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Dec says farewell: TV presenter carries brother Dermott’s coffin

Difficult task: Declan Donnelly served as pallbearer on Thursday evening as Mass was held ahead of his older brother Dermott's funeral in Newcastle

Declan Donnelly served as pallbearer on Thursday evening as Mass was held ahead of his older brother Dermott’s funeral in Newcastle.

The popular TV personality joined friends a family for the Catholic service at the city’s St. Michael’s Church – the same church in which he married wife Ali Astall – prior to his burial service in the north east on Friday morning.

Dermott Donnelly, a respected Catholic priest, died from a suspected bleed on the brain on July 8 after being treated at North Durham hospital following a collapse at his Newcastle parish.

Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain’s Got Talent presenter Dec, 46, later announced the news of his death on social media, writing: ‘I am heartbroken to tell you that my darling brother Fr Dermott, @TweeterPriest, sadly passed away this afternoon. 

‘We are all beyond devastated. Thank you for your messages of sympathy and support, they are appreciated.’

Difficult task: Declan Donnelly served as pallbearer on Thursday evening as Mass was held ahead of his older brother Dermott’s funeral in Newcastle

The diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, where Dermot served at St. Jospeh’s Church in County Durham, had previously confirmed the news of his death in a short message.

A statement from the diocese read: ‘It is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the death of Fr Dermott Donnelly, who died peacefully this afternoon in hospital.

‘This has come as a great shock to all of us. Please pray for the repose of his soul and keep his family, especially his mother, in your prayers at this difficult time.’

A spokesman for Declan said: ‘It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of Fr Dermott Donnelly who died peacefully this afternoon in hospital surrounded by his family and close friends.

‘We ask for the utmost privacy for the Donnelly family at this difficult time.’

Declan Donnelly's elder brother Dermott Donnelly died from a suspected bleed on the brain, friends have said

Declan Donnelly’s elder brother Dermott Donnelly died from a suspected bleed on the brain, friends have said

Sad day: The presenter looked to the skies as he joined friends and family for the Catholic service at the city's St. Michael's Church prior to his burial service in the north east on Friday morning

Sad day: The presenter looked to the skies as he joined friends and family for the Catholic service at the city’s St. Michael’s Church prior to his burial service in the north east on Friday morning

Farewell: A mournful Dec looked on as those close to the beloved priest gathered for the service in his native Newcastle

Farewell: A mournful Dec looked on as those close to the beloved priest gathered for the service in his native Newcastle

Farewell: A mournful Dec looked on as those close to the beloved priest gathered for the service in his native Newcastle

Devastated: Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain's Got Talent presenter Dec announced the news of his brother's death on social media in July

Devastated: Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain’s Got Talent presenter Dec announced the news of his brother’s death on social media in July

Final journey: The presenter observed his brother's casket being removed from a hearse ahead of Thursday's Mass

Final journey: The presenter observed his brother’s casket being removed from a hearse ahead of Thursday’s Mass

Attending the service on Thursday, Dec held back tears as his brother’s coffin was removed from the rear of a hearse before taking his place beneath its top right corner and carrying it into the church.

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Surrounded by a gathering of friends and family, the presenter – wearing a traditional black suit – was seen clasping his hands in prayer while paying his respects.

St. Michael’s serves as the Donnelly family church and was chosen by Dec and wife Ali – who was not seen during Thursday’s service – as their wedding venue in 2015.

The ceremony was officiated by Dermott and attended by a select group of family, friends and celebrity guests – among them Dec’s presenting partner Ant McPartlin.

Dermott was a regular visitor to his brother’s traditionally London based shows, while the presenter travelled to the north-east frequently to attend Mass and visit the youth projects which had been a labour of love for the priest since the 1990s.

Speaking in 2015, the priest admitted his connection to household name Dec helped him cross the generational divide with young parishioners.

He said: ‘I don’t advertise that I’m Dec’s brother, but the kids always seem to know. It bridges the gap between me and them.

