A right royal send off: Inside the funeral of a Wellingborough Gypsy King

A Gypsy King said to be the leader of travellers from across the region was laid to rest yesterday.

The devastated family of father-of-ten Francis ‘Francie’ Doherty Sr of the Gipsy Lane Travellers’ Site in Irchester gave their dad a send-off like no other - with ten silver Rolls Royce Phantoms, a gold coffin, elaborate floral displays and even a celebrity mourner.

PICTURES: Click here to view all the pictures from Francie's funeral
Francie died on January 14 after a battle with cancer.

His devoted wife Rhona led more than 1,000 mourners from across the UK and Ireland at the service at St Edmund Campion RC Church, Wellingborough after a last-minute venue change.

The Northants Telegraph was invited along by the Doherty family to capture the day’s events.

Among those arriving in ten hired Rolls Royce Phantoms, worth a staggering £360,000 each, were nine of Francie’s children - Hughie, Francie, Charlie, Angela, Biddy, Rhona, Lizzie, Mary and Ronnie and many of his 42 grandchildren. All were dressed in matching black suits with red ties.

Francis Doherty Sr

Francis Doherty Sr

Paddy Doherty, who was made famous by My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Big Brother, was also among those at the service.

The group was expected to head to a pub in Wellingborough town centre but it closed early because of the size of the crowd.

They then moved on to Gipsy Lane Travellers’ Site where Francie was due to be buried in a marble casket at the entrance to the site after the family obtained a special licence.

The Catholic requiem mass was carried out by Canon Michael Harrison who read a touching eulogy from Rhona, who met her husband in Cardiff when she was just 12 and he was 14. It said: “Francie bought me an American Dollar Ring and then when we were 16, he asked my dad if he could marry me.

Sons and grandsons of Francie Doherty Sr

Sons and grandsons of Francie Doherty Sr

“We had six girls and four boys and 42 grandchildren who Francie loved with all his heart.

“He was a great father.”

The pair lived in London then moved to Wellingborough in 1996 and Francie became the caretaker of the local traveller sites.

Rhona’s tribute continued: “He was a fighter, a dancer, a singer, a businessman, a hare courser, a road-trotter and even on the track he was simply the best.

Paddy Doherty, star of Big Brother, with his friend Patrick O'Driscoll at the funeral in Wellingborough

Paddy Doherty, star of Big Brother, with his friend Patrick O'Driscoll at the funeral in Wellingborough

“I was his Barbie and he was my Ken.”

His sons and daughters also paid tribute to their dad in a written piece.It read: “We were the proudest sons and daughters in the world.

“You were not only our daddy but you were also our best friend.

“You taught us right from wrong and you’ll always be in our hearts.

“We’re bringing you home with us so we’ll never be apart.”

One of Francie’s granddaughters also read a poem for her grandad.

A crown of flowers for Gypsy King Francie Doherty

A crown of flowers for Gypsy King Francie Doherty

An altercation in the aisles stopped proceedings for a short time and mourners were forced to flee to the safety of the altar. But Francie’s son Hughie took to the pulpit to call for calm among the congregation and ask them to save their differences for outside the church.

A trio of Irish dancers were whooped as they performed for the onlookers and then Francie’s coffin was lifted down the aisle by the men of his family to cheers and claps and shouts of ‘oi oi’.

Police presence outside the church was minimal, with officers on hand to manage the traffic and oversee the proceedings.

Some roads around the site in Gipsy Lane remained closed last night due to the volume of traffic.

A plane later passed over the traveller's site carrying the message 'Francie Doherty: Number One Legend'.

Francie was well-known in Irchester, Rushden and Wellingborough, well beyond the traveller community. He was also a generous donator to local charities.

But Francie’s life was not without controversy - in 2009, along with his wife and two of his children, he stood trial in a £2m money laundering case. The trial collapsed but Francie lost his site caretaker job and a senior council officer was dismissed. The Doherty family later vowed to sue the county council.

Click here to view more pictures from Francie's funeral