What's life like for a young funeral director?

SLICE OF LIFE: Poppy Mardall, founder of Poppy's Funerals, on swapping art for coffins, and the delights of Tooting.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2017


The morning madness begins at 6.45am, with my two-year-old daughter Juniper chanting 'cereal, cereal, cereal' and son Calon (four months) demanding his milk. It's a short cycle ride from our house in Tooting to Lambeth Cemetery, where Poppy's Funerals is based; my office is in The Gatehouse and we have a mortuary in the chapel. It took us two years to find these premises; most agents run a mile when you tell them you want to store dead bodies. I'll have a catch-up meeting (on beanbags) with my six staff, then spend the day meeting families and leading funerals.


I was a real globe-trotter before I had kids. I've lived in Sri Lanka, backpacked around Cambodia and explored the beaches of Borneo. My best trip was to Israel and Palestine with my husband Chris in 2014; the history, the politics and the people were all fascinating. Nowadays, we spend our holidays on the Isle of Wight, where my parents live, or visit my brother in San Francisco.


Tooting is a brilliant place to live. New bars, restaurants and coffee shops are springing up every day. At the weekends, we'll meet up with friends for a barbecue or head to Plot in Tooting Market for dinner, followed by cocktails at The Little Bar on Mitcham Road. Midweek, it's much tamer. Chris and I are usually snuggled up on the sofa by 8pm, watching Catastrophe or Broadchurch. If I need to clear my head, I'll go for a dip at Tooting Lido.

I love swimming in icy water.


I studied art history before working for Sotheby's, where I'd fly off to the States at a moment's notice to value a Barbara Hepworth. Exciting, yes. Fulfilling, no. I quit in 2011 with the vague idea of running matchmaking holidays or opening a clothes store for plus-sized women. I went to Ghana for some time out and contracted typhoid. I was laid up for nine months. There was a run of horrifying exposes on the funeral trade on TV, and I thought, 'hang on, this is where I could make a difference.' I'd had those petrifying conversations about funeral arrangements with my parents. I knew what little choice there was. So I launched Poppy's Funerals in 2012.


The day starts and ends with music. As soon as the kids are up, we'll put Magic FM on and dance around the kitchen. We're embarrassing parents. We also play music at bath time; we have speakers in the bathroom so Juniper can Shake It Off to Taylor Swift. I'm a fan of Ghanaian highlife music. Guaranteed to get you moving.


When I started, I bought a van, decorated it with poppies and asked a friend to build a wooden deck so I could use it as a simple hearse. To make sure everything was secure and to test slippage, I made my dad get into a coffin, loaded him into the van and drove around a load of roundabouts at full speed. He's such a great sport.


When I left Sotheby's, I bought myself an alabaster carving of a woman's head by Sven Berlin. She's strong and powerful and looks like she comes from the beginning of time. (Can you tell I'm a raging feminist?) It's an absolute nightmare whenever we move house as it weighs a ton - but I love it.

Read more: Poppy Mardall, the entrepreneur breathing new life into death


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