Bill Kenwright’s moving memorial brings together worlds of football and theatre

Everton legend Peter Reid gives a speech at the Bill Kenwright's memorial at Liverpool Cathedral
Everton legend Peter Reid gives a speech at the Bill Kenwright's memorial at Liverpool Cathedral - Getty Images/Tony McArdle

The final curtain descended upon Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman and West End impresario, in a moving, star-studded ceremony at Liverpool Cathedral.

“He would have loved this,” said Kenwright’s long-time partner, Jenny Seagrove, acknowledging the broad sphere of influence which united football and theatre royalty as hundreds gathered to pay their respects.

“He was a man who never left or forgot where he came from. He defined the word love,” she said.

This was a truly unique occasion in which Everton legends such as Duncan Ferguson rubbed shoulders with Sir Tim Rice, and a typically colourful speech from Peter Reid was followed by a mesmerising performance of Dante’s Prayer from former Wet Wet Wet singer, now Broadway star, Marti Pellow.

Organ recitals of Goodison anthems ‘Z Cars’ and ‘Spirit of the Blues’ provided the soundtrack alongside Kenwright’s personal favourites like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Etta James.

Kenwright’s status as a ‘beloved son of the city of Liverpool’ was reflected in the bridging of the football divide, Sean Dyche and the current Everton squad among the attendees side by side with Sir Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush with Anfield CEO Billy Hogan.

Marti Pellow speaks
Former Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow sang at the memorial - Getty Images/Tony McArdle
Liverpool legends Kenny Dalglish (left) and Ian Rush (right) arrive at Liverpool Cathedral for the memorial
Liverpool legends Kenny Dalglish (left) and Ian Rush (right) arrive at Liverpool Cathedral for the memorial - PA/Martin Rickett

One of the most poignant memorials was delivered by Margaret Aspinall, the former chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, recalling the unflinching and unconditional help Kenwright offered in the times of most dire need.

Kenwright’s speech at the 24th anniversary Hillsborough Memorial Service was described by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, as his ‘finest hour’.

“The legacy of Bill Kenwright is countless acts of unseen generosity that helped thousands of lives,” said Burnham.

“The truth about Bill is he would do more if you really needed it. Nobody was a bigger blue than Bill. Nobody had a bigger heart than Bill, a true son of this city in every way. You always gave us your best. You left it all out on life’s pitch, and for that we are all so much richer.”

Kenwright’s funeral was a private ceremony several weeks ago. Monday’s event was a celebration of his love of music, cowboy movies, and, of course, football.

His ambition to see Everton lift a trophy during his stewardship sadly eluded him, but the new stadium on Liverpool’s docks will be his legacy.

“Everton was his life. He was not just our chairman, he was our greatest supporter,” said the club captain Seamus Coleman, who said Kenwright’s impassioned speech to the players during the 2022 fight against relegation was the ultimate rallying cry.

Frank Lampard, the manager at the time, was present to confirm the power of Kenwright’s words.

Kenwright was raised in Botanic Road, just two miles from where the distinguished guests gathered to recognise ‘the scouser who bested New York theatre’.

Rufus Norris, the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, recognised the West End giant who was an ‘unapologetic populist’ pursuing the next hit show. He produced over 500 of them, his most successful – Blood Brothers – providing the final tune sung by former Spice Girl Melanie C.

Mel C sings during the Bill Kenwright Memorial
Mel C sings a song from Blood Brothers, which was Bill Kenwright's most successful production - Getty Images/Tony McArdle

That, and teenager Isaac Lancel-Watkinson with a performance of one of Kenwright’s favourite show tunes – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind – ensured tears flowed amid the joyful acknowledgement of a life well lived.

“He started with nothing to become one of the greatest producers this country has known – risked his own money and revitalised the touring network,” said Norris.

Naturally, it was Kenwright’s devotion to all things blue that most resonated, from his banning of any red in his office, his beginning every production meeting with a state-of-the-nation address about Goodison fortunes, and his attentive relationships with the players and managers he considered part of his extended family.

“What a fitting tribute it would be if we could win a trophy for him,” said Reid, a perfectly timed nod to Everton’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Fulham on Tuesday night.

“No pressure, Dychey. No pressure, lad,” added Reid.

One suspects Dyche will need no more motivational team talks in pursuit of that Wembley dream.