The family of murdered soldier Lee Rigby has thanked the public for their “overwhelming support” ahead of his funeral today and said his death had united the country.
Fusilier Rigby’s mother, stepfather and widow said good wishes had flooded in from around the globe and across all religions in the past seven weeks.
The 25-year-old had become “a hero” and the intentions of his killers had “backfired”, said his stepfather Ian.
He added: “Lee has become a hero. Whatever the intention was it’s backfired because it’s made Lee into the hero and the martyr. We have been having phone calls from the Jewish community, mosques and every religion you can think of and not just in this country.
“We have had letters and cards from all over the world in support and just giving their best wishes. The country is united whatever elements may wish to stop it. It’s not working because it’s working the other way.”
His wife, Rebecca, 30, said: “There are so many kind and generous people out there. It’s just horrible that it takes something such as this to make you see how many good people there are.”
Fusilier Rigby, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, was killed as he returned to Woolwich barracks from the Tower of London on May 22.
In the wake of his unprecedented murder – which was immediately treated as a terrorist incident – leaders of nine of the capital’s faith communities came together in condemnation of the brutal attack and to pledge to “redouble” efforts at increasing understanding between groups.
His family gave an emotional press conference shortly after his death and today spoke in public for the first time since as they reflected on the thousands of goodwill messages they have received.
Fighting back tears throughout her interview, Rebecca Rigby said: “We have had an awful lot of support from across the world. It has been overwhelming.
“We have had masses of cards, letters and donations from everywhere. It’s unbelievable really the things that have been coming in.
“We have had letters from the Prime Minister, from senior politicians from all parties, the Duke of Kent, from the Sikh community. Various large mosques and interfaith groups have been in touch with letters of condolences and such.”
His mother Lyn, 46, said: “We have received overwhelming support from the public, friends, family. We have had thousands of cards, with kind words. That basically has given us the strength to get through this time.”
Ian Rigby, 54, said: “Everywhere we have been, people have been supporting us. They have been incredible with us. Total strangers. They have been absolutely incredible, coming up – not in your face but shaking hands and saying God Bless, that sort of thing. And they have really meant what they said to us.
“And it’s the same in the community. The support in Middleton – it’s a small place – but the support we have had off everybody has been incredible. At one stage for about three weeks we just had a garden full of flowers. We couldn’t move in the garden. There were flowers everywhere. And the same in the town centre. It’s still going now at the memorial. People are still putting flowers on it now. They just tidy it up a bit and take away the dead ones away and some more turned up… it just keeps on going and going. It’s amazing.
Rebecca Rigby tearfully recalled how two small gestures of support for the couple’s two-year-old son Jack had meant so much to her.
“I was handed £1.10, two 50p coins and a 10p piece, that had been handed over by somebody at the Tower of London,” she said. “It was requested that it be passed on to the soldier’s son’s money.
“And I have had a cheque off another lady. She sent me a lovely letter and a cheque for £10 asking me to buy something to put a smile on Jack’s face. He wanted a scooter so we got him a scooter which he absolutely loves.”
Clutching a Fusilier teddy bear, Lyn Rigby said her “fun-loving” son had “fulfilled his dreams” by serving in the Army.
“He was so loving, he really was,” she said. “He would do anything for anybody. He had a heart of gold. He wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
Her husband said: “He was a devoted soldier. He loved what he was doing. He believed in what he was doing but he was still a family man.
“His (four) sisters and his son, he was devoted. Whatever happened they came first.
“His job meant the world to him, being in the Army. But his family still came first.”
Rebecca Rigby said: “He was so bubbly inside and energetic. He loved socialising with everybody, no matter where they were from or what they believed in. He didn’t hold anything against anybody.
“He loved Westlife (laughs). He even pretended that the tickets he bought were for me (the couple attended a Westlife concert at Wembley). We all knew they were for Lee.
“He lived his life like a kid in a candy shop.”
Asked about how Fusilier Rigby would like to be remembered at his service in Bury, she said: “Lee always wanted his service to be a time that people would remember him and shed the tears. But then he always said a remembrance of his life.
“He wanted people to enjoy that and sit and talk about happy days and happy memories they have got of Lee and the things he used to do and say because he was always so full of life.
“He just wanted to put a smile on everyone’s face.”
Ian Rigby said: “I think today should be a celebration of Lee’s life, what he has meant to us.
“Lee was a fun-loving lad and that is how he should be remembered.
“We would like today a certain amount of respect and dignity but we would like it to be Lee’s day and Lee remembered as how he was. Not upset because he wasn’t that sort of person. We don’t want everybody crying and getting heartbroken. We would rather enjoy Lee’s memories as he was with us.”
Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, have been charged with the murder of Fusilier Rigby and are due to stand trial at the Old Bailey on November 18.
They will appear at the same court for a plea and case management hearing on September 27.