GLOWING tributes have been paid to a former head chorister at Romsey Abbey who has died suddenly at the age of 17.

George O’Brien died last Friday morning from a rare and virulent tumour on his chest.

George’s uncle, Chris Riley, who lives next door to the O’Briens, said his nephew was rushed to hospital by ambulance in the early hours of the morning after he developed breathing difficulties. He died at around 8am.

A post mortem examination revealed the large tumour on the young man’s chest.

George’s parents, Joe and Jane, had no indication that their eldest son was seriously ill.

Everyone contacted by the Advertiser described George as “a lovely lad”.

A keen footballer, George had also been an active member of the Scouts and played baritone saxophone in the Romsey Area Schools Orchestra.

He had been working towards his silver Duke of Edinburgh Award.

In September, George, who had hoped to become a forensic scientist, began his A-level courses at Peter Symonds College in Winchester. He was taking Law, Biology, Psychology and Environmental Studies.

George’s tutor, Louise Hoddinott, who was also his Law teacher, said: “We were all devastated to hear about George. He was a lovely, friendly student, just starting to enjoy college life. Our hearts go out to his family.”

College friends are preparing a tribute page on Facebook and a further tribute page which will appear in the college’s 2009 yearbook.

After attending the Abbey CoE Primary School, George went to Romsey School, where he gained 14 GCSEs.

Romsey head teacher, Gareth Bell, said: “George was a lovely boy, quiet but hard-working and with a good sense of humour. He had a wonderful singing voice.”

Romsey Abbey Choir’s joint evensong service with their counterparts from Sherborne Abbey on Sunday was overshadowed by the news of George’s death.

He had joined the choir in 1999 as a seven-year-old probationer and was appointed head chorister in 2004. He began singing alto a couple of years ago, after his haunting treble voice broke, and was one of the youngest members of the men’s choir.

“Quite capable of singing his part by himself, he was showing great promise as an adult singer. We will miss him greatly,” reflected the Abbey’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, Robert Fielding. Sunday’s service at the Abbey began with a period of silence, after which the Abbey Choir, voices laden with emotion, sang Duruflé's poignant motet Ubi caritas et amor in George's honour.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Rev Tim Sledge, Vicar of Romsey had reminded the choir: “Music takes over when words fail. George loved singing – he would have wanted to be here today.”

George’s brother Henry, 14, followed in his footsteps as head chorister and is also now a member of the men’s choir.