Dancing himself into the tomb

From the moment that Sebastian Horsley entered the church, his coffin draped in red glittering material like a large Christmas present, it was clear that this was going to be an unusual funeral. The sound of Marc Bolan’s Cosmic Dancer, sadder and more ghostly than it has ever been, echoed around the church.

I danced myself into the tomb
Is it strange to dance so soon?
I danced myself into the tomb

St James’s, Piccadilly, was packed. Bohemianism, exhibitionism, beauty, deviance and decadence were more in evidence than is normal at funerals. This was an event, a parade for le tout Soho.  The dandies, the queens, the girls who looked as if they had walked out of a burlesque all looked as extraordinary and wonderful as Sebastian would have wished but somehow, one sensed, their heart was not in it. The displays, the peacocking, were for him, and he was gone.

Astonishingly, the Church rose to the occasion. Christian funerals of non-believers can be gruesome, dishonest affairs, but Sebastian was lucky. It cannot have been easy to design a service for a passionate atheist who had once been crucified, but here it was managed simply and movingly. A man who had lived with intensity, who had thought, spoken and written about goodness, badness and the point of it all in his brief life than most bishops do in a lifetime had earned a sacred send-off.

Another surprise: for all the excess, showiness and controversy of the life being remembered, the feeling which filled St James was simple, old-fashioned love. It was there in the readings from  Dandy in the Underworld, in a song from Melpomene, in the tributes by Jessica Berens and Stephen Fry, full of touching details –  about his impossibly uncomfortable flat (more a statement than somewhere to live), his chipped nail-varnish, his generosity to others.

The trivial world of celebrity and soundbites, to which all this would have appeared affected, itself seemed silly and distant during that hour even when, as the coffin drew away in the hearse on Jermyn Street to heartfelt applause, the press cameras clicked and whirred.

Someone said during the funeral that Sebastian’s greatest work of art was himself, which was true in its way but raised the sad question of what happens to the art when the life ends. In this case, for a while at least, it will live on.