Lorraine Kelly leads tearful tributes to Dame Deborah in BBC tribute

‘I just love her so much’: Dame Deborah James’ podcast co-host Lauren Mahon breaks down as she remembers her ‘ferocious’ friend alongside a tearful Lorraine Kelly in emotional BBC tribute

  • Tribute film Dame Deborah James: The Last Dance airs at 8:30pm on BBC One
  • Lorraine Kelly paid tribute to campaigner, who died after five-year cancer battle
  • Podcast hosts Steve Bland and Lauren Mahon fought back tears

Dame Deborah James’ podcast co-host leads the emotional tributes to the campaigner in a BBC documentary, following her death from bowel cancer aged 40.

Cancer activist Lauren Mahon, 37, who presented BBC’s You, Me and the Big C with Dame Deborah and their late friend Rachael Bland, broke down as she said: ‘I just love her so much’. 

TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, who supported Dame Deborah’s cancer awareness campaigns, called her late friend a ‘smasher’ and said she would always ‘bounce back,’ which is was made her death so ‘difficult’ to accept.

Dame Deborah James: The Last Dance, which will air tonight at 8:30pm on BBC One, retraces the mother-of-two’s battle with stage four bowel cancer, through the eyes of the friends that supported her.

Dame Deborah lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday, her family announced, after weeks of receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ Surrey home. 

The campaigner raised £7,066,380 for cancer research through her Bowelbabe fund.  

Friends of Dame Deborah James fought back tears as they paid tribute to the campaigner in an emotional BBC documentary airing tonight at 8:30 on BBC One

Dame Debs’ co-host Lauren Mahon cried as she urged people to keep raising funds for cancer research 

Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, Rachael’s widower, were overcome with emotion as they remembered their ‘best-friend’ and said they were ‘incredibly grateful to have had her at all.’

As she wiped up her tears, Lauren made a heartfelt plea to keep raising money for cancer research, because ‘we can’t lose any more Debs.’ 

‘Having relationship with people with cancer is really hard because you lose people,’ Lauren said as she cried. 

‘There’s people and there’s Deborah and I can’t help but be incredibly grateful that I had her at all.’

She added she wished the campaigner could see what she meant to ‘so many’.  

‘I just love her so much. We need to keep raising money because we cant lose any more Debs,’ she said. 

Lorraine Kelly said she liked Deborah from the moment she met her and called her a ‘smasher,’ saying her death was ‘difficult’ to accept because the campaigner ‘always bounced back’ 

Lauren Mahon said Dame Deborah had ‘ferocity’ and wanted to make sure people didn’t have the same fate as her 

The presenter cried as she said she loved Dame Deborah and that having friendships with people with cancer is ‘really hard’

Steve Bland, who lost his wife Rachael to breast cancer in 2018, said Deborah was one of his best-friends, a ‘brilliant mum’ 

Remembering her friend, with whom she co-hosted the You, Me and the Big C BBC podcast, Lauren said: ‘Deb just has this ferocity in her to make a difference and to make sure nobody else suffers the same fate. 

‘Most people would just runaway from that, but Deb wanted to tell her story so it wouldn’t be anyone’s story.

‘I’m really proud that we now talk about bums and poos on every channel.’

Lorraine Kelly, who met Dame Deborah through her campaigning efforts and launched No Butts campaign with her also remembered her friend.  

‘I was looking at somebody with stage four bowel cancer. She was absolutely immaculate, always was. beautiful hair and makeup and perfect,’ she said. 

Deborah (pictured, far left, with Lauren Mahon and, right, with her brother and his fiancée) was made a dame by the Duke of Cambridge at her family home, with William praising her for ‘going above and beyond to make a very special memory’

On May 9, the mother-of-two shared a heartbreaking ‘goodbye’ message to her 470,000 Instagram followers, revealing she was being moved into hospice-at-home care, while ‘surrounded by family’, because ‘my body simply isn’t playing ball’

‘And I couldn’t believe that I was with a girl who was living on borrowed time.

‘All she wanted to do was get this message across, make sure nobody else went through the same thing as her, make sure that everybody had the information that they needed and to stop people being stupid about their bottoms,’ she added. 

