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Funeral takes place of Belfast actress Leila Webster

Funeral takes place of Belfast actress Leila Webster

THE Funeral has taken place of the Belfast actress and comedienne Leila Webster.

Ms. Webster passed away on Thursday (February 6) at the age of 90. A Committal Service was held at Roselawn Crematorium before a Service of Thanksgiving took place at St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church in Belfast.

Family members released a number of doves outside the Church in memory of the actress.

Leila Webster was regarded by many as Northern Ireland’s showbiz legend, the girl from South Belfast whose future had looked bleak due to ill health but who went on to enjoy a career in entertainment which spanned almost 80 years and included working alongside the likes of Bob Hope.

But such a future had looked unlikely for the 10-year-old Leila after two bouts of scarlet fever had left her with a heart condition. Then, after months confined to bed, the little girl was struck by rheumatic fever. As if all these troubles were not enough, a younger brother then died of diphtheria and Leila developed agoraphobia.

In what was to prove an inspired decision, Leila’s parents bought her a piano and paid for lessons. It was around this time that her talents as a singer were discovered. She was soon feeling confident enough to again step outside the family home. As her confidence grew the young girl began to sing at small shows and eventually appeared at the old Empire Theatre in Belfast’s Victoria Square. 

But singing was not the only talent that Leila possessed. She also revealed a natural ability to perform comedy and was soon entertaining audiences across the city. 

Her brush with Bob Hope came when she appeared on the same bill as the legendary entertainer at the Hippodrome. On another occasion she appeared with another singing legend, Josef Locke.

Acting was to be added to her many talents. She forged a long association with the Northern Ireland playwright Sam Cree, appearing in many productions of his comedies alongside James Young. Many people will also remember her work with Young on his local BBC shows of the early 1970s in which she would often portray redoubtable Belfast women in the comedy sketches.

For many years she entertained audiences with her appearances at the old Arts theatre in Belfast, as well as on tours which included work in Great Britain.

Her versatility as an actress was underlined when she took on roles away from comedy. One such critically acclaimed performance was as Brecht’s Mother Courage in a production at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. She also appeared in several TV movies including Joyce In June (1982) and The End Of The World Man (1986).

In recent years, she had continued to perform and would also find time to visit hospitals to entertain the patients. She was also awarded an M.B.E. for her charity work.

Among the many tributes was one from her friend, the actor Dan Gordon. He said: “It’s the closing of a chapter in Ulster theatre because Leila’s career never stopped. Even up to her 90th. birthday party she was still singing and performing. She was an incredible woman.”

Northern Ireland’s Culture Minister Carál Ni Chuilin described Ms. Webster as  a “remarkable woman”, and she added: “Leila was an inspirational figure whose talent and enthusiasm will be sadly missed”.

Ms. Webster was predeceased by her husband Tom Mercer. She is survived by her son Jim.

To view the death notice which appeared on please click here.

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