Remembering Willy Clifford: Biggleswade pays tribute to one of its best-loved characters

PUBLISHED: 13:14 07 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:07 07 September 2017

Paul 'Willy' Clifford will be fondly remembered by the community of Biggleswade. Photo: Sally Newhouse

Paul 'Willy' Clifford will be fondly remembered by the community of Biggleswade. Photo: Sally Newhouse

Sally Newhouse

The Biggleswade community has bid farewell to one of its most cherished characters, Paul ‘Willy’ Clifford, who passed away in his sleep last month.

Willy's family and friends gathered at The Red Lion pub for his wake. Picture: Sally NewhouseWilly's family and friends gathered at The Red Lion pub for his wake. Picture: Sally Newhouse

The funeral took place at St Andrew’s Church on Wednesday last week, with pre-service drinks hosted at The Red Lion pub in London Road.

Willy’s daughter Lucy Clifford said in a statement: “I always knew my dad was well known, but I never realised until the funeral service how loved he was. Hearing all the stories from people has made me feel so proud of him.”

On leaving The Red Lion that day, more than 25 people who knew and loved Willy walked proudly through the town towards the church, each holding a mug to toast him with.

Willy was fond of cider and was often seen with a mug of it, holding court at Market Square where he would always be ready to chat to people about the wealth of topics he was knowledgeable about – particularly music, religion and fishing.

Raising a cup to Willy Clifford. Picture: Sally NewhouseRaising a cup to Willy Clifford. Picture: Sally Newhouse

His close friend Juke Tyler, who runs Black Line Fever tattoo studio, told the Comet: “Willy could have a conversation about anything. You’d never be bored talking to him.”

Willy suffered from long-term mental health issues, said Juke. “He used to get frustrated, and he was misunderstood.”

When his troubles got too much, he would often head out to Dovecote Lake at Willington with his fishing gear to contemplate.

Willy’s favourite saying was “just be nice” – a sentiment he lived by for the 61 years of his life.

There was a wink face cake in memory of Willy. Picture: Sally NewhouseThere was a wink face cake in memory of Willy. Picture: Sally Newhouse

Born in Birmingham on April 16, 1956, his family moved to Stevenage when he was a child before settling in Biggleswade.

In her heartfelt reading at the funeral, Juke, who first met Willy when he was working in Rebel Records, said: “Willy was a very complex character. He was massively well educated, and could complete the crossword in The Guardian and The Telegraph in amazing time ... He had a massive heart full of love.”

The wake was accompanied by music from Dios Padre, who learned some of his favourite songs specially for the occasion and refused to accept anything but a cake and a mug of cider as payment.

Willy’s love of music will be reflected in a bench that his friends and family are fundraising for, which they hope to decorate with musical symbols.

Doing the 'wink' for Willy Clifford. Picture: Sally NewhouseDoing the 'wink' for Willy Clifford. Picture: Sally Newhouse

In addition, The Gardeners Arms in Potton Road is hosting a fundraiser in his memory on Sunday, September 17, with all proceeds going to the mental health charity Mind.

Details of the fundraising event can be found at the Facebook event Peace and Love Festival – In loving memory of Paul ‘Willy’ Clifford.

Donations towards the costs of Willy’s bench can be made at The Red Lion and at Black Line Fever tattoo studio.

Juke provided the Comet with the eulogy she read out at the service, which we have published in full below:

Well-wishers gathered at The Red Lion in Biggleswade to give Willy Clifford the send-off he deserved. Picture: Sally NewhouseWell-wishers gathered at The Red Lion in Biggleswade to give Willy Clifford the send-off he deserved. Picture: Sally Newhouse

“Someone posted on Facebook ‘I remember Willy from school, but know nothing of his life there after, as I moved away and now live in Australia. Surprised to see how popular he was. What did he do with his life?’

“Well, that’s a question many can answer.

“I can only tell you what I know after the 15+ years I knew him, and that is that Willy was a very complex character. He was massively well educated, and could complete the crossword in The Guardian and The Telegraph in amazing time.

“He lived for, and loved music of all genres, and would talk for hours about his love for it. He also had a massive passion for fishing, and would often take his fishing gear, something nice to smoke, and hide away for a few days on a river bank somewhere, trying to digest and understand the demons that taunted his head for too many years.

“He had a massive heart full of love, only tainted by the outbursts of frustrated anger he sometimes found hard to control. Willy never intentionally hurt anyone his whole life, and would always apologise if given the chance. He was often very misunderstood, and his attitude and indulgence in alcohol often made him hard to approach but, given the chance, you would be hard pushed to have a more interesting or intelligent conversation with anyone you met.

“Willy was a massive character and Biggleswade will never be the same without him. He was often abused and taken advantage of by those who should have known better. As a long standing friend of his, I for one, will miss him massively, and hope he finds in death, the peace and understanding he so much yearned for in life.

“I don’t think he ever knew how much he was loved by his friends, or his beautiful family, or the huge hole his passing has left in so many lives.”

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