Grieving dad’s run tributeto his “beautiful daughter”

Date: Friday 18th January 2019
Andy with daughter Sophie on her wedding day.
Andy with daughter Sophie on her wedding day.

A GRIEVING father will pay tribute to his “beautiful, caring and funny” daughter following her suicide last month by raising awareness of and money for a charity which offers help to those considering taking their own life.

Sophie and husband Sam Knight.
Sophie and husband Sam Knight.
Sophie with father Andy, brother Gregor and stepmother Fiona.
Sophie with father Andy, brother Gregor and stepmother Fiona.

Andy Airey, of Morland, plans to take the place of his daughter, Sophie, in the Northumberland half-marathon in February.

The 29-year-old went missing from her home at Leith, near Edinburgh, on 19th December and was found dead three days later. Andy hopes that by telling Sophie’s story he can help prevent other such unnecessary deaths by raising awareness of the work of Papyrus (Parents Against Preventable Young Suicide), for which he also hopes to raise £20,000.

Though he admits to never having heard of the organisation prior to Sophie’s death, it is a cause close to Andy’s heart as he admits to having been “within a day” of taking his own life in 1996. He chose to ring the Samaritans, who he said were “brilliant”.

However, the reason he chose Papyrus to benefit from his run in memory of Sophie was because while it also runs a “hopeline” which people feeling suicidal can call, it also trains volunteers to spot those who may be having suicidal thoughts and offers assistance to people who think they know someone who may be considering taking their own life.

Andy, who grew up at Threlkeld, where his parents ran the Horse and Farrier, admits to “not being entirely match fit”, despite having been a runner in the past.

“I used to run a lot on the fells, and I used to be quite fit, in fact very fit, but it is 15 years since I ran a half-marathon, in Keswick,” he said.

While he had joined Penrith Parkrun last year, he says he has only managed a 10.5-mile run as part of his training, which he completed “very very slowly”. However, the 58-year-old says the important part is to get the message across that help is out there.

“We knew Sophie was feeling low, but not that she had considered taking her own life. She got off track this past year and did a brilliant job of not telling people,” he said.

However, he reassured people that help is out there and knows this from personal experience. “I’m prone to low mood,” he said. “Autumn is never a good time of year for me. In 1996, I was probably a day away from killing myself and I phoned the Samaritans. I am very aware of the place Sophie got to.”

But he added that he is determined that something positive must come from this. “It’s incredibly painful and horribly emotional but there is an opportunity to do something very good. The work Papyrus do is absolutely brilliant,” he said.

Sophie was born at Bury, where her parents lived until she was six months old, when Andy took a job working at the George Fisher outdoor shop in Keswick. When she was four, her parents split and she moved with her mother, George, to Kendal, and attended Kirkbie Kendal School, where she went on to become deputy head girl.

After finishing her schooling, she started a history degree in Newcastle, but did not like the course or the city and quit, instead taking time out to volunteer in Kenya, working with Aids orphans for four months. She developed an interest in nursing and, on her return, she trained as a nurse in Manchester and obtained her first job in Lancaster.

She and her husband, Sam Knight, moved to Edinburgh four years ago, after their househunting led them to a property owned by a relative of his there. Sophie had been working in oncology at the Western General Hospital since then. Sam’s background is in outdoor education.

Sophie spent a great deal of her childhood at Threlkeld and Keswick due to Andy’s roots there. Andy also lived in Skelton for a time before moving to Morland, where he now lives with his wife, Fiona, and their 18-year-old son, Gregor, a student at Liverpool University.

Gregor described Sophie as “a bit bonkers, but absolutely lovely, a joy to be with and it is a pleasure to say she’s my sister”.

He added that she would have been proud of the fact that a Facebook post he wrote in tribute to her got the most likes he had ever had on the social media site.

Andy will be running on 23rd February, along with the friend with whom Sophie originally signed up for the run, Laura Spenceley, of Kendal. Sophie’s husband, Sam, will be tackling the full marathon, which takes place on the same day, and his brother, Tim, is also doing the half-marathon.

Many family members and friends are planning to make the trip. Support can be given via Andy’s JustGiving page at, which has already raised more than £9,000.

The family has also had some business cards printed to highlight the run and its purpose of raising awareness of Papyrus and the help available to people like Sophie.

Suicide is the biggest killer of people under 35 in the UK. Papyrus believes that many young suicides are preventable and operates HopelineUK, on the number 0800 0684141, which is a confidential call, text, and email helpline for young people with thoughts of suicide or those concerned about a young person who may have thoughts of suicide.