The funeral of the Thai owner of Leicester City Football Club is to take place at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Saturday, a week after the billionaire died in a helicopter accident outside the club’s ground.
Leading Thai dignitaries, members of the country’s royal family and some of the club’s top players will attend the ceremony and pay respects to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Thailand’s Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan was one of the first to arrive as the began held in the Thai capital on Saturday evening.
Scores of mourners visited Wat Thep Sirin Temple in the Thai capital on Saturday ahead of the ceremony, which will last for seven days.
Mr Vichai, 60, and four other people died in when his helicopter crashed moments after departing the club’s pitch last Saturday, bringing an abrupt end to the fairytale life of the duty-free mogul who was Thailand’s fifth-richest man.
The body of the club’s chairman was flown back to Thailand on Friday with a private service held in the evening at Wat Thepsirin temple. A number of prominent individuals close to the family of the well-connected businessman attended the event.
The funeral began at around 5.30pm local time with a traditional bathing ceremony, during which court musicians played drums and flutes as friends, family and a royal representative poured scented water on to the hands of the deceased.
Ahead of the ceremony, the water – which is believed to purify the body and bring special blessings – was delivered in special flask by a white royal car, having been gifted by the royal family. Commentators said the traditional Buddhist ceremony was fitting for Mr Vichai, who was highly religious and was remembered for bringing monks to the Leicester City ground.
Rituals will include many nights of chanting by Buddhist monks before a final cremation ceremony expected to be attended by the great and the good of Thai society.
In a country where a belief in reincarnation is still strong, the elaborate ceremony will bring merit to the dead ahead of his transition into the next life.
But the elaborate funeral will also allow onlookers to gauge Mr Vichai’s social standing with a series of gifts from the royal family being on prominent display – including a five-tiered umbrella and a huge eight-sided golden funerary urn.
Buddhist monks will then recite prayers from religious texts and the body will then be kept for 100 days before the final cremation, the date of which has not yet been set.
A number of players from the Leicester team along with coach Claude Puel and other high-ranking officials at the club are due to board a plane to Thailand to pay their respects shortly after their 3pm away fixture against Cardiff City.
The squad and staff will make the 12,000-mile round trip and are expected to be in Thailand for 36 hours to visit the temple where Mr Vichai’s body lays in rest.
"We all spoke about … wanting to play, it’s what Vichai would’ve wanted and that’s what we are going to do," striker Jamie Vardy told Sky Sports, adding that they would "honour his name" with their performance.
A Leicester City spokesman told The Telegraph: "There is a delegation including the majority of the squad, senior staff and directors. They’re flying out after the match and will be back in the UK for Tuesday."
He added that he expected there to be "Premier League-wide activity" today to mark the occasion of Mr Vichai’s funeral.
Back in Cardiff, Leicester City’s game against the Welsh side will be as carefully choreographed as the funeral itself.
Players are expected to come on to the pitch earlier than usual before Leicester City fans sing the club song ‘When You’re Smiling’ and wave their flags, as per tradition.
Cardiff City fans are thought to have made a special flag that they will unfurl at the start of the match and wave in tribute to the Leicester fans, according to reports on Sky News.
There will then be 60 seconds of silence followed by applause and all players on the pitch are expected to wear black armbands.
Cardiff defender Sol Bamba, formerly a player at Leicester City, will lead tributes to the Leicester fans before the laying of a wreath. Around 60 minutes into the match, scarves will be raised again to mark Mr Vicha’s 60 years.
Fans at the King Power Stadium were treated to a free breakfast before making the trip to Cardiff, with all attendees at today’s match expected to receive a free commemorative t-shirt.
Vincent Tan, Chairman of Cardiff City and who counted himself as a friend of Mr Vichai paid his respects to an: "honest and caring man with virtue and integrity".
In a separate interview given to Sky Sports on Friday, Vardy added: "It’ll be massively important. That’s how we are.
"We’re a close knit group like one big family and one of the main reasons for that is Vichai. So for us to be there is massively important."
Mr Vardy is expected to be joined by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, captain Wes Morgan, Mr Puel and senior staff in travelling to Thailand for the funeral.
Mr Puel said: "I want to give the opportunity for players and staff to go to the funeral. We will see the logistics.
"Of course, the players want to go and support his family — his wife, son Top, all the family.
"They put us in their family and that was a special thing about him. The players travelled to Dubai and other places to have good moments with Vichai. For him the players were his children, his family.
"Sometimes he was not happy with their game but he would forgive them"
Vichai leaves behind a wife and four children, two sons and two daughters – all five of whom are on the executive board of King Power, which now faces an uncertain future.
In the first public reaction from the family, Vichai’s youngest son Aiyawatt – better known by his nickname "Top" – said in an Instagram post this week that his father had "left me with a legacy to continue and I will do everything I can to carry on his big vision and dreams."
Mr Vichai’s life story reads like a classic rags to riches tale of success. He went from having a single store in Bangkok to owning the duty-free King Power empire, whose shops are ubiquitous in Thailand’s tourist-heavy airports.
Using the profits from his monopoly Mr Vichai bought Leicester City in 2010 and helped turn it from an unremarkable English club to the surprise winner of the Premier League title in 2016. Mr Vardy was instrumental in this turnaround becoming the third top scorer in the Premier League that year.
Back in Thailand, people are stunned by the tragic demise of a man known mainly for one business success after another but who owed much of his ascent to canny navigation of Thailand’s unpredictable politics and elite society.
That included the monarchy, links reflected in the name of his company and the former king’s act of royally bestowing on Vichai a surname that translates to "auspicious and prosperous light".
The four other crash victims were identified by British police as Nursara Suknamai – an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005 – and Kaveporn Punpare, both members of Vichai’s staff, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.