Littlehampton councillor's husband pays tribute following sudden passing: 'because I knew you, I have been changed for good'

A Littlehampton councillor's husband has paid tribute to him after he passed away suddenly last week.

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 5:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 5:40 pm

Chris Blanchard-Cooper, from Thames Close, Littlehampton, died on Thursday morning (April 30) aged 45 following health complications. It is not thought to be coronavirus-related.

With his husband Billy, Chris was elected to represent Brookfield Ward at Arun District Council in the 2019 elections, making them the first gay married couple to be elected in the council's history.

Aside from his political work, Chris was also well known for being involved with the Littlehampton Bonfire Society and Littlehampton Musical and Comedy Society, the latter of which he was president of.

Chris Blanchard-Cooper in 2017 when he was elected to Littlehampton Town Council. Picture: Scott Ramsey

Paying tribute to him, Billy said: "Chris was the most wonderful man you could ever meet, he was warm, loving, generous and passionate about the town and his beloved Windmill Theatre.

"He was an amazing husband and supported me in everything I did. We had so much in common and he was my soul mate, completing me."

He went on to say: "I love to quote a musical and although I've used this one before, this is from the musical Wicked for my Chris - 'because I knew you, I have been changed for good!' - and I feel that everyone who met him will have been changed for the better."

Chris was born on September 29, 1974 to Maureen and Basil Cooper who owned Cooper Stores in Littlehampton, which was locally rumoured to have been the shop Ronnie Barker based the comedy Open All Hours on.

Chris and Billy Blanchard-Cooper pictured on their wedding day

As a boy he attended Elm Grove Infant School, the Connaught Junior School and Littlehampton Community School.

He got stuck in with the town's events, and would be seen playing the clarinet with the Littlehampton Concert Band, parading as a Native American - or later, Henry VIII - with the Littlehampton Bonfire Society.

Aged 14, he took to the stage with his sister Catherine to perform in the Littlehampton Musical Comedy Society's production of Summer Song.

Billy described the society and its base at the Windmill Theatre as Chris' 'home and passion', as he had played a key role in two successful campaigns to keep it open.

Billy and Chris at one of their Christmas open houses

Billy said: "He particularity loved playing the dame in pantomimes. However he also had a love of being the baddy, saying that unless a kiddie cries you've not done it right."

Chris was chairman of the society from 2000 until 2019 when he passed the torch to Kelly Manchée. He was then made president, a honorary title he held until his death.

Kelly said: "Chris’s passion for theatre and community was second to none and he truly made the society one big family. He was awarded the honour of president due to how much of his heart and life went into LMCS and it was very well deserved.

"He will be missed by all of us but his legacy will live on at the Windmill Theatre and he will be on the stage with us always."

Billy and Chris on the day they were elected to Arun District Council in 2019, making history

Chris' performing talents extended to being in a travelling singing group called the Posse Singers.

Billy recalled the group singing on the London Underground before an audition for The X Factor, where one of the directors recognised him from that performance.

"Sadly they never made it through to the next stage, but Chris said his claim to fame was being in the reel at the start of the show kissing Sharon Osborne's hand," Billy said.

Chris also appeared on The Weakest Link with Anne Robinson, coming in third place, and last year he and Billy took on the 100k Drop with Davina McCall.

In 2008, the pair met on a dating website and bonded over their love of Littlehampton and musicals. While on holiday in Fuerteventura with his family, Chris proposed and the two had a civil partnership on September 1, 2012, which was later altered to a marriage when the law changed.

Held at the Butlin's Conference Centre with 300 guests, Billy said it was the first and last wedding that used the entire centre, including the 1950's style ball room.

Despite having a below the knee amputation due to diabetes complications months before the big day, Chris walked down the aisle with a walking stick - having co-directed a LMCS show from his hospital bed.

Following in Billy's footsteps, Chris was elected to Beach Ward at Littlehampton Town Council in 2017, and perfomed duties as Billy's consort when he was mayor for an extraordinary two-year spell, such as helping to write Billy's mayor column for the Gazette.

Together they were also well-known for opening their home at Christmas to show off their vast collection of festive decorations, which raised money for charity.

Sadly, soon after being elected to Arun District Council, Billy said his husband's sight began to fail, but he continued to fulfil his duties for his community.

Following news of Chris' passing, more than 400 people gave their condolences to Billy on Facebook and Arun District Council flew the flags at half mast for two days.

Among many tributes, Littlehampton Musical Comedy Society did a video with photos of him from over the years to the song Tell Me It's Not True from the musical Blood

Brothers which Billy warned people 'to have tissues at the ready if they watch it'.

Here is Billy's tribute in full:

"On behalf of myself and our families, I would like to thank everyone for the various tributes, messages on social media, cards, flowers and gifts, and phone calls which have been extremely appreciated at this exceptionally hard time, and show just how loved he was by everyone.

"Chris was the most wonderful man you could ever meet, he was warm, loving, generous and passionate about the town and his beloved Windmill Theatre.

"He was an amazing husband and supported me in everything I did. We had so much in common and he was my soul mate, completing me.

"When we met we found there were so many strange coincidences in our lives, including times we should have met but obviously it just wasn't meant to be at that moment.

"His smile would light up a room and I think that along with his amazing hugs are some of the things I will miss the most.

"I will continue to work for this town which he loved and will fight even harder now for him for the things I know that he wanted to achieve as a councillor.

"I love to quote a musical and although I've used this one before, this is from the musical Wicked for my Chris - 'because I knew you, I have been changed for good!' - and I feel that everyone who met him will have been changed for the better."