Kate and William lead tributes for 'shining light' Deborah James after her death

29 June 2022, 08:37 | Updated: 29 June 2022, 10:50

Prince William has paid tribute to Dame Deborah James, who died on Tuesday at the age of 40
Prince William has paid tribute to Dame Deborah James, who died on Tuesday at the age of 40. Picture: Instagram

By Daisy Stephens

Tributes have poured in for beloved podcaster Deborah James, including from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, after her death aged 40.

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In a tweet signed off by Prince William and Kate, the pair wrote: "We are so sad to hear the heartbreaking news about Dame Deborah.

"Our thoughts are with her children, her family and her loved ones.

"Deborah was an inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on."

Dame Deborah's family announced her death on Tuesday evening in an emotional Instagram tribute.

Emma Campbell, a friend of Dame Deborah who is also undergoing treatment for cancer, told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast her friend was "just the brightest of lights" who had 'taught her how to live' with cancer.

"I'll remember Debs as the shining light that she was," said Ms Campbell.

"She made a huge difference to everybody that she touched and the privilege that I feel of being able to spend days next to her in the chemotherapy ward - the good days, the bad days, the quiet days, the scary days - is something that I'll always treasure... she's just the brightest of lights, and always has been."

She said when she and Dame Deborah first met and was "struck by her energy that everybody talks about, that life force, that spirit, that absolute determination".

"She'd been dealt the toughest of blows but [had an] absolute resolve to make a difference," she said.

Read more: Beloved podcaster Deborah James dies aged 40 after bowel cancer battle

"You could see that fire and light in her, but she also had that very vulnerable side, that fragile side, that just ultimately she taught me - and I know I speak for lots of people - she really did teach me how to live with the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis."

Ms Campbell, who is going to the Royal Marsden hospital - where Dame Deborah was treated - on Wednesday morning to continue her chemotherapy, said the news of her friend's death shocked her despite the inevitability of it.

"We know the inevitable is going to happen, and I think we've all been holding our breath the last few weeks, but I think like most of us the shock I felt and the grief was pretty major last night - lots of tears," she said.

"I'm actually in the Marsden this morning having my targeted chemo, so strangely enough I'm actually feeling quite comforted by the thought that I'm going to be there, in the ward, seeing the faces of the nurses that loved her and she knew so well, and that's actually giving me some comfort today."

The boss of Bowel Cancer UK also paid tribute to Dame Deborah, saying she leaves a "tremendous legacy".

"She never stopped raising awareness," said chief executive Genevieve Edwards.

"Bowel cancer is something people find difficult to talk about often and don't really... they find it a little bit embarrassing.

"She's stripped all of that away and shone a powerful light on it."

Read more: Cancer-stricken podcaster Deborah James raises £1m after tearful farewell post

Teresa Whitfield, who was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer after seeing Dame Deborah talking about symptoms on TV, said Dame Deborah saved her life.

Asked what she would say to Dame Deborah's family, Ms Whitfield, now cancer free, said: "I think I actually have only one word which is 'thank you'.

"Without her, I don't think I would be here today.

"Her campaigning is critical and we, as bowel cancer patients, as bowel cancer survivors, and as anybody who thinks they might have bowel cancer, we have to carry on with the legacy that she has."

The Bowelbabe fund has surged past £6.9m since news of her death broke.

Dame Deborah was diagnosed in December 2016 and recently shared she did not have much time left.

Through her Bowelbabe Fund, she raised more than £6 million from over 300,000 supporters for Cancer Research UK.

She brought inspiration and awareness over her terminal diagnosis of stage four bowel cancer through her popular podcast You, Me and the Big C, which she co-hosted with Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland.

In an Instagram post on her account, her family wrote: "We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy. Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family.

"Deborah, who many of you will know as Bowelbabe, was an inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigning, fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that touched so many lives.

"Deborah shared her experience with the world to raise awareness, break down barriers, challenge taboos and change the conversation around cancer. Even in her most challenging moments, her determination to raise money and awareness was inspiring."

Listen to You, Me and the Big C on Global Player

The family added that they wanted to grieve in private together but want to continue her legacy via the Bowelbabe Fund.

"Thank you for playing your part in her journey, you are all incredible," they said.

"And a few final things from Deborah…"find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo – it could just save your life." x"

Dame Deborah was a former deputy headteacher and podcaster who gained more than one million followers on social media.

She was renowned for her humour and optimism even in the face of her condition.

Prince William travelled to her home to confer the damehood
Prince William travelled to her home to confer the damehood. Picture: Instagram

You, Me and The Big C was known for its frank chats about cancer, which were both serious and light-hearted.

She earned a damehood in her final days, saying she was "honoured and shocked" about the award. The honour was conferred by Prince William, who travelled to the family home in Woking to carry it out and joined them for tea and champagne.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "I'm terribly saddened to hear that Dame Deborah James has died. What an inspiration she was to so many.

"The awareness she brought to bowel cancer and the research her campaigning has funded will be her enduring legacy.

"Because of her, many many lives will be saved."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "Deeply sad news. Dame Deborah James' charity work was truly inspirational - even in the most challenging moments, she continued to raise awareness about bowel cancer and impacted so many people's lives.

"Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time."

Read more: Prince William personally delivers damehood to Deborah James as her fundraiser hits £5m

Dame Deborah was diagnosed days before Christmas 2016 after suffering symptoms associated with bowel cancer, such as losing weight and passing blood when using the toilet.

It was initially thought she might have had irritable bowel syndrome and her symptoms put down to stress, but after believing something was wrong she got a diagnosis upon consultation with a private specialist.

She would survive more than five years from her initial diagnosis, against the odds, and co-hosted her podcast in that time, as well as launching the In The Style clothing line that sends all its profits to the Bowelbabe Fund.

During the podcast's run, co-host Ms Bland died, succeeded on the recordings by Steve, her widower, who became a regular.

She said in May that she had stopped active treatment and moved to hospice-at-home care after doctors said they had done all they could.

Dam Deborah then smashed her original goal of raising £250,000 for Cancer Research, which swelled to millions within four days of setting it up on JustGiving.

She went back to her parents’ home in Woking and lived in the bungalow with her husband, Sebastien, and young children Hugo and Eloise, who she has written letters for that were to be opened after her death.

She told her husband to move on after her passing.

A book called How To Live When You Could Be Dead, which is about having a positive midnest when faced with big challenges, will be published in August 2022.

Royalties will go to the Bowelbabe Fund.