‘That’s what struck me. We started talking about bottoms and poo probably after 45 seconds when we met each other and I really just thought: “I really like you, you’re my kind of woman, you’re a smasher.’ 

‘The thing about it is, and the thing that’s so hard, is that she always bounced back, and I always thought that she would. 

‘And that’s been very difficult because we just always thought she’d be here,’ the presenter added. 

After sharing her experiences on living with the illness on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ and in 2018, she joined Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live

Resilience: Deborah James pictured with her mother Heather James two months ago after on of her most recent operations

In recent weeks, Deborah made the most of her time, going for days out, which were exhausting due to her condition. However, she remained positive, and posted about how much she enjoyed outings, like this one to Royal Ascot


  • In December 2016, the West London mother-of-two, a deputy head, was diagnosed ‘late’ with incurable bowel cancer
  • After sharing her experiences on living with the disease on social media, Deborah became known as the ‘Bowel Babe’ 
  • In 2018, she became one of three presenters on Radio 5 Live’s You, Me and the Big C, which was conceived by her late co-host Rachael Bland 
  • On September 5 2018, Welsh journalist and presenter Bland, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, died at the age of 40
  • Deborah and her co-host Lauren Mahon continued to present the show, with Steve Bland, Rachael’s husband, joining the duo
  • On social media and in her column for The Sun newspaper, Deborah documented the many chemo, radiotherapy sessions and surgery she’d had since

In 2018, Deborah (left) joined Lauren Mahon (front) and Rachael Bland (right) to present the award-winning podcast You, Me and the Big C on Radio 5 Live

  • In 2019, she had a procedure known as CyberKnife, a highly targeted form of radiotherapy to attack an inoperable lymph node close to her liver
  •  The pandemic’s impact on cancer services saw her campaign for care to continue as normal and, earlier this year, she launched the ITV’s Lorraine’s ‘No Butts’ campaign, raising awareness on bowel cancer symptoms 
  • Since last year, she had been taking new experimental drugs as part of a trial after her oncology team gave her the green light to do so
  • In August, Deborah revealed that scans she’d had in recent days revealed her cancer had gone in the ‘wrong direction very quickly’  
  • She told followers she would be taking a break on social media over the weekend to ‘snuggle’ with her family ahead of more scans
  • The mother-of-two said a new ‘rapidly-growing’ tumour near her liver had wrapped itself around her bowel 
  • On October 1, Deborah celebrated her 40th birthday 
  • By October 18, the mother-of-two told her followers her chemotherapy was working
  • Days later, she was rushed to A&E with ‘spiking 40 degree temperatures’
  • In November, she revealed she is unable to walk for more than 20 minutes and remained ‘very weak’
  • By December, Deborah said she was ‘not sure what her options were’ after her liver stent ‘stopped working’ 
  • In January, she had five operations in 10 days after nearly dying in an acute medical emergency
  • On January 25, Deborah returned home from hospital after three weeks 
  • On March 14, the mother-of-two was back in hospital as an in-patient after suffering from septic infection
  • In April, she concerned fans with snaps after suffering ‘a rough few days’
  • On April 14, the mother-of-two told fans she had been discharged from hospital but called the situation ‘very tough’
  • On April 27, she told Lorraine Kelly that she had spent ’80 per cent’ of the year in hospital 
  • On May 9, Deborah announced she had moved to hospice care  


Steve Bland, who lost his wife Rachael to triple negative breast cancer in September 2018, was also among the people who remembered her in the emotional film. 

‘She’s one of my best friend and someone who, if she ever thought I was having a tough time, she’d be the first one on the phone,’ he said. 

He added Dame Deborah was a ;really, really, really wonderful person someone that I’m so blessed to call a friend and so proud of.

‘Aside from all the money raise which was incredible, she was a brilliant mum, a brilliant friend and we’re gonna miss that so much.’

Reflecting on Debs’ social media presence and her fight with cancer, he said: ‘Deb would tell you that she used to get messages from people thinking that she would have it easy.

‘They could see her dancing on Instagram and they thought “how could that person be dying” or “how could that person have incurable cancer?”

‘They didn’t always understand how difficult it was for her.’

Talking about how the campaigner received a Damehood from the Queen in her last says, he said: ‘the damehood was extraordinary, even by Debs standard, we didn’t see that one coming.

