Pupils I'll never forget

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Grant Westoby was present at the birth of The Darkness

Dan Hawkins was an unassuming, intelligent young man; quite a thinker in a way. I taught him GCSE English and he had a nice, incisive style of writing. He was imposing - about 6ft 3in - but gentle and introverted compared to his brother Justin, who was much more flamboyant and used to wear black nail varnish. They were friends with another lad, Ed Graham, who was always tapping pencils. The three of them used to walk around school like wandering minstrels. Dan was in a number of local bands.

Dan left school at 16 and I didn't hear any more about him until 10 years later, when a colleague passed me a copy of the Eastern Daily Press and said "Look, this guy's about to hit the big time and he remembers you."

There was an interview with Dan, who was now guitarist in The Darkness (Justin is the vocalist and Ed the drummer) in which he said I was an inspiration. It's nice when you bump into ex-pupils in the street or hear they have got a degree, but for Dan to remember me in that way was great. I contacted the band's management and went to see him when they played a gig before the Brits. We had a drink together and he paid to put me up in a hotel. It was a bit surreal, but just like meeting an old friend really.

The school was having a new music suite built, so I asked if the band would come and officially open it. They did, and they donated thousands of pounds worth of equipment: guitars, drums and amplifiers. It was really overwhelming.

When they came back to the school, Dan gave me a signed apple that said "Thanks teach!" in black marker pen - I have put it in formaldehyde - and I bought him Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Now we have a plaque on the wall and signed posters to show other students they can achieve. Lowestoft is not exactly a sleepy place, but The Darkness is one of the biggest things to happen to the town for a long time. A deputy head used to bellow at them: "Silence! You'll never make a living out of making a racket." It's nice to be proved wrong.

Grant Westoby is head of the alternative curriculum at Kirkley high school in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.


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