Stars pay tribute as 'inspirational' fundraiser Kirsty Howard is laid to rest


Stars from the world of television and music have paid tribute to an "inspirational" fundraiser who captured the nation's heart after accompanying David Beckham to the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Kirsty Howard, 20, who was born with her heart back-to-front, defied medical odds after her parents Lynn and Steve, were told she would not live past the age of four.

Miss Howard who was the only British child - and one of only two worldwide - born with the condition, died last month, weeks after she celebrated her 20th birthday.

During her lifetime she became a tireless fundraiser for Francis House Children's Hospice in Manchester, which was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1991.

Through her work she helped raise more than £7.5 million for the hospice's long-term future in helping care for terminally-ill children and became the face of the appeal.

Miss Howard had spearheaded a fundraising campaign under charity The Kirsty Club which launched to expand and improve the service and as a lasting legacy to her bravery in battling her health condition while helping the lives of others.

Celebrity supporters of the appeal also included Gloria Hunniford, former Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed and Davina McCall.

Following the service at St Michael & All Angels in Wythenshawe, Manchester, Miss Howard's family paid "special thanks to Mr Al-Fayed for his generosity towards Kirsty's funeral", in the Order of Service.

Opera singer Russell Watson, Royle Family star Sue Johnston and a host of Coronation Street faces all turned out for the young woman's funeral.

Miss Howard died on October 24 at Manchester Royal Infirmary, with her family by her bedside.

Following news of her death, David Beckham said she was his "good luck charm" when she handed over the ceremonial baton as the Queen opened the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

On his Instagram account he said: "We have spent some amazing moments together over the years and it was an inspiration to meet such a brave young lady with so much drive for helping others."

As the horse drawn funeral cortege pulled up to the church it was met by scores of people who had lined the street to pay tribute to Miss Howard.

The crowds then broke out into a spontaneous applause.

A solemn Russell Watson who had earlier arrived with his head bowed had previously tweeted: "My inspirational friend Kirsty Howard is with the Angels. My heart is aching so much. RIP Angel forever xxxx".

Watson's track Is Nothing Sacred Anymore, which he recorded for Miss Howard, was played as her pick coffin was carried into the church by four pallbearers all wearing pink ties.

During the private service mourners heard of Miss Howard's "energy".

Sue Johnston,71, who played Barbara in the BBC show, delivered a reading to the packed out church.

After the funeral she said Miss Howard was "an inspiration".

She added: "I have known her since she was four, I remember her with great admiration. She was inspirational, funny, courageous, vulnerable - but she never thought she was vulnerable."

As the two white horses pulling the white carriage began its final journey to the cemetery Miss Howard's mother Lynn blew kisses to the vast crowds who had worn pink in tribute to her daughter.

Coronation Street and Dirty Dancing stage star Richard Fleeshman, 26, and his actress mother Sue Jenkins, 57, also attended the private service.

Fleeshman, who won Soapstar Superstar in 2006, had donated his £200,000 prize money to The Kirsty Appeal.

Speaking afterwards he said: "It was very sad. The resounding message was how amazing Kirsty was.

"Considering the circumstances it was very celebratory. She was amazing, she was a very special girl. How lovely to have a legacy that outlives her and will continue to help so many people."

Sue Jenkins said Miss Howard would have been "tickled pink" at the amount of people who had turned out.

Coronation Street's Samia Ghadie and Antony Cotton also attended the private service.

Mr Cotton said the service was "very, very sad, but very very beautiful".