The send-off for Prince Philip will be a royal funeral like no other, not least because his coffin will be carried in a bespoke Land Rover hearse he helped to design himself.
It’s a break from royal tradition – but his choice is not uncommon. Alternative hearses have become increasingly popular in recent years as people opt for more personalised funerals.
“We’re definitely busier than we’ve ever been,” said Clare Brookes, proprietor of Volkswagen Funerals in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, which provides VW campervan hearses as well as a Morris Minor hearse. “Certainly since the pandemic, I’ve noticed people have wanted alternatives in the way they travel to the service because they can’t have many people there.
“Anything goes these days. If you’re into Land Rovers, then a Land Rover is the only way to go – why would you want to go in a Mercedes? If anybody sent me out in anything but a Volkswagen, I’d definitely come back to haunt them.”
Marian Sinclair’s fleet of motorcycle hearses has grown to 14 as a result of increasing demand over the years, and includes Harley-Davidsons, Triumph Bonnevilles and Suzuki Hayabusas.
Motorcycle Funerals in Measham, Leicestershire, was set up by her late husband Rev Paul Sinclair in 2002 when he noticed many of his motorbiking friends were being transported to their funerals in cars. “It’s nice for people to be able to go with a bang the same way they have lived as a biker,” said Sinclair. “But we also have people who have no affiliation whatsoever with motorbikes, they just love the idea of something different.”
Deborah Smith from the National Association of Funeral Directors said there has been a real boom in alternative hearses in recent years. “You can have a leopard print hearse, there’s a rainbow hearse down in Brighton, there’s pink hearses, motorcycle hearses, bicycle hearses, a doubledecker bus, a lorry, a fire engine,” she said.
“We are seeing a lot of very beautifully personalised funerals that really take into account people’s lives, their interests, their wishes, and [Prince Philip’s Land Rover hearse] is a brilliant example of that. This is a vehicle that is really important to the duke.”
The Duke of Edinburgh was often seen behind the wheel of a Land Rover, and was driving one until he surrendered his driving licence after a car crash in 2019.
“Prince Philip’s passion has always been the Land Rover and there’s also a nice connection to the Queen’s role as a mechanic during the wartime. So I think it’s brilliant that he’s decided to do that,” said Brookes.
“I reckon this could start a bit of a movement like David Bowie did with his direct cremation. I think people will start to realise there’s more choice out there.”
Smith said “slowly but surely” there has been a trend towards people planning their own funerals, and she hoped the Duke of Edinburgh’s hearse – believed to be a modified Defender 130 Gun Bus – will encourage more people to consider their own funerals.
“When a funeral becomes a subject of national conversation, as it has this weekend, it does make people start to think about what they might like and that’s always hugely valuable,” she said. “We’re not comfortable as a society talking about the end of life but the more we can talk about it, the easier it is for our families when the time comes.”