‘Both inside and out, he was kind and generous – and had a wicked sense of humour’: Stars pay tribute to ‘brave’ Bill Turnbull after ‘talented’ journalist died aged 66 following battle with prostate cancer
- He died ‘peacefully’ at home in Suffolk after ‘challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer’
- News of ex-BBC Breakfast presenter’s death was announced live by Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt
- Turnbull, who appeared on the BBC One show from 2001 until 2016, revealed diagnosis in March 2018
- Last October he said he was taking a leave of absence from his show on Classic FM for health reasons
Stars have paid tribute to ‘brave’ Bill Turnbull after the ‘talented’ journalist died aged 66 following a battle with prostate cancer.
The former BBC Breakfast presenter’s family revealed that he died ‘peacefully’ at home in Suffolk after a ‘challenging and committed fight’ against his cancer which had been diagnosed in November 2017.
Former BBC Breakfast colleague Louise Minchin, 53, who has known Turnbull for over 20 years, said she ‘loved how he made me laugh’.
‘He had a wicked, naughty sense of humour which was infectious, and the audience and the programme team loved him for it’, she told The Sun.
‘As well as being great fun, he was a talented, insightful and rigorous journalist with a sharp eye for detail. His sense of how to use exactly the right tone when faced with the most challenging of news stories was impeccable.
‘Sitting beside him on those early mornings, I always felt I was in safe hands, and I know the viewers did, too.
‘Both inside and outside work, he was kind and generous with his time, and his wise words were much appreciated by me and many others.’
And Sian Williams, who spent more than a decade hosting BBC Breakfast, told The Telegraph: ‘Bill joined me as BBC Breakfast co-anchor. And that friendship, forged in adversity – and laughter – continued and deepened.
‘You don’t get up at 3.30am every morning to go to work if you don’t like who you’re working with. It meant a partnership based on companionship, not competition.
‘When things went wrong, which they often did, we had each other’s backs.’
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Karen Hardy described him as ‘such a gentleman, such a mentor, life-changing for me’, she recalled their first Strictly meeting.
His wife described how her late husband made the family laugh every day and they were ‘immensely proud of him’.
Sarah ‘Sesi’ McCombie said ‘Billy’, whom she married in 1988, was ‘dignified and brave throughout’ his five-year battle with prostate cancer which left him ‘often in pain’, adding that the final week of his life was ‘very special’.
Ms McCombie said in a statement: ‘Our lovely Billy died yesterday evening almost five years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The last week of his life was very special, as the whole family was with him and we shared some wonderful moments. Even though he was often in pain, Bill was dignified and brave throughout, and he was his usual determined self right to the very end. Billy made us laugh every day and we are immensely proud of him – he was the heart of our family. It’s hard to imagine life without him.’
Former BBC Breakfast colleague Louise Minchin, 53, who has known Turnbull for over 20 years, said she ‘loved how he made me laugh’
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Karen Hardy was partnered with BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull in 2005
Bill Turnball after his final episode of BBC Breakfast
Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams at the TRIC Awards at Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane in London on March 3, 2012
Bill Turnbull with his wife Sesi as he leaves BBC Breakfast for the last time after 15 years of service on February 26, 2016
A photograph at Turnbull’s home in Suffolk showing him with wife Sesi and children Henry, Will and Flora in New York in 1997
Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid present ITV’s Good Morning Britain together on February 26, 2020
Bill Turnbull with his daughter Flora Turnbull in a Twitter post for his birthday that she posted on January 25, 2021
Former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM presenter Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family revealed yesterday morning
TV and radio presenter Bill Turnbull excitedly spoke about returning to his Classic FM show just weeks ago on August 4
Bill Turnbull was a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, when he partnered with Karen Hardy
The news was announced on BBC Breakfast by his emotional former colleagues Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty
BBC Breakfast hosts past and present celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary in 2012, including (Left to Right) Angela Rippon, Francis Wilson, Chris Hollins, Glyn Christian, Selena Scott, Sue Cook, Sian Williams, Mike Smith and Bill Turnbull
Presenters Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast set in Salford, Greater Manchester, on April 2012
(left to right) Charlie Stayt, Carol Kirkwood, Bill Turnbull, Simon Jack, Louise Minchin and Chris Hollins with the award for ‘Best TV Daytime Programme’ at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Annual Awards in London in March 2010
Camilla walks with Bill Turnbull as she attends a Bees for Development event at Marlborough House in London in June 2019
Turnbull had spoken excitedly about returning to his Classic FM show just weeks ago after a ten-month break due to his ill health. He had tweeted on August 4: ‘Roll over Beethoven – BIll Turnbull’s back @ClassicFM! Yes, I’m returning to host the most exciting classical music show on the airwaves this Saturday from 10 till 1. Don’t miss it!’
