Deborah James, BBC Podcast Host, Dead at 40 After Bowel Cancer Battle

Deborah James
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

The journalist revealed in May that she was entering hospice care.

BBC host Dame Deborah James has died at the age of 40 after a long battle with cancer. On Tuesday, her family announced the news on her official Instagram account.  

“Dame Deborah James. 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,” the post, which led with a photo of the journalist smiling in front of an ocean view, read. 
“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," the statement noted. "Even in her most challenging moments, her determination to raise money and awareness was inspiring.” 

The post continued, “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.” 

Before signing off, James’ family shared some final inspirational words from the You, Me and The Big C host. “And a few final things from Deborah…,” the end of the caption read. “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.” 

Last week, prior to her death, James celebrated her organization, The BowelBabe Fund, raising over one million pounds with the sales of her “Rebellious Hope” T-shirts. 

James was known for being candid about her bowel cancer journey, since first being diagnosed in 2016. In 2020, the BBC host revealed that the cancer made its return. In May, the journalist shared the heartbreaking news that she was entering hospice care.  

“The message I never wanted to write. We have tried everything, but my body simply isn’t playing ball. My active care has stopped and I am now moved to hospice at home care, with my incredible family all around me and the focus is on making sure I’m not in pain and spending time with them,” she wrote at the time. 

“Nobody knows how long I’ve got left but I’m not able to walk, I’m sleeping most of the days, and most things I took for granted are pipe dreams," she continued. "I know we have left no stone unturned. But even with all the innovative cancer drugs in the world or some magic new breakthrough, my body just can’t continue anymore.” 

James reflected on her five-year journey and how she made the most of the last six months of her life.  

“In over 5 years of writing about how I thought it would be my final Christmas, how I wouldn’t see my 40th birthday nor see my kids go to secondary school - I never envisaged writing the one where I would actually say goodbye. I think it’s been the rebellious hope in me," she wrote. "But I don’t think anyone can say the last 6 months has exactly been kind! It’s all heartbreaking to be going through but I’m surrounded by so much love that if anything can help me through I hope that will.”  

Shortly after her message, Prince William and Kate Middleton made a rare personal statement of support for James. The same month, James shared a picture and revealed that the Duke of Cambridge made a trip to her home for “tea and champagne” and to talk about oncology health.  

Shortly after her diagnosis, James left her job as a teacher and began her blog, Things Cancer Made Me Say, which eventually became a column for The Sun. James, along with Lauren Mahon and Rachel Bland, was the host of the podcast You, Me and The Big C, where they candidly discussed cancer. 

James often brought awareness to bowel cancer by recording the podcast in a poop suit that she purchased shortly after a surgery. She also shared pictures of the suit on her social media feed to help bring awareness and raise money for bowel cancer research. 

James leaves behind her husband, Sebastian Bowen, and their two children, Hugo, 14, and Eloise, 12.