For the first time since 2004, the average cost of a funeral has decreased. The annual SunLife (2022) Cost of Dying report reported the price of a basic funeral at £4,056 with the average cost of dying at £8,864. Whilst the cost of a funeral has decreased 3% year on year, the average cost of a funeral has increased 121% since 2004 and is predicted to reach highs of £4,942 by 2025. However, they can’t compare with the price tag on some of the world’s most lavish funerals.
Alexander the Great’s funeral is said to be the most expensive funeral in history. Two years in the planning, the King’s body was said to have been preserved in honey while craftsmen built the golden casket and funeral carriage that would carry his body from Babylon to Macedonia. We can’t know for sure, but estimates have put the cost of his funeral and the extravagant ceremonials at about £420 million.
We can be clearer on the cost of more recent funerals with pop stars, politicians and Royalty leading the spending on funeral expenses.
Pop star funerals
For pop stars their send-off marks the final opportunity to make a lasting impression and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin certainly made the most of the occasion in 2018. In the week she lay at rest in an open casket there were four high-fashion costume changes before she was finally changed into a full length gold dress to be laid to rest.
Aretha’s all-day funeral service, attended by a stellar list of celebrities, cost in excess of $320,000. When spending on designer outfits to state-of-the art embalming, funeral flower displays made from orchids and roses and a 12-hour venue hire are all added up, it isn’t hard to see why.
Elvis Presley’s 1977 funeral was a lower key affair, but would still have cost almost £20,000 at today’s prices. Even so, over 30,000 fans queued to view ‘The King’s’ body at his Graceland mansion.
Less glamorous but no less expensive, the funerals for some of the world’s leaders have been decidedly extravagant affairs.
The funeral of British wartime leader Winston Churchill was planned for almost a decade before he died in 1965. Run like a military operation, the former Prime Minister's state funeral involved a procession to St Paul's cathedral where the Queen was in attendance. At the time, the funeral cost about £220,000 but adjusted for inflation that would cost almost £3 million today.
In 2013, Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was honoured with a funeral service at St Paul’s. Although it was not a full state funeral, there were 2,000 mourners in attendance and the ceremony - planned in part by Margaret Thatcher herself – at a cost of £3.6 million. The Thatcher family met the cost of transport, flowers and cremation, but the bulk of the expense (spent on police and security) was covered by the UK Government.
Across the Atlantic, John F Kennedy’s 1963 state funeral cost over £12 million. Hundreds of thousands of people queued in freezing temperatures to view his flag-draped casket at the Capitol building in Washington DC after his body was returned from Dallas where he was assassinated. Representatives of over 90 countries attended JFK’s funeral.
Ronald Reagan’s 2004 state funeral is reported to have been one of the most expensive of all former presidents, estimated to have cost £620 million. Although this sounds incredibly extravagant when compared with Kennedy’s funeral, the costs include security - Regan’s funeral was the first major public event held in the US after the September 11 attacks - and more than £300 million accounted for the wages of federal workers given the day off and the stock exchange closure.
Reagan’s funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral was attended by about 4,000 with 700 invited guests including Margaret Thatcher, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mickey Rooney. As one of the longest-lived US Presidents - dying at the age of 93 - Reagan’s funeral was attended by the serving President George W Bush and four former Presidents.
Throughout history, the funerals of the UK Royal family have been lavish affairs, but in recent memory, the funeral of Princess Diana has to be the most memorable.
Diana's tragic death in 1997 caused a huge outpouring of emotion across Britain and around the globe. Dying in a car crash in Paris at only 36, the funeral of the ‘People’s Princess’ was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide. The funeral service cost about £9.5 million at current prices and closely followed the format of the plan in place for the Queen Mother's funeral. Mourners included politicians and celebrities with Elton John singing 'Candle in the Wind'.
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, survived Diana by five years, dying in 2002 at the age of 101. Her state funeral is reported to have cost just under £10 million, adjusted for inflation. An estimated 200,000 people paid their respects, filing past her coffin in Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminster where she lay in state.
When her coffin reached Westminster Abbey at 11.30am, people all around the UK observed a two minute silence. More than a million people were present in the area outside Westminster Abbey on the day of her funeral and along the route from central London to her final resting place in Windsor Castle.
Most recently, despite being the Crown’s longest serving consort, Prince Philip was one Royal who did not want a fuss. He insisted he would not receive a state funeral and whilst the total cost is yet to be disclosed, this is estimated to be a much more modest sum, in part due to the limited attendance.