He went on to present three final Saturday morning shows on Classic FM on August 6, 13 and 20 – with the radio station tweeting last month that it was ‘a delight to have much-loved broadcaster Bill Turnbull back’.
The news of his death was announced live on air by his emotional former colleagues Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt during yesterday morning’s BBC Breakfast. Both visibly tearful, the duo remembered their predecessor on the BBC One morning show as ‘our friend and former colleague’ and an ‘amazing’ journalist with a ‘wise head’.
Turnbull, who appeared on the programme from 2001 until 2016, revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis in March 2018 and detailed his treatment in a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive.
In October last year Turnbull announced he was taking a leave of absence from his show on Classic FM for health reasons. But he returned to the radio station last month to host on Saturday mornings. Classic FM confirmed to MailOnline that his last show was just 12 days ago, on August 20.
His daughter Flora, who is an English and drama teacher, tweeted: ‘We are so proud of him.’
Stayt said on BBC Breakfast: ‘Welcome back. We have some sad news to bring you this morning. Our former colleague, former Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull has died. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2017.’
Munchetty then read out a statement from his wife Sesi which said: ‘Our lovely Billy died yesterday evening almost five years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The last week of his life was very special – as the whole family was with him and we shared some wonderful moments.’
Stayt added: ‘She goes on to say even though he was often in pain, Bill was dignified and brave throughout and he was his usual determined self right until the very end. Billy made us laugh everyday and we are immensely proud of him. He was the heart of our family, it is hard to imagine life without him.’
How Bill Turnbull woke up Britain with his calm and reassuring manner
Bill Turnbull, who for 15 years woke up the nation as a presenter on the BBC Breakfast sofa, has died aged 66.
Across a four-decade career, he presented from the front line of British and foreign politics, as well as hosting an array of lighter gameshows and religious programmes.
William Robert Jolyon Turnbull was born on January 25 1956 in Guildford, Surrey.
Educated at Eton College, he attended the University of Edinburgh where he was editor of the student paper.
Turnbull started his broadcasting career at Scotland’s Radio Clyde in 1978.
He joined the BBC as a reporter for the Today programme in 1986 before becoming a correspondent for BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later.
Memorable stories he filed included the Lockerbie disaster in 1988 and the Romanian revolution of 1989.
In 1990, Turnbull became a correspondent for BBC News and reported from more than 30 countries.
During his four-year stint as the Washington correspondent, he covered the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the OJ Simpson trial and there was also a rain-drenched appearance on Breakfast during a hurricane in Florida.
After moving back to the UK in 1997, Turnbull became one of the main presenters on BBC News 24, as it was called back then.
He also worked for BBC Radio 5 Live, including presenting Weekend Breakfast.
Turnbull joined BBC Breakfast in 2001 as a presenter alongside Sian Williams.
They worked together until 2012 when Williams departed after the programme moved from London to Salford.
Celebrity fans including David Cameron, Frank Skinner and Miranda Hart sent farewell video messages to the presenter.
The former prime minister said: ‘Bill, throughout your career you have brought us the news from around the world, from war zones to the White House, but for the last 15 years we’ve been used to seeing you present from one iconic location – the BBC Breakfast sofa.
‘Now the day has come for you to swap that sofa for a bed and those long-awaited lie-ins. So on behalf of all the people who are used to starting their day with you, thank you.’
During those 15 years, the nation had woken up to Turnbull’s calm, reassuring manner.
However, in July 2015 he made an embarrassing slip-up live on air.
The Guildford-born broadcaster appeared to say ‘c***’ instead of ‘client’ while referring to reaction to a public health story.
In a statement, the BBC said he had ‘unintentionally stumbled’ over his words.
It was one of his most memorable moments on BBC Breakfast.
As a household name, Turnbull made numerous television appearances away from Breakfast.
He was a presenter on BBC One’s long-running Songs Of Praise.
In 2005, he competed as a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing. Partnered with Karen Hardy, he was the seventh celebrity voted off the show.
Turnbull also participated in ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?; the BBC’s Celebrity Mastermind, Would I Lie To You?, Pointless Celebrities, Room 101 and Through The Keyhole, and he appeared in dictionary corner on Channel 4’s Countdown.
