Podcast host and mother-of-two Dame Deborah James has died aged 40 following her battle with bowel cancer, her family has said.
The former deputy headteacher and podcaster used her own terminal diagnosis of stage four cancer to inspire the public and raise millions for charity.
Her family said: “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.
“We thank you for giving us time in private as a family, and we look forward to continuing Deborah’s legacy long into the future through the @bowelbabefund
“Thank you for playing your part in her journey, you are all incredible.
“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.’”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “terribly saddened” to hear she had died.
He said: “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.”
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.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 28, 2022
His tribute was echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who said James’ work was “truly inspirational” and “even in the most challenging moments, she continued to raise awareness about bowel cancer”.
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. https://t.co/h4FikzkF5F
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) June 28, 2022
Macmillan Cancer Research said Dame Deborah would be remembered for her “dedication to stand together with people with cancer”.
We are so sad to hear that Deborah James has died, and our thoughts are with her family and many friends 💚
Deb has been an inspiration to us all. We're so grateful for all of her generous support over the years, and her dedication to stand together with people with cancer. pic.twitter.com/PPds0wqeqi
— Macmillan Cancer Support (@macmillancancer) June 28, 2022
Deborah James aka the Bowel Babe
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “On behalf of the whole NHS I would like to offer my condolences to the family and many friends of Deborah James.
“Deborah’s amazing attitude was humbling and a lesson to us all.
“Not only will her fundraising have helped countless other cancer patients but her determination to raise awareness will undoubtedly have saved many lives.”
Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, where Dame Deborah James was a patron, said the podcaster had turned her diagnosis into “an incredible force for good”.
She said: “We’re deeply saddened that our patron Dame Deborah James has died, and our hearts go out to her family and everyone who knew and loved her. Deborah’s star shone bright; she was a true inspiration.
“She turned her bowel cancer diagnosis into an incredible force for good and through her tireless campaigning to raise awareness of bowel cancer symptoms, will have saved countless lives.
“Deborah brought warmth, energy, and honesty to everything she did. Even during her most difficult times living with bowel cancer, she never stopped helping others.”
In her final weeks, the presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C raised millions of pounds for research and was made a dame for her “tireless” work improving awareness of the disease.
The former deputy headteacher was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 and subsequently kept her nearly one million Instagram followers up to date with her treatments.
Her candid posts about her progress and diagnosis, including videos of her dancing her way through treatment, won praise from the public and media alike.
She revealed in early May she had stopped active treatment and was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ home in Woking, with her husband Sebastien and their two children on hand.
The tweet I never wanted to write. The time has come to say goodbye. 5 years to prepare, doesn’t make it any easy. I’m under hospice at home care, & I’m spending my time surrounded by my family. Please buy me a 🍷 to see me out and raise vitial funds. https://t.co/AztN5FziLR ❤️
— Deborah James (@bowelbabe) May 9, 2022
“The tweet I never wanted to write,” she said on Twitter.
“The time has come to say goodbye. 5 years to prepare, doesn’t make it any easy.”
After making the announcement, she set up the Bowelbabe Fund which raised more than £6 million – more than 24 times her original target of £250,000.
For her efforts, she was made a dame saying she felt “honoured and shocked” to even be considered for the honour.
In another surprise, her damehood was conferred by the the Duke of Cambridge who joined her family for afternoon tea and champagne at home.
Damehoods are usually handed out by members of the royal family, including William, at investiture ceremonies which take place at royal palaces including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
She also revealed she had completed her second book, titled How To Live When You Could Be Dead, due to be published on August 18.
Her first book, F*** You Cancer: How To Face The Big C, Live Your Life And Still Be Yourself, was published in 2018.