It’s not often you find yourself in a congregation that includes top broadcasters Michael Buerk, Michael Portillo and David Starkey – as well as several others who I sort of recognised but couldn’t pin down.
The occasion was the funeral of my old friend David Coomes, who spent the major part of his working life as a radio producer at the BBC. He died after an incapacitating illness, and I was fortunate enough to spend some happy times with him and his wife Kristine fairly often during the last few years of his life.
We met when I joined a newspaper called The Christian back in 1966. It was my first job in journalism. I knew practically nothing, I was alone in London, and his infectious good humour was a great help in an office where I sometimes felt out of my depth. The paper was closed while I was on a year of absence at university, and he was made redundant too, working to start with on Middlesex County Times newspapers and helping me to get a job on the Acton Gazette as a sub-editor.
We were living opposite him in Winchmore Hill when our son was born. He and his first wife, Jennie, who was pregnant when we met, had a boy called Phil who became close friends with our son. So our families remained linked, even though we soon moved up to Norfolk to buy a house. Eventually David divorced and married newspaper editor Anne, moving up to Cheshire. She now edits the parish pump website for parish magazine editors.
When that marriage too broke up, David married Kristine, a highly talented German radio producer, researcher and trainer. It says something about him (and about his wives) that all three were at the funeral.
David was not only very, very good at what he did – hence the respect shown to him by people at the top of their game – he was generous, witty and kind. I don’t think he was ever quite sure about God, having periods of doubt and cynicism, but he never let go, and his love of the highly spiritual singer Leonard Cohen reflected that.
I would like to think I introduced him to Cohen, but my memory is not quite good enough to be sure. We certainly shared a love of his work, and it was absolutely right that instead of hymns at his funeral, three recordings of Cohen songs were played (You want it darker, Anthem and If it be your will). The words could not have been more appropriate.
David was a voracious reader of novels, and every time I saw him in the last few years, he presented me with two or three (or more) from his library to read – and to keep. He was making sure my brain kept working, and it was much appreciated. I will try not to let it slide, but it may be difficult.