A HARTLEPOOL funeral director rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most powerful and famous people when he was invited to a thanksgiving service in London to celebrate the life and work of Nelson Mandela.
Carl Mean, of Victoria House Funeral Service, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool, travelled to Westminster Abbey in London for the service which was attended by the likes of Prince Harry, Prime Minister David Cameron, former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu, former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, and actors Joanna Lumley and Richard E Grant.
And he was seated next to former GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips and her partner.
Carl was invited to the memorable event after his funeral home set up a book of remembrance in memory of the former South African president, who passed away in December last year.
More than 50 people from Hartlepool went into the funeral home and paid tribute to Mr Mandela by writing comments and signing their names in the book, which was left open for a fortnight after his death.
Following that, Carl forwarded the book to the South African High Commission, in London, after which he received a telephone call from a representative there thanking him for it.
He was delighted when he received an email from the commission inviting him to the Abbey for a Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of Nelson Mandela on Monday, March 3.
Carl told the Mail: “There was close to 2,000 people invited to the service and it was absolutely amazing.
“Where I was seated I was near to the entrance of Westminster and I could see everyone coming in from about 8ft away.
“I saw lots of people who are famous throughout the world. Getting into the Abbey was like going through airport security and the paparazzi were there clicking away.
“I could not believe that I was there, I was just in awe, I still am I think.”
He added: “It was an amazing occasion and it was an honour to represent the people from Hartlepool who had signed the book. It’s a little part of history that I’ll remember forever.
“It was a very proud moment for a little known guy from Hartlepool to be part of.”
Hartlepool Borough Council leaders marked the death of South Africa’s first black president, who died at the age of 95, by flying the flag at half mast.
Elsewhere in the area, English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College marked the icon’s death with a mass for staff and students.
Mr Mandela died surrounded by family at his home in Johannesburg.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mr Mandela, who received a state funeral with flags flown at half-mast, had campaigned against white-only rule.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, but was released on this day in 1990 as South Africa began to move away from strict racial segregation.