TRIBUTES have been paid to a former headteacher whose multitude of community roles included serving as president of one of the North-East’s most celebrated brass bands.

John Steel, one of Darlington’s great characters, has died in the town’s Memorial Hospital following a long illness. He was 66.

John was honorary president of the award-winning Cockerton Prize Silver Band, which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Although he wasn’t a musician, he had been an integral part of the management of the band for more than 25 years.

He was also well known as the former chairman of Darlington Show, and was a committee member of Mowden Rugby Club and Darlington Quoits Club.

His wife Linda said: “It’s easier to list the people who didn’t know John. He was so well known, and such a great character, with a wicked sense of humour.”

Simon Little, Cockerton Band manager, added: “The band and the wider community have lost a very dear friend. He was a remarkable man, with such a warm personality that anyone who crossed his path got on with him.”

John was born in Darlington’s Greenbank Maternity Hospital – coincidentally, days before Linda, and they became friends when she moved into a house opposite his family, in Lunedale Road, when she was 11.

The couple married in 1978 and have a daughter, Beth, who plays drums with Cockerton Band. Beth and her husband, Andy, have a baby son, called Ronnie.

When John left Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, he got a job selling dog food at Spillers before becoming a car salesman at Wheatlies, Skippers and Sherwoods.

After marrying Linda, he studied to become a primary school teacher, and taught at Seaton Carew and Shildon, before becoming Deputy Head at RAF Leeming Primary, and Headteacher of St John’s Church of England School, in Darlington.

He later became IT advisor for Darlington schools, and trained as an Ofsted inspector, leading teachers on overseas trips aimed at investigating best teaching practice around the world.

After retiring in 2012, he became chair of governors at Heathfield Trust, in Darlington; trustee and director of the Lingfield Trust; and a trustee for the North East Wellbeing Trust.

He was also in demand as an after-dinner speaker, played Santa Claus at Darlington’s Christmas lights switch-on, judged the town’s town crier championships, and twice played the dame in pantomimes at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

John and Linda moved to High Coniscliffe in 2013 and a service to celebrate his colourful life will be held at St Edwin’s Church in the village on Wednesday, August 12 from 10.30am.

Due to coronavirus, attendance inside the church will be by invitation only. However, the service will be broadcast onto the village green, with people able to gather under social distancing rules, and John will be serenaded by Cockerton Prize Silver Band.

The family would greatly appreciate donations being made to the band in John’s memory. Details are available on