In memory of Paul Cobley

For Mr. Cobley.

I write this from the dark, for my brightest light is out.

Today I was meant to see my friend to say goodbye forever, but he’d gone before I got there.

I know grief. I know that if you catch it in the right moment, it can be love, not loss. I hope to do that here.

I loved Paul Cobley on sight. I wasn’t able to articulate why as an eleven year old, but as a grown-up, I recognise it as this: I thought he was cool as shit.

Paul Cobley was my drama teacher.

A benevolent, complicated, tower of a man, with a rich, effortless growl that made Alan Rickman sound like Orvil. A man who could switch from warm smile to terrifying glare in a heartbeat. A man that kept you on your toes. A romantic fool who’s laugh would make you high, who’s disappointment could break you, who’s passion, love and dedication would fuel you for a lifetime.

I wonder. Did he know how much he meant to us all?

I feel like I’m speaking for a sea of faces from my old school, a school which embraced pupils who were refused education elsewhere, a school with problems. I can see his followers now, his players, a magnet for the troubled and the weird. Many teachers floundered amongst such variety of characters but Paul held us in the palm of his hand. He did that by earning our respect, and rewarded us with friendship.

He was the best teacher I could have ever hoped for. He changed my life. He met me as a serious, worried child. I worried until my head hurt and I was having brain scans, counseling and pills the size of saucers. Paul thought this wonderful.

Because that’s what Paul did. He grabbed you by your flaws and made you love them. He took what had been holding me back and directed it where it would be put to use. He taught me about empathy, building characters, story telling.

The stuff I’ve made as an adult, the stuff I’m most proud of; Can We Talk, Panic Stations, Good Grief, they’re all drenched in him, his melancholy, his barely suppressed darkness, his wonky warmth. He believed in me, sculpted my passion for making films and made me really really love acting.

Paul Cobley, my teacher, my compass, my friend. Did you know what you meant to us all?

You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I was going to thank you for that today.

Sleep well, dear man.