He was known to colleagues as ‘Basildon man’ – and not just because he was a constituency MP through and through.
Sir David Amess first entered political folklore during the 1992 election when his famously Tory Essex seat was expected to fall to Neil Kinnock’s Labour, who many thought was certain to oust John Major’s government.
Yet the moment Basildon flashed up blue, and Sir David’s infectious smile peered out from television screens, Conservatives breathed a deep sigh of relief in the knowledge that the Welsh windbag’s dream of becoming Prime Minister was at an end.
For that reason alone, this genial father of five will always hold a precious place in Tory hearts.
But to Parliamentary colleagues, there was so much more to him than that, personal qualities that made him a vastly popular figure across the political divide.
Sir David Amess: A crusader of the backbenchers who was known to colleagues as ‘Basildon man’ – and not just because he was a constituency MP through and through
He was a kind, genial soul, always quick to raise a laugh in the Commons. Watching this deceptively charismatic figure on his feet in the chamber, it was virtually impossible not to take a shine to him.
Rarely, if ever, when called by the Speaker did his polite question not concern his beloved Southend. A long and much-loved campaign to make the Essex seaside town a city now sadly remains unfulfilled.
Even Sir David’s Early Day Motions could raise a giggle around the Commons tea room.
One saluted Ann Widdecombe and Anton du Beke on their ‘achievement in putting a smile on the nation’s faces with their performances’ after their exit from Strictly Come Dancing in 2010.
Another congratulated Dame Helen Mirren – who went to school in his Southend West constituency – on her Oscars triumph in 2007.
The Eurovision song contest, on the other hand, brought out the Brexiteer in him. It was, he claimed, an event ‘designed to humiliate the UK’.
But on the whole, the glitz and glamour of the showbiz world appeared to delight him.
David Amess and wife Julia, with their fourth child, baby daughter Alexandra
And why wouldn’t it?
His daughter Katie is a former Miss Essex who went on to become a Bafta-nominated actress and appeared in Hollywood blockbusters such as a Harry Potter film and Captain America: Civil War.
Born in Plaistow (then in Essex, now east London) and raised a Roman Catholic, Sir David was educated at St Bonaventure’s grammar school in Forest Gate and then Bournemouth College of Technology, where he earned a degree in economics and government.
His first job was working as a primary school teacher in London’s East End, teaching at St John the Baptist primary school in Bethnal Green for a year in 1970-71.
He then spent a short time as an underwriter before becoming a recruitment consultant.
By 1983 he was a Tory parliamentary candidate and entered the Commons partly as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s wildly popular policy of letting council tenants buy their homes, a measure that greatly appealed to the citizens of Basildon.
He married his wife Julia in the same year and they went on to have five children – a son and four daughters.
His friend and fellow MP Jerry Hayes, who entered Parliament in the very same year as the Conservative member for the neighbouring constituency of Harlow, says that Sir David never seriously sought high government office.
‘He always believed his true vocation was to represent his constituents in Essex, something he did for 38 years with diligence, skill and good humour,’ he says.
‘David liked to be out and about, pounding the streets of his constituency, speaking up for those who needed his help and advice.
Wedding joy: From left to right, wife Julia, Sir David, and his daughters Alexandra, Flo, Kate, and Sarah
‘Not for him the bullet-proof limousine and a battalion of special advisers. His political outlook was that of a slightly old-fashioned parliamentarian. He spoke up for the ordinary man and woman in his constituency, and of course for animals, about which he cared passionately.
‘I am sorry to say it was precisely this selfless determination that placed him in mortal danger yesterday, and cost him his life.’
During his near four-decade stint in Parliament, Sir David was briefly a ministerial aide, but he held a number of important behind-the-scenes roles and was knighted in 2015 for political and public service.
Politics-wise, Sir David was a staunch Right-winger, having been a Eurosceptic for years before the referendum was held.
It is true that some of his beliefs might be considered deeply unfashionable these days.
Sir David’s friend and fellow MP Jerry Hayes said: He spoke up for the ordinary man and woman in his constituency, and of course for animals, about which he cared passionately’
The 69-year-old was an opponent of same-sex marriage and, as a devout mass-going Catholic, strongly anti-abortion.
But being the maverick he was, he also took some less traditional Conservative positions, being one of very few Tories to campaign against fox hunting. Controversial viewpoints these may have been, but they never appeared to dull his popularity throughout Westminster.
In a sign of the affection in which he was held among MPs, Corbynite Paula Sherriff, who was ousted during the 2019 election, broke down in tears on the radio yesterday upon news of Sir David’s death.
‘I loved him,’ Miss Sherriff told Shelagh Fogarty on LBC. ‘David was a wonderful, wonderful man – I have lost a friend today.’
Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, also paid tribute to Sir David as ‘a wonderful man’ who was funny, kind and ‘cared about the most disadvantaged in our communities’ and ‘embodies Essex’.
The fun side of his character often shone through. On December 30 last year, he posted a photo of a cardboard cut-out of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Twitter.
He wrote: ‘Whilst Margaret didn’t live long enough to see this day, I am sure that she is rejoicing in heaven. At last we “got Brexit done”!’
Murdered Conservative party MP Sir David Amess with Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The Iron Lady put in another surprise appearance this summer when Sir David brought the cut-out to his daughter Alexandra’s wedding.
One episode he preferred to forget occurred in 1997. He was tricked into condemning a made-up drug called ‘Cake’ on the satirical TV programme Brass Eye, developed by comedian Chris Morris.
Last night local councillor James Courtenay paid tribute to his late local MP saying he was ‘a hardcore constituency MP who decided many years ago that he wasn’t looking for career advancement in Westminster’.
Surgeries were ‘his passion’ and a two-hour session could often stretch to four or five hours, Mr Courtenay added.
True to form, Sir David was meant to have been at a dinner for the local Conservative association last night at the Saxon Hall, Rochford, where he was due to give a speech.
It was a speech, tragically, he never got to make.