Obituary - Luke Day, 1979-2010

12th February 2010 at 00:00

The circumstances surrounding Luke Day's death have now been widely reported: he drowned saving his new wife while on a honeymoon cruise.

What is less known is that the 31-year-old was a charismatic, guitar-toting teacher, whose pupils were counting down the days until he returned to the classroom.

Mr Day was born in 1979 in Lymington, Hampshire, where he attended his local secondary and sixth-form college before reading languages at the University of East Anglia. It was here that he met Sophie Nicholson-Cole, a science student, with whom he shared not only a love of cycling and the outdoors but also an unshakable positivity. Her father called them "the golden couple".

After graduation, Mr Day moved to Exeter to train as a French and German teacher. A gifted linguist, he was eager to share his love for language with new generations. He was a genuine Francophile, fascinated by the country's history, culture and people, and by its cuisine. "He could eat for England," a friend said. "He'd try anything, especially if it was free."

After qualifying, he returned to Norwich, where his girlfriend was studying for a PhD, and found a job at Charles Burrell High in Thetford, 45 miles away.

Two years later, a job came up at Costessey High, much closer to central Norwich and an easy cycle ride from home. He would turn up to school each morning windswept, with flattened hair.

Aware of his own teaching inexperience, Mr Day was eager to learn. Within 12 months, Costessey head Philip May already saw a perceptible difference in his lessons: he used newfound knowledge to enhance his natural ease with teenagers.

Pupils took to him immediately. Though 6ft 7in, he wore his height lightly. In fact, he was actually slightly scatty and shy, with a genuine eagerness to get things right.

He was renowned for his dress sense, his wardrobe always meticulously chosen, and there was an old-fashioned charm to him. He insisted upon referring to his headteacher as "Mr May", even when mocking his sartorial choices ("Mr May, Mr May ... that shirt").

Out of school, he was rarely seen without a musical instrument: he played mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass guitar in various pub and blues bands around Norwich. In school, too, lessons often involved some kind of musical element. Costessey Year 13 pupils still hum the French songs that Mr Day taught them four years ago.

When not performing in pubs, he was happy sitting in them, nursing a pint of bitter. Less active members of staff would often drive back to Norwich on a Friday evening, only to find that Mr Day had beaten them there on his bicycle. Once there, he was renowned for his observational humour and infectious laugh. "Just chatting to him would cheer you up," one friend said. "He had a way of making people smile."

He and Ms Nicholson-Cole had previously cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats on their summer holiday, and had impressed colleagues by making it over the Gloucestershire hills without dismounting. When they married in April last year, they decided to take an extended honeymoon, and cycle from Norwich to Istanbul. This was too lengthy a trip to fit into a summer holiday, so Mr Day handed in his notice. Philip May, however, did not want to lose his talented young teacher and instead offered him six months' unpaid leave.

The couple set off in early August, reaching Istanbul four months later. They then returned home for Christmas, before flying out to Egypt for the relaxing holiday they felt they had earned.

Mr Day was looking forward to returning to school, eager to take on responsibility for a new French exchange scheme. And his tutor group was counting the days until his return: "Only three weeks more," they reassured themselves, in the days before the storm.

Mr Day and his new wife were on a cruise down the Nile on January 24 when severe winds flooded their felucca, overturning it. The passengers were asleep below deck; Mr Day shoved open the hatch and pushed the other passengers through to safety. He did not follow. Ms Nicholson-Cole spent three hours diving for him before his body was brought to shore.

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