Wood, 65, wanted her casket brought late because she never arrived on time. She imagined it colored purple and decorated with letters that said, “Go out in style.” She requested that the funeral officiant swear as much as possible.
And she wanted a troupe of dancers to throw her funeral, out of the blue, and perform a routine to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”.
That’s exactly what happened on Nov. 4 at a crematorium in Bristol, England, when Ryalls and a group of Wood’s friends managed to organize a one-time shipment that met his wildest requests.
Midway through the service, Queen’s famous bassline suddenly rang out through the room and several dancers stood up, took off their jackets, and embarked on a three-minute routine. Video of Wood’s funeral has gone viral on social media after a BBC report captured the scene this week. Ryalls said that was all 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 remembers her friend dressing in bright colors and telling lively stories of years spent working as a bartender in Bristol pubs. Wood loved shoes and insisted that his horse-drawn hearse and coffin be decorated with a collection of stilettos, platform shoes and studded boots.
“She was just a massive character,” Ryalls said.
The dancing crowd that overshadowed his funeral almost didn’t happen. Finding a dance crew to meet Wood’s dying demand proved difficult, Ryalls said. It 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 message, she couldn’t believe her luck.
“All summer I’ve been talking to people about really wanting to have a funeral,” Phipps told the Post. “But everyone looked at me like I was crazy, like it would never happen.”
Phipps, who leads a dance troupe in Bristol called the Flaming Feathers, said she was delighted to take on the challenge. After receiving Wood’s song request, the band, which typically performs at cabarets and festivals, choreographed a routine and rehearsed for several weeks.
Then they snuck into Wood’s funeral in front of the crowd to hook up the right seats.
“It was nerve wracking,” Phipps said. “Because we didn’t know how it would be taken.”
When the song ended, to Phipps’ relief, people were clapping and laughing.
Wood died of tongue cancer in September, seven months after her diagnosis in February. She had previously battled a hepatitis C infection, Ryalls said, after being treated decades ago with tainted blood by Britain’s National Health Service, amid a nationwide scandal that sparked an investigation public in 2019.
Wood’s battle with cancer was painful, Ryalls said. But his sense of humor kept him 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, was also unaware of her wacky plans, he told the Post. At the funeral, he was consumed with grief and could not concentrate. 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 it was her. She didn’t want me to know because she wanted to surprise me. And boy, didn’t she?”
The funeral lifted Mark Wood’s spirits. Sandie was “one in a million,” he said, and has still had trouble sleeping since her death. He expressed his frustration over the NHS scandal which made Sandie sick. The UK government announced in August that affected patients would receive around $122,000 in compensation, but Mark Wood said he wanted the government to apologize too.
But he said Sandie got the goodbye she deserved.
“If she’s up there and looking down, she’d be smiling,” Mark said.
Sandie requested that her loved ones end the funeral by walking out in a conga line, Ryalls said, to which everyone happily agreed. After the excitement, she had one last wish: for her funeral to make headlines around the world.
“The last wish that we couldn’t make actually came true,” Ryalls said. “It’s incredible.”