Willy Collins, known to many as ‘Big Willy’ Collins, died in July 2020 after collapsing while on holiday with his family in Port de Pollença in Majorca. He was 49.
Now, after a 20-month effort, a new city landmark was unveiled in Sheffield today, Thursday, March 17, in the form of the dad-of-nine’s headstone at Shiregreen Cemetery.
Appearing as nothing less than a modern day mausoleum, Willy’s grave is now marked by a 37-ton monument. It features two life-sized statues of the bare-knuckle boxer’s six-foot-two frame, and is crafted from solid Carrara marble from Italy.
Other features include four flagpoles, depictions of Jesus Christ and biblical scenes, and a solar-powered jukebox playing the patriarch’s favourite tracks – which mourners can also connect to through Bluetooth and play their own songs.
The headstone is lit up in LED lights that change colour and is under 24-hour CCTV monitoring, which his family can also access on their phones and use to ‘speak’ to him.
Willy’s eldest daughter, Mary Collins, 30, told The Star the unveiling today was a send-off to “the best father in the world”.
"It’s a sad day but it’s also a way to show the world what he meant to us,” said Mary.
"Our father was a family man and he means the world to us – he still means the world to us. We’ve given him everything we’ve got and he deserves it.”
One of 16 children, Willy was the patriarch of the Collins family. He doted on his children and grandchildren, and had around 400 nieces and nephews.
After his death, tributes flooded in from across the UK and his home city, where he was known by many as the ‘King of Sheffield’.
“He loved Sheffield,” said Mary. “He was as much a Sheffield man as he was an Irish man.
"If you met him once for five minutes you would never forget him.
"There’s always someone visiting his grave. I’ve met so many people this way who knew him and who have stories to tell about him.
"My brothers and my family have worked hard to make this. We all knew what we wanted to happen. It grew and grew and grew. It’s been a long 20-month journey.
"It’s going to be nice to relax, and we now have somewhere where we can meet and talk about him and for others to remember him.
"He was my best friend. Not a day goes by where we all don’t think of him.”
Mary says the most difficult aspect were the two life-sized statues of the boxer, which were created in his image from “thousands” of photos and videos of the 49-year-old.
When asked how much the endeavour had cost, Mary only said: “Blood, sweat and tears.”
As part of today’s unveiling, media screens projecting videos of Willy and a pop-up bar have been set up at Shiregreen Cemetery for Willy’s family to pay respects.
The project was led by Willy’s family and his wife of 30 years, Kathleen Collins, who said of her husband in 2020: “I loved him dearly in life and I love him more and more in death.”