Arguably his most famous role came in a 2011 Doctor Who episode, The Wedding Of River Song, in which he played himself.
Turnbull’s passion for beekeeping led to the 2011 publication of his book The Bad Beekeepers Club, a humorous account of the ups and downs of the hobby.
In 2018, aged 63, he announced he had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and said he had been taking cannabidiol to tackle his symptoms.
Turnbull was filmed smoking cannabis with a vape for a Channel 4 documentary – Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive – following his attempts to find suitable treatment.
In his final years he presented a weekend radio show on Classic FM and appeared as a guest presenter on The One Show.
On a number of occasions in 2020 and 2021, Turnbull reunited with his former BBC Breakfast co-host Susanna Reid as a guest presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
The pair fronted Breakfast together until 2014, when Reid left to join ITV.
In October 2021 he announced he was taking ‘a leave of absence’ from his weekend programme on Classic FM for ‘health reasons’.
The Wycombe Wanderers supporter was quoted on the club’s official website, from an interview with Prostate Cancer UK, as saying: ‘There’s a special atmosphere about Wycombe Wanderers because of where it is, such a lovely rural setting, and it’s small enough still to have that real club feeling about it where people do care about each other.’
He is survived by his wife Sarah, who he married in March 1988, and their three children.
Munchetty continued: ‘Of course all of us here, sending love and support to Bill’s family, Sesi his wife, and I think today after we get over the shock of this we will start remembering the really fun things Bill did, like when I presented with him his energy was amazing.
‘He came into this programme and threw everything at it, every single day. He was funny when we sat here on the sofa, he was a brilliant journalist and he loved this programme and he loved serving you, the audience. So I’m sure you will miss him, but we certainly will too.’
And Stayt said: ‘He was a wise head, he didn’t take himself too seriously when he sat here which is a great combination.
BBC Breakfast played a highlights reel of Bill Turnbull’s career, which began at BBC Radio Clyde in Glasgow. He went on to report on the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Paying tribute, the short obituary clip described him as ‘a much-loved fixture in people’s homes’ who was ‘straight-forward about the condition, clear with his advice’ after he announced his prostate cancer diagnosis.
Turnbull told viewers after his diagnosis: ‘For heaven’s sake go and get yourself tested – if you catch it early then that’s much better than finding out too late.’
BBC Breakfast’s obituary concluded: ‘His openness had a remarkable impact – the number of people getting treatment for prostate cancer went up by more than a third in a year. helping thousands of other men remains perhaps his greatest legacy.’
Munchetty also said: ‘I can only say that as a team, we are in shock this morning. We know what he meant to you, so many viewers, and I can honestly say that having worked with Bill so closely, Mike [Bushell, sports presenter] you did, Charlie, we all did, but he cared so much about this programme and the audience and Sesi’s words about him being funny and lively until the end, that’s what Bill did.
Bushell said: ‘I remember when he joined, it was like ‘wow, Bill Turnbull’s joining Breakfast!’ We knew him as a really serious correspondent and when he joined and started working with him, I did the odd Breakfast shift and realised how funny he was, how he could change the mood brilliantly between the hard news and the lighter stuff and he was so funny.
‘And then we developed this bandhood, and he was really instrumental in getting me more regularly on the BBC Breakfast sofa, he became a mentor so I owe him so much.
And Munchetty added: ‘I did my first ever shift with him on Breakfast. My first ever presenting shift. He just, he drove this programme didn’t he? And that’s what, you know, great presenters do and great journalists do. We are of course sending our thoughts and condolence as well to Sesi and to Bill’s family. We will miss him very much.
Stayt also said: ‘One side of it, of course, is the professional side that we all knew well. But the most important thing this morning of course is his family so we wish them all the best.’
Turnbull’s former co-presenter Susannah Reid wrote on Twitter: ‘Bill was the kindest, funniest, most generous man in the business. I feel lucky to have worked with him and he taught me everything. But above all, he was devoted to his family and I am heartbroken for them. RIP Bill. We will miss you so much.’
Williams also thanked Turnbull ‘for the laughter and friendship’ on Twitter.
‘Goodbye, Billy. The kindest, most generous of presenters. A wonderful friend for 30 years. And a man devoted to his family. All thoughts and love with them,’ she wrote. You will be so, so missed – thank you for the laughter and friendship xx’.
Minchin highlighted Turnbull’s sense of humour in a tribute shared on Twitter.
‘Sending my love and thoughts to the family of my wonderful friend Bill Turnbull. He was a brilliant journalist, a stickler for accuracy, passionate about @BBCBreakfast and a fabulously supportive and kind team-player,’ she tweeted. ‘Most of all he was great fun, I love how he made me laugh. Xx’
Turnbull’s family praised the treatment he had received at the Royal Marsden and Ipswich hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and his GP.
They added: ‘He was resolutely positive and was hugely buoyed by the support he received from friends, colleagues, and messages from people wishing him luck. It was a great comfort to Bill that so many more men are now testing earlier for this disease.
‘Bill will be remembered by many as a remarkable broadcaster who brought warmth and humour into people’s homes on BBC Breakfast and Classic FM.
‘He was also a devoted Wycombe Wanderers fan and an ever-aspiring beekeeper.
‘Bill was a wonderful husband and father to his three children; his family and friends will miss how he always made them laugh, and the generosity and love he shared with those around him.’
Speaking to the Daily Mail in February 2020, Turnbull said he was refusing to plan his funeral but admitted he had chosen the music. He also revealed how he had given up alcohol, meat and was doing yoga in attempt to improve his health.
He said at the time: ‘I don’t think there’s a heaven and a hell. I think, like everything else, we go into the ground, our bodies get turned into something else and we move on.
‘I believe there is a loving, benign spirit that’s with us in some way in this world, in this galaxy, in this universe. You can call it whatever you want but I believe it’s with us all the time and you can tap into it. That’s a great thing.’ He smiles.
‘I’m still learning, so in some ways I am starting [with religion] all over again.’
BBC Radio 4 Today presenters Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain paid tribute to former BBC Breakfast presenter Turnbull following his death.
(From left) Sally Nugent, Bill Turnbull and Louise Minchin attend the TRIC Awards in London March 10, 2015
Bill Turnbull died ‘peacefully’ at home in Suffolk after a ‘challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer’
Bill Turnbull and fellow TV presenter Andrew Marr attend The Ultimate News Quiz at Quaglino’s in London on March 1, 2012
Bill Turnbull with his Newscaster/ Reporter award at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Awards in London in 2011
Bill Turnbull pictured at Global’s Make Some Noise Day held at Global Radio in London in October 2016 (left), and arriving at the Classic Brit Awards 2018 at the Royal Albert Hall in London in June 2018 (right)
Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull arriving for the TV Choice awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London in September 2010
Speaking on the programme, Robinson said: ‘We’ve lost a very dear friend and an extraordinary broadcaster.
Bill Turnbull: Inspiring men to have prostate test was ‘the one useful thing I did’
Bill Turnbull said inspiring men to get tested for prostate cancer by publicly revealing his own diagnosis was the ‘one useful thing’ he had done in his life.
Turnbull, 66, was diagnosed in 2017 and admitted he was ‘cross with myself’ for the pride he had felt at not visiting a GP in four years.
The former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM broadcaster had prostate tests at the age of 40 and 50 but said the disease had already spread to his bones when he saw a doctor about long-term aches and pains which he had put down to ‘old age’.
The charity Prostate Cancer UK said the disease kills more than 11,500 men in the UK every year.
– What is prostate cancer?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland found in men. It sits beneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra and its main function is to produce a thick white fluid that creates semen when mixed with the sperm produced by the testicles.
Prostate cancer means its cells start to divide and grow uncontrollably, sometimes spreading throughout the body.
Roughly one in every eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, according to Prostate Cancer UK, making it the most common male cancer in the UK.
– What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Symptoms will usually not appear until the cancer is large enough to press against the urethra.
If you find yourself needing to urinate more often, having to wait longer before you can pass urine, or urinating involuntarily after going to the toilet, it is a good idea to get checked by a doctor, although Prostate Cancer UK says it is more likely to be a sign of a very common non-cancerous problem called an enlarged prostate, or another health problem.
Other warning signs include erectile dysfunction, blood in urine, weight loss or any new and unexplained lower back pain.
– Who is most at risk of prostate cancer?
The NHS website says the risk of prostate cancer increases as you get older, with most cases developing in men aged 50 or older.
Black men are more likely to be affected, while it is less common among Asians.
Recent research suggests obesity increases the risk.
– How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
After discussing symptoms, a doctor is likely to ask for a urine sample to be checked for infection and a blood sample to test the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
A digital rectal examination, when a gloved finger is inserted into the bottom, can be used to examine the prostate.
