TRIBUTES have been paid to a businessman famed for his iconic country pub and his star-studded invitational rugby teams.

Geoff Copeland died aged 76 following a short battle with cancer last week. He is best remembered for the transformation of the Blue Lion Inn, situated in Cwm, during the 1970s and 80s.

He turned the site from a country pub to an award-winning bar and restaurant, and his exploits bringing famous faces to play at Rhyl and District Rugby Club is also something that lives long in the memory.

Marcus Copeland, Geoff’s eldest son, said: “Mention dad’s name anywhere in North Wales and people will talk about the legendary Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties he threw at the Blue Lion Inn or the time he brought Welsh legends JPR Williams and Graham Price to play in a local pub sevens competition.

“He was the type of character you would hear coming a long time before you saw him and everyone has a favourite tale to tell about dad. He was generous with his time and money – a real people pleaser who was at his best when cooking for friends or entertaining you with one of his many stories.”

Born in Maghull, Liverpool in 1944, Mr Copeland started his working life with Marks and Spencer and Lego, before marrying his first wife Sue, with who he had two children, Nicola and Marcus.

He took over the Blue Lion in 1971 and became an instant hit with locals thanks to his themed parties.

Mr Copeland opened an a la carte restaurant at the Blue Lion, the first of its kind in North Wales, which went on to win him several industry awards including Best Welsh Restaurant and Welsh Chef of the Year.

His love for rugby saw Mr Copeland assemble guest teams to play under the banner of “The Blue Lion All-Stars” at the local Rhyl Rugby Club Pub Sevens, when the club was located at The Waen, near Rhuddlan.

This was a competition he almost inevitably won with JPR Williams (Wales), Graham Price (Wales), Mike Slemen (England), Nick Jeavons (England), Gary Williams (Neath/Orrell) and Mark Williams (USA) among those to feature.

One of the regular players was former Orrell, London Irish and England U21s fly-half Ged Glynn, who now works for English Premiership club Leicester Tigers.

In 1986, Mr Copeland sold the Blue Lion Inn and began working for Allied Dunbar in Liverpool. He later remarried and had three further children, Ben, Sophie and Max, by his second wife Cindy.

He set up home in Trelawnyd where he was a regular at The Crown and The Eagle and Child, in Gwaenysgor. Following a successful stint in financial services, where he helped hundreds set up businesses and purchase homes, he set up Safe Harbour Care in the West Midlands which specialises in care for adults with autism.

As well as five children, Geoff is survived by his eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Tim Brookes-Parry, owner of the Apex Travel Group, who was a regular customer at the pub, said: “Geoff was a hero and an inspiration to me in my youth. He always seemed to be immortal and will be sorely missed.”

David Pollitt, who worked behind the bar at the Blue Lion, added: “I am so sad as he really was a massive personality in my life when I worked for him. He was the big brother I never had for a good few years and I have so many brilliant memories of him.

"If I was a smoker I would get out a Hamlet cigar which was his favourite. I spent many epic nights with him at a very good time in my life.”

The funeral will be a small private family affair at home in Trelawnyd at 1pm on Friday, May 15. He will be laid to rest at St Melyd Church stopping outside The Crown, Trelawnyd, and Dyserth Church, where people will be able to pay their respects from a safe distance.

There will be an opportunity to attend a celebration to remember Mr Copeland at a later date once restrictions have been lifted.