Difficult: Grieving family member looked on as they prepared to move Dermott's coffin

Difficult: Grieving family member looked on as they prepared to move Dermott’s coffin

Moving: Surrounded by a gathering of friends and family, Dec was seen clasping his hands in prayer while paying his respects

Moving: Surrounded by a gathering of friends and family, Dec was seen clasping his hands in prayer while paying his respects

Devastated: The presenter crossed his arms and closed his eyes ahead of the service in Newcastle on Thursday

Devastated: The presenter crossed his arms and closed his eyes ahead of the service in Newcastle on Thursday

Devastated: The presenter crossed his arms and closed his eyes ahead of the service in Newcastle on Thursday

Sad: Dermott's Mass will be followed by a funeral in the city on Friday, which Dec will also attend

Sad: Dermott’s Mass will be followed by a funeral in the city on Friday, which Dec will also attend

Respects: The presenter wore a traditional black suit for the service. at St. Michaels - the church that also served as his wedding venue

Respects: The presenter wore a traditional black suit for the service. at St. Michaels – the church that also served as his wedding venue

Dermott began his career as a curate in Chester-le-Street until, two years later, he was asked by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle to set up a youth programme aimed at introducing disadvantaged youngsters to the Catholic Church.

He transformed the Youth Ministry Team into a thriving concern, and in 2010 launched the Global Youth Village Centre on a former holiday camp in County Durham.

Over a 30 year period he continued raising money for the youth ministry, building the Emmaus Youth Village and developing youth leaders across the world.

As recently as April he visited outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, where he joined religious leaders including His Excellency the Papal Nuncio and His Eminence the Cardinal and members of the hierarchy of Ukrainian church in the UK to pray for peace in war-torn Ukraine.

He said at the time: ‘It was a real privilege to join Christian leaders from across many churches at Downing Street and to stand together in prayer, the silence was so profound.

‘It was a moment when the power of vulnerability encountered the vulnerability of power. The best weapon we had was prayer.’

Tribute: A funeral program bore a photo of the popular Priest above the message 'called to live a life of significance'

Tribute: A funeral program bore a photo of the popular Priest above the message ‘called to live a life of significance’

Tragic: Dec cast his gaze downwards while carrying the coffin into their family church on Monday

Tragic: Dec cast his gaze downwards while carrying the coffin into their family church on Monday

Following his hospitalisation, a statement from Stanley, Dipton & Byermoor Catholic Parishes read: ‘Please pray for Father Dermott who is extremely unwell in hospital.

‘Tomorrow evening between 6pm-7pm there will be a period of time before the Blessed Sacrament so that we can come together as a community in St Joseph’s Church to pray for Father Dermott’s welfare.

‘Please be respectful to Father Dermott and his family at this difficult time, we will update you as and when we receive the most up to date information verified by the Diocese.’

Hexham and Newcastle Bishop Robert Byrne said he will be ‘greatly missed in the diocese for his sterling work with youth, on both a diocesan and national level’.

He added: ‘He was a good and faithful priest.’

The official opening ceremony of the Youth Village at Allensford which Fr Donnelly helped run and was working when he developed a headache. Pictured (L-R): Bishop Emeritus Ambrose Griffiths, Bishop Seamus Cunningham, Father Dermott Donnelly, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly both of whom were the guests of honour at the opening event in 2010

The official opening ceremony of the Youth Village at Allensford which Fr Donnelly helped run and was working when he developed a headache. Pictured (L-R): Bishop Emeritus Ambrose Griffiths, Bishop Seamus Cunningham, Father Dermott Donnelly, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly both of whom were the guests of honour at the opening event in 2010

Declan Donnelly's brother died aged 55 after being rushed to hospital. Pictured: Ant and Dec with Dec's brother Dermott (middle)

Declan Donnelly’s brother died aged 55 after being rushed to hospital. Pictured: Ant and Dec with Dec’s brother Dermott (middle)

The diocese of Hexham and Newcastle confirmed the news that Father Dermott Donnelly died peacefully in hospital on July 8

