Five hundred pay respects to 'people's artist' Bill Billings

Popular people's artist Bill Billings was a secret SAS hero – but too modest to talk about it.

The self-confessed rebel's acts of courage were only revealed at his funeral, when an SAS beret and cluster of medals decorated his coffin.

"Bill was a lifelong member of the SAS but he didn't tell anyone – he just wasn't the type to talk about himself. Even I don't know anything about what he did or where he went," said his wife Maggie.

When she met Bill almost 40 years ago he had served years in the army and, in the early days of their marriage, used to disappear on missions with the SAS.

"I never asked where he was going because I knew he wouldn't tell me. I'm sure he was a hero but he would hate people to think that, because he was far too modest," said Maggie, who is a nurse.

A self-styled poet, playwright, painter, sculptor and musician, Bill introduced street art to thousands of people from all walks of life – including prisoners. One of his most famous projects was the huge concrete dinosaur at Peartree Bridge.

His services to the community earned him an MBE in 2000, but the official recognition did not tone down his battles with authority to further his community art aims.

He once told the Citizen: "If I have had any enemies it's because I'm crude and scruffy, but I've always stayed true to myself."

Bill collapsed suddenly from a heart attack on Boxing Day. Fittingly, 69-year-old Bill had been in the middle of making his family laugh with a series of hilarious impressions.

Some 500 people – including 10 SAS colleagues – attended Bill's funeral at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Newport Pagnell, last Thursday.

"People came from all walks of life. There were schoolchildren, teenagers, former prisoners and pensioners; they all wanted to say goodbye." said Maggie.

A poem from Maggie was read out in Bill's memory. His grandson read another poem and his nephew played his favourite Buddy Holly song.

Already Bill's son Ryan, an artist himself, has made sure his father's memory lives on in the streets by painting a mural of Bill and a trademark dinosaur on a wall of the bus station skateboard park.

"We all miss him terribly. He was such a dynamic person and he's left a terrible gap," said Maggie.

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