‘She’s always been a dame, just without the title.’

BBC presenter Gaby Roslin, who was a close friend of Deborah said she couldn’t think of her without ‘her laughing and dancing and singing. 

‘She did that the first day I met her. Cancer didn’t stop her having fun. She showed that through her dancing, through her sassiness. I loved her dancing,’ she added. 

Gaby talked of how Dame Deborah was ‘overwhelmed’ by people’s reaction to the Bowelbabe Fund.  

‘And those three cancer charity that she felt so strongly about are going to get that injection of money because of Debs and I’m sure wherever she is she singing and dancing away.

‘Knowing Debs that is exactly what she’s doing. With the biggest smile on her face,’ she added. 

 Emma Campbell, who has breast cancer and appeared in several of Deborah’s dancing videos, also remembered her friend as a ‘sexy’ and confident woman. 

‘There is only one person who can get me to dance and it’s Deborah,’ she joked. 

‘Deborah was an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman and I loved the way and was so impressed by the way she showed that side of herself and she didn’t ever shy away from it and if she felt like dancing around in a sexy underwear, she did, it’s just brilliant,’ she added. 

‘And the essence of Deborah has always been that kind of radiance and that life force and that spirit.

‘The more I spent time with Debs and the more I observed the way she faced it, you couldn’t help being in her company or observe her and think “if she can do it, maintain that determination to live a big and brave and bold life, then so can I”.

‘She made a choice to document the good, the bad and the ugly,’ she added, ‘that’s what is so important for other people who are facing a diagnosis or might be going through something similar. 

‘To share the skin reaction which was so painful and upsetting for her. The steroid high at 3am, doing an Instagram live because she couldn’t sleep.

‘The inbox being flooded from other people lying awake for whatever reason at that time.

‘When you’re going through a cancer experience, connection is everything, it can mean the difference between just surviving it or actually somehow living through it with moments of relief or even enjoying it at times,’ she added. 

BBC journalist George Alagiah, journalist, who has stage four bowel cancer said Dame Deborah was among the ‘limited number of people’ he could talk to about his illness. 

‘For all of us living with cancer, we’re all aware, we don’t want to become a burden, we don’t want to burden people too much.

‘There is a limited number of people you can talk to, and Deborah James is one of those as I found out.

‘To share my dilemmas, my fear, my wanting to cry with someone who had gone through that and was going through it that in itself was a kind of solace,’ he added. 

‘Sharing is hugely important. When my moment came, I was looking for someone like Deborah James to talk to,’ the presenter, who was diagnosed in 2014, said. 

In January 2020, she had explained that scans showed she had no evidence of cancer in her body at that point – with doctors suggesting she was ‘rewriting the textbook’ – but in April 2021, she revealed her cancer was back again 

Despite ongoing cancer treatments over the last few years, Deborah continued living life to the full, holidaying with her family and dancing in the rain  

The former headteacher (pictured right, with children Eloise, 12, Hugo, 14 and husband Sebastien Bowen) was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016

The cancer-fighting charity set up by Dame Deborah James has smashed the £7million milestone a day after her death was announced as Prince William leads tributes praising the fundraiser as ‘an inspiration whose legacy will live on’.

The Bowelbabe fund saw a surge in donations, pushing past £6.8m in the hours after it was revealed the 40-year-old mother-of-two had lost her battle with the disease and has now passed £7million and continues to rise.

In her final weeks, the presenter of the BBC podcast You, Me And The Big C raised the huge amount of cash for research and was made a dame for her ‘tireless’ work improving awareness of the disease.

Dame Deborah became a patron for Bowel Cancer UK following her diagnosis and worked to raise money and awareness of the charity. All donations will be used to fund causes that were close to Deborah’s heart including funding clinical trials and raising awareness of bowel cancer with the help of Cancer Research UK.

Its chief executive Genevieve Edwards said her legacy would live on through her campaigning work and that she had a ‘special gift’ to connect with the public which showed with the sheer volume of donations from the public.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge led tributes to Dame Deborah today and called her an ‘inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on’.

Prince William cleared his diary and travelled to her parents’ home in Woking, Surrey, in mid-May to perform an honours ceremony at a tea party celebrating her extraordinary life.

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