Some people are so alive it is particularly hard to believe they can die.
I’ve written columns recently about how Newcastle’s future is in it’s young people.
Often it was Lee Halpin who I was picturing. For me he exemplified the can-do optimism of a hard pressed city still ready to reach beyond it’s own limits. A digital native with his feet firmly planted in Newcastle soil. I think he’d both appreciate that statement and take the mickey out of it for it’s pretentiousness.
I met him because I performed a lot with his Dad, the poet Aidan Halpin. Their love of words and belief in fiercely honest speech both illuminate the way Newcastle’s cultural past still burns brightly while morphing into a future that it’s citizens could have more power to create if they seize it the way that Lee did. Geordie beat poetry’s rhythms blended into Lee’s love of Newcastle’s speech melodies, via hip hop, Gonzo journalism, literature with a capital L and everything in between.
He came to many of our poetry gigs and would sit at the front, encouraging, enthusing. He was the person who brought the phrase “He lit up the room with his smile” to life for me. I thought it was just a meaningless cliche until I met him. He could somehow raise the energy in a gathering several notches with the sheer warmth of his personality.
The magazine he co-founded, Novel, was about great design, good writing and shining a light on Newcastle’s arts and culture from the street up. He called it a great opportunity for portfolio building and wanted North East creatives to have a platform to help start their careers.
Whilst the death of such a vibrant young man is surreal to start with, his final video about the project he was undertaking, rings with dramatic irony. He was applying for an investigative journalism apprenticeship on Channel Four’s Dispatches programme and wanted to demonstrate a “fearless approach” to journalism by investigating rising homelessness in the city, particularly in the light of the hard winter and the effects of the bedroom tax forcing people onto the streets. As he said “it certainly feels brave from where I’m sat right now and has caused a huge amount of trepidation among my family and friends”. It killed him. Small comfort that his death does indeed shine a light on the plight of the homeless- he had so much else to say, to do, to live. As well as being devastating to his friends and family, his death is a real loss to the North East’s vibrant cultural scene. He said, modestly in an interview that he didn’t have outstanding talent, just “a lot of get-up and go”. We’re entering a time when the fearlessness of people like him is needed more than ever and- rarely is this so true- he will be missed.
Some of his close friends are continuing his work on the film. Follow or donate here: