Deborah James says damehood and public reaction are ‘surreal’ and ‘heartbreaking’

Deborah James
Deborah James with Prince William, husband Seb and children Hugo and Eloise. (Image credit: Twitter)

Cancer sufferer, charity fundraiser and all-round inspiration Deborah James has called her visit by Prince William at her family home to confer a damehood on her as the most surreal day of her life.

Dame Deborah, who goes by the name @bowelbabe on Twitter and was host of the hugely popular podcast You, Me and the Big C, returned from her end-of life hospice to her parents’ home for the occasion.

She tweeted: “What a glorious afternoon to make memories for a lifetime! What an generous honour, to have William in my family home, with champange giving me a Damehood. Not sure life could get more surreal. But happy.”

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Deborah, 40, was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 35 in 2016 and on Monday she stopped receiving active treatment because her ‘body simply isn’t playing ball’ and at the same time she set up a charity fund, which has reached £5.7 million at the time of writing, from an initial target of £250,000.

She has been moved deeply by the reaction from the public to her journey and she told BBC Breakfast: “I’m a bit numb because it’s a bit surreal, because I know I’m going to die and the messages are beautiful but they’re heartbreaking as well. And so I’m trying to read what I can and I hope that when I’m not feeling well enough to read them myself then my family will read them to me. And I think that will give them some comfort.”

Deborah James, Prince William and Deborah's brother.

Deborah James, Prince William and Deborah's brother Ben. (Image credit: Twitter)

The Duke of Cambridge explained on Twitter why Buckingham Palace had given her the royal honour, writing that “Every now and then, someone captures the heart of the nation with their zest for life & tenacious desire to give back to society ... Her tireless efforts to raise awareness of bowel cancer & end the stigma of treatment are inspiring.”

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Deborah’s family, including children Eloise, 12, and Hugo, 14, and husband, Seb, had gathered at her parents' house for the occasion, because she revealed she didn’t want her kids to see all the medical equipment she needs at this stage of her illness at her home.

She told The Sun: “It means the kids can go back [home] and they don’t have those scars everywhere. It can continue to be their home without those memories.”

She revealed that the afternoon had been emotional but fun, with a traditional afternoon tea and scones with a bottle or two of bubbly and the prince had shared the experiences of the loss of his mother with them.

“He was incredibly engaging and generous with his time, I could have spoken to him all afternoon,” she said.

“We shared some really interesting ideas of how the Bowel Babe Fund could continue to support the great work for Cancer Research UK and the Royal Marsden.

“It was an honour to have him round and he’s welcome for tea and champagne any time.”

She added: “I got really emotional when I was presented with my honour. It’s a memory that my family and I will treasure forever.”

You can donate to the Bowel Babe Fund here.

Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.