The GP will assess the risk of prostate cancer based on these tests as well as age, family history and ethnic group.
If a patient is at risk, the NHS website says they should be referred to hospital to discuss the options of further tests which could include an MRI scan or a biopsy.
Men aged 50 can request a PSA test from their GP but the NHS website says there is no national screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK because the test is not always accurate.
– How is prostate cancer treated?
Some people will not require immediate treatment and will be monitored.
This can be because the disease is in its early stages and is not causing symptoms or because it is unlikely to affect their natural lifespan because of their age.
This may include having regular PSA tests, MRI scans and sometimes biopsies to ensure any signs of progression are found as early as possible.
There are two key ways to treat prostate cancer: radiotherapy or surgery to remove the prostate.
Cancer Research UK says more than 85% of men will survive their prostate cancer for five years and almost 80% for 10 years or more.
– Who else has had prostate cancer?
Musician Jools Holland revealed earlier this year that he had been successfully treated for prostate cancer after a diagnosis in 2014.
He performed at a concert organised by Prostate Cancer UK alongside Sir Rod Stewart, who was given the all-clear in 2019, two years after diagnosis.
‘Guys, you’ve got to really go to the doctor,’ Sir Rod urged ahead of his performance.
Stephen Fry said he was ‘stunned’ after finding he had prostate cancer in 2018, but recovered because his disease was spotted early.
In April, former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal revealed numerous radiation treatments had cured his cancer.
‘I had to wait five or six months to see if it had done its job,’ he said. ‘It did.’
‘There was a warmth to his broadcasting. People who watched breakfast television every day just knew how warm Bill was and perhaps what they forgot was what a bloody good journalist he was.
‘This was a man who’d been a correspondent in Washington, who travelled 30 countries. He’d been in Moscow, he’d covered wars, he’d reported on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
‘And that combination of a razor-sharp intellect, wit, humour and humanity came out every day when he was on Breakfast. It came out when as a reporter, and listeners of Classic FM will have heard him present beautifully as well, his love of music.
‘I remember fondly, you do (too) Mishal – we’ve both been visitors to his house – that he and his wife, who met together, they met on this programme.’
Husain added: ‘He’ll be remembered across BBC News. Bill Turnbull, rest in peace.’
Former BBC presenter Dan Walker said it was an ‘honour to sit on his sofa’.
He tweeted: ‘Bill Turnbull was so kind and generous when I took over from him on BBC Breakfast. He was full of brilliant advice and it was clear just how loved he was by his colleagues and the audience. It was an honour to sit on his sofa. My thoughts are with his family and friends.’
Weather presenter Alex Beresford shared a video showing himself and Bill Turnbull attempting yoga exercises on Good Morning Britain.
‘Such sad news!’ he tweeted. ‘I had the absolute honour of working with Bill Turnbull a handful of times and as you’ll see below he was strong, flexible, professional and warm! RIP’.
BBC director-general Tim Davie said of Turnbull: ‘Bill was a much loved and respected broadcaster and journalist – not just by viewers but by all those lucky enough to have worked with him.
‘He always struck the right tone, no matter what the story. Warm, wise, professional and caring, he will be much missed by us all.
‘Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends.’
Former head of BBC TV News Roger Mosey said: ‘I am so desperately sad about the death of my dear friend Bill Turnbull. I will always remember him with our dogs and in the sunshine – and with great love.’
Former BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern said: ‘Absolutely gutted that our Bill Turnbull has passed away.
‘A fantastic broadcaster and a brilliant friend… I learnt so much from him. And we had some cracking arguments about how you should pronounce words like ‘poor’. We all loved him. RIP Bill.’
And BBC broadcaster John Simpson described Turnbull as ‘charming’ as well as being a ‘sharp reporter’.
He tweeted: ‘Very sorry to hear of the death of my former colleague Bill Turnbull.
‘He was charming and relaxed, and managed to combine being a clever, sharp reporter with sympathetic understanding as an interviewer. And he faced a vicious disease with great courage.’
And Piers Morgan said: ‘RIP Bill Turnbull, 66. One of the best broadcasters in Britain, and such a smart, funny, warm & generous-spirited man.
‘Fought his illness with typical stoicism, courage and humour. Bill made presenting live TV look so effortless, which was his great talent. Such sad news.’
Lord Alan Sugar tweeted: ‘Sadly Bill Turnbull has passed he was a great presenter and a nice guy R.I.P’.
