IN 2013, Mike Melody, an antiques dealer on daytime television, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. His daughter Victoria Melody, a performance artist and former Miss Brighton, was given the terrible responsibility of organising his funeral. A year later, however, doctors realised they had misdiagnosed Mike. But, as Victoria tells EDWIN GILSON, they went ahead with the funeral anyway in the form of a father-daughter show.

How did you feel when you found out your father was not going to die, after all?

Once dad was given the all-clear it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t know it had affected me that much. My dad is a big character and very unconventional. In the 80s he’d been very unhealthy – he was a chain smoker, he drank loads and never exercised. He used to prepare us for his death and when I was seven he asked me to remember the music for his funeral. In his way he was getting me used to the fact he might not be around forever. Once he was diagnosed I felt it didn’t affect me as much as it might have done because we’d talked so openly about it.

From that point, what inspired you to make a show about the experience?

Well, dad loved art but he was chucked out of school. He’s always lived his art life vicariously through me. One of the things I felt when we thought we would lose him was: “Isn’t it a shame we will never collaborate together?” He’s a natural entertainer. As soon as he was given the all-clear I asked him if he wanted to make a show together and he said, “Yes absolutely”.

How does your dad feel about acting out his own funeral every night?

Although the show is about a topic that has potential to be depressing, it’s funny as well as being very moving. It’s not so much reliving the experience because we don’t talk about the diagnosis very much. It’s more about me trying my best to give him a funeral.

You worked as a funeral director to prepare for the show, didn’t you?

Once we found out dad was ill I started looking into funerals and I couldn’t believe how limited the choices were. But then I searched more and realised there are loads of alternatives to the generic funeral. I trained as a funeral director and gave him the funeral I thought he wanted. He didn’t like it! He thought the eulogy was bland. It’s common for a eulogy to be in praise of that person, but dad was like, “I’ve done loads of things wrong, that’s what people really want to know”. He wanted me to paint the whole picture. He also asked why we were all in black and why he was in a suit.

The funeral directors had me in the hearse and doing all sorts of things. When I went down into the morgue, I could see the eyes of the employees on me, seeing if I was the right material for the job. I was just thinking, “Come on Vic, you can do this”.

Are you wary of the reaction from those who have actually lost their fathers to similar illnesses?

The problem is, there’s a big taboo around death. We’re told to fear it and as long as we’re scared of it the funeral directors cash in. You get a service that isn’t reflective of that person or your feelings towards them. By creating this debate hopefully we’re empowering people to make better decisions.

What’s the reaction been in general?

People find the father-daughter relationship funny. We’re very authentic and we do have little arguments. There is an emotional punch in the second half of the show which seems to have affected people a lot. One of the main themes running through it is you don’t know what to say to a person until you think you are going to lose them. Why are these speeches, the best speeches you’ve ever heard, kept until after the person is gone? Let’s say them now!

Your work is often based around the research you do and the real-life roles you take on. Can you pinpoint why you so often take this approach?

Yeah, I’m a bit of an ethnographer and I embed myself in different cultures like someone who makes documentaries. I’m a bit obsessive and I want to understand everything. If I’m researching something I’ll change my lifestyle completely. I was Miss Brighton 2011 and 2012 [for her show Hair Peace which she performed at Brighton Dome]. I’m a feminist so I never expected to do that. I had hair extensions and lost loads of weight. I really, really wanted to win.

Did the other Miss Brighton contestants know you had other reasons for entering?

I always go into things with people knowing I’m an artist. I’m better at learning from doing and I’m really good at fitting in. Even though I don’t initially look like someone who might fit in, I can quickly assimilate. It’s how I learn. I’m very stubborn.

Victoria Melody: Ugly Chief Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Falmer, June 20, 7.30pm, £10, visit or call 01273 678822