabled.’
Courage told how, before his accident, Vestey was an energetic partygoer, often being seen in the nightclub Tramp at 4.30am before practising at Ham Polo Club and then going to the office.
‘He was always proud to call himself a butcher,’ Courage said referring to the Vestey family business. ‘He was never a victim. He didn’t dwell on his misfortune. He always triumphed over adversity. He emerged victorious.’
Vestey carried on farming with a special buggy to get around the estate and go fishing, and a swivel chair for shooting. ‘He was the nicest, kindest and most decent human being in the entire world. His generosity was legendary. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and godfather.’
Son Ben told how he had joked about whether the Vesteys were old money or new money. ‘Not enough new money,’ Mark had suggested. He also told how Mark’s older brother, Sam, Lord Vestey, was nicknamed ‘Spam’ by the press. ‘None of my friends have ever called me Spam,’ Lord Vestey had protested. Ben produced a booklet about his father with copies for all. It showed a picture of Mark giving a best man’s speech in a special wheelchair that enabled him to stand up.
‘The moment for the best man’s speech arrived and Mark pressed the button to raise himself to his full 6ft 1in,’ said the booklet. ‘Rosie [Mark’s wife] wept, little Ben and Nina stared in amazement at the sight of their tall, handsome Dad in his morning suit. Everyone cheered… and his trousers fell down.’
The Rt Rev Roger Morris gave an address and Rose Farquhar, daughter of Ian Farquhar, master of the Beaufort Hunt, sang ‘Amazing Grace’. Mark Vestey’s daughter Nina Clarkin read ‘On Death’ by Kahlil Gibran, and his other daughter, Tamara Fox, read ‘As We Look Back’. The hymns were ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’, ‘Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven’ and ‘Jerusalem’.
And as a special tribute to Dame Nellie Melba, great-grandmother of Sam and Mark Vestey, the service ended with a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.