Richard Cousins, the millionaire chief executive, who was killed in a seaplane crash on New Year's Eve
Richard Cousins’s announcement last September that he was to leave the arena of big business had a faint air of mystery about it.
He gave no explanation for his departure from the Compass Group, where as chief executive he had miraculously turned around the food services company’s fortunes, nor did he give any details of any future appointment.
How, his colleagues asked themselves, could he give it all up?
After all, in 2016, he was paid £5.6 million – comprising salary, bonus and share awards. Yet he had decided to walk away from it all and was due to leave in March.
Mr Cousins’s death on New Year’s Eve, when the seaplane on which he was enjoying a sightseeing tour crashed into the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales, means no explanation will ever be forthcoming.
The 58-year-old died alongside his fiancee, Emma Bowden, 48, her 11-year-old daughter, Heather, his sons Will, 25, and Edward, 23, and the 44-year-old Canadian pilot, Gareth Morgan.
But the testimony of shocked friends makes it clear that Mr Cousins had decided to grab the second chance of life and happiness that had been offered to him in the form of Miss Bowden.
For while Mr Cousins was a rich and successful man, he had suffered tragedy, with the death of his wife Caroline in the summer of 2015 just six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
He had been devoted to his wife, and her diagnosis and rapid decline was shocking and devastating. It made him think, perhaps, about the fragility of life.
Emma Bowden and her young daughter Heather (pictured together) died in the accident in the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, on Sunday
So when Miss Bowden, a glamorous and charming journalist, entered his life and they fell in love, he did not want to waste a minute of their time together.
And Miss Bowden, art editor at OK! magazine for the past 14 years, felt the same way.
She had come out of an unhappy relationship and was ready, like Mr Cousins, to seize her chance at happiness. The trip to Australia was to be the first of many adventures. Presumably many more would have been planned for after their wedding in July.
Days before she left for Australia, Miss Bowden spoke to a colleague about how excited she was about the trip and how happy she was with Mr Cousins.
‘Emma was so excited about the trip. It was a five-star itinerary and she couldn’t wait,’ the friend said.
‘This was just the start of it. She was thinking about going part-time so that she and Richard could go travelling together.
Mr Cousins' sons Ed, 23, and Will, 25, (left to right) were also killed along with experienced pilot Gareth Morgan, 44, when the plane crashed into the water and sank
They had talked about going to Asia and Latin America. She was so happy. And now this. I can’t believe it.’
The carefree pictures that have emerged of Miss Bowden’s daughter, who had just started secondary school, are particularly distressing.
Heather’s father, Alex Page, 49, who separated from Miss Bowden several years ago, is in a state of profound shock.
Yesterday, his sister, Sam, told the Daily Mail her brother was so grief-stricken ‘he is unable to physically speak’.
Today arrangements are being made to return the bodies of Mr Cousins and Miss Bowden, and that of their children.
A relative of Mr Cousins has been to the house he was renting in Tooting, south-west London, with Miss Bowden, to pick up necessary documentation to take to Australia.
In Hyde Heath, the Buckinghamshire village where Mr Cousins lived with his wife, the villagers are also in shock.
John Capper, the president of Hyde Heath Cricket Club where Mr Cousins used to play, said yesterday: ‘It’s a terrible shock. The whole village is in mourning. He and Emma were due to marry in July.
This is believed to be the last photograph of pilot Gareth Morgan, taken by a British holidaymaker hours before the doomed flight
‘We will miss them hugely. We can’t believe what has happened.’
A friend of the family who lives in the village said that shortly before she passed away, Mrs Cousins told her husband he must move on with his life when she died.
‘She had told him to find somebody else,’ the friend said.
Mr Cousins appears to have been that rare variety of businessman who managed to be shrewd and tough while also remaining down-to-earth and approachable. He was universally liked and admired and regarded as a man of principle.
Born in Leeds, he was brought up in Bracknell, Berkshire, where he attended a local comprehensive. He met Caroline Thorpe at Sheffield University, where he studied mathematics and she was training to become a teacher.
The pair married in 1982 in Caroline’s home town of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Their son, Will, was born in 1992, followed by Edward in 1994.
Mr Cousins began his career with Cadbury Schweppes in 1981, starting out as operational researcher, before moving in 1984 to the industrial conglomerate BTR as a strategy planner.
After six years he joined plasterboard supplier BPB as a corporate planner, becoming its chief executive in 2000.
Around this time, Mr Cousins and his