The diocese of Hexham and Newcastle confirmed the news that Father Dermott Donnelly died peacefully in hospital on July 8

Pictured in 2014 conducting the funeral of Newcastle United fan Liam Sweeney who was killed on the doomed MH17 flight

Pictured in 2014 conducting the funeral of Newcastle United fan Liam Sweeney who was killed on the doomed MH17 flight

Dermott was originally described as being 'seriously ill', with his congregation asked to pray for him following his hospitalisation (pictured left, with the Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall at St. Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle)

Dermott was originally described as being ‘seriously ill’, with his congregation asked to pray for him following his hospitalisation (pictured left, with the Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle)

As recently as April he visited outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, where he prayed for peace in war-torn Ukraine

As recently as April he visited outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, where he prayed for peace in war-torn Ukraine

Donnelly had started out as a curate in Chester-le-Street until, two years later, he was asked by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle to set up a youth programme

Donnelly had started out as a curate in Chester-le-Street until, two years later, he was asked by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle to set up a youth programme

Speaking in 2015, Donnelly admitted his connection to household name Dec (pictured) helped him cross the generational divide with young parishioners

Speaking in 2015, Donnelly admitted his connection to household name Dec (pictured) helped him cross the generational divide with young parishioners

Dec had previously spoken about his close relationship with his brother (pictured together in 1995)

Dec had previously spoken about his close relationship with his brother (pictured together in 1995)

Dec is one of seven children and was raised on Newcastle’s Cruddas Park estate with brothers Martin, Eamonn and Dermott and sisters Camelia, Patricia and Moira.

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Despite his enormous success, he once admitted to considering his own career in the church before quickly realising it wasn’t for him.

He recalled: ‘Growing up was like The Waltons but in Newcastle. We all lived in a council house in Cruddas Park in the West End. The house had three bedrooms.

‘You don’t need to be a math’s genius to work out that three bedrooms and nine people equals a bit of a squeeze.

‘The four boys were in two sets of bunk beds in one room, the three girls were in another and my mam and dad had the third room.

‘My mam and dad, Anne and Alphonsus, came to Newcastle from Ireland in 1958.

‘You’d often find the Donnelly clan at the Tyneside Irish Centre on a Saturday night and that was where I had my earliest performing experiences.’

He added: ‘Later on my brother Dermott trained to be a priest. When I was about 14 I did briefly consider following in his footsteps.

‘Then, one day, I got the bus home from school and it was full of lasses from the local girls’ school, Sacred Heart. I knew right there and then that the priesthood wasn’t for me.’

Over a 30-year period Donnelly raised money for the youth ministry, building the Emmaus Youth Village and developing youth leaders across the world

Over a 30-year period Donnelly raised money for the youth ministry, building the Emmaus Youth Village and developing youth leaders across the world

In 2015 he officiated at the wedding of his famous brother to Ali Astall in Newcastle in a star-studded ceremony

In 2015 he officiated at the wedding of his famous brother to Ali Astall in Newcastle in a star-studded ceremony

The millionaire presenter, a mainstay on ITV, has been able to buy his mother a £600,000 house in the upmarket Darras Hall area of Ponteland, near Newcastle, where neighbours include former England football captain Alan Shearer.

While Dec considered a career in the church, his older brother flirted with TV courtesy of an appearances on Junior Songs of Praise, during which he was interviewed by a puppet called Hacker T Dog about church life.

Back in 2001 he had a more controversial brush with fame. Egged on by Dec, he was in negotiations to front a show for Channel 4 called Confess.

The show’s selling point was that it would encourage viewers to confess their sins on air, with a tagline: ‘Share your sins, relieve your soul.’

Dermott was cast as the showbiz-savvy priest who, while not going so far as to offer them absolution as in a genuine confessional, would at least counsel them on the correct course of action.

A pilot show was shot, but once it was announced, the outrage from the Catholic Church was strong enough to see it quietly dropped. Some of the kinder remarks from church officials decried it as ‘intrusive’ and ‘superficial’.

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