And presenter and writer Danny Wallace described Bill Turnbull as ‘a brilliant man’.
In a heartfelt tribute, he tweeted: ‘Bill Turnbull was my friend.
‘He was hilarious, with a huge brain. He sent me a book just recently which I’ll treasure. I sent him a Beano.
‘I got a dog because one day in his kitchen he told me to get a dog. He was a brilliant man. I’ll miss you, pal. I’ll look after the dog. x’
Quiz show presenter and author Richard Osman posted a short message on Twitter following Turnbull’s death.
‘RIP Bill Turnbull, such a kind, intelligent man, and a wonderful presenter. How very sad,’ he wrote.
BBC Breakfast presenter Mike Bushell tweeted: ‘We are numb devastated by the passing of dear friend and former colleague Bill Turnbull @BBCBreakfast legend, my mentor 20 years ago, incredible talent to move from the harder news of the day to lighter stories with his clever wit warmth, our love, thoughts with his family.
‘One of my favourite days since first meeting Billy when he helped me find my feet on the Breakfast sofa was a day out to watch him commentating on his beloved @wwfcofficial against @lufc 2009.
‘He was brilliant at everything he did and most importantly the most wonderful company’.
And BBC presenter George Alagiah congratulated Turnbull ‘for setting an example for all of us living with life-threatening illness’.
He tweeted: ‘Very sad day for the millions who knew Bill from TV and for colleagues at the BBC.
‘Well done Bill for setting an example for all of us living with life-threatening illness. RIP’.
Alagiah was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014.
Philip Noyce, the managing editor of Classic FM, also paid tribute to Turnbull, saying in a statement: ‘I’m deeply saddened by this news.
‘Bill was an absolute treasure of Classic FM whose presence on and off the air will forever be missed.
‘He was a very gifted journalist and presenter, and he loved radio and understood its ability to connect with people on a personal level – something he did with ease and aplomb.
‘Brave’ Bill Turnbull saved lives, says Prostate Cancer UK chief
Bill Turnbull saved lives and encouraged ‘thousands and thousands’ of men to come forward for testing through his campaigning, the chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK has said.
The former BBC Breakfast presenter died at home in Suffolk aged 66 on Wednesday after being diagnosed with the disease in November 2017.
Since then, Turnbull campaigned to raise awareness among those at risk as an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK, which works to improve awareness and provides training and funding.
The charity’s chief executive Laura Kerby said the journalist and broadcaster ‘leaves a resounding impact’.
She said: ‘Thousands and thousands of men have come forward as a result of him helping us raise awareness of Prostate Cancer UK – and him just telling his story.
‘He has saved lives – 11,500 men die in the UK every year of prostate cancer and he would have helped some people come earlier (for testing) so that they could have avoided that.
‘One in eight men are affected, one in four black men, and he has made a huge impact in reaching into those communities, as a man telling his story, being brave.
‘We will be forever grateful for everything that he’s done to help men find out about their prostate cancer risk, and everything he’s done for us at Prostate Cancer UK.’
Ms Kerby said that after Turnbull announced his diagnosis, levels of referrals to the NHS increased by about 20 per cent and her charity’s helpline also saw a large increase in calls.
Broadcaster and author Stephen Fry also revealed he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in 2018, sparking what has been described as the ‘Turnbull/Fry effect’ – a marked increase in referrals.
Ms Kerby said the combined publicity had had a ‘significant impact’.
She added: ‘Prostate cancer now is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the Turnbull/Fry effect, as we call it, had a huge impact on raising that awareness.
‘I think anybody that’s prepared to come forward and tell their story open and honestly, and the impact of prostate cancer on their lives, can really help.
‘But Bill Turnbull used his popularity, he used his personality, his warmth, his love of football, to really drive that message.
‘It’s now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and that’s very much down to the impacts that he helped us make.’
Addressing the reluctance of some men to have themselves checked, Ms Kerby added: ‘The message is that we really want men to become aware of their risk of prostate cancer.
‘Men over the age of 50, black men over the age of 45, and anybody with a family history needs to get very aware of whether they are at risk or not. They are the highest risks.
‘Therefore we have a risk-awareness checker – a 30-second checker – on our website and we would really appeal to men to come forward and take that risk checker and, if they have any concerns, seek advice and support. It’s really important.’
Ms Kerby said early prostate cancer is often asymptomatic but can be cured if caught early.
However, she added: ‘Now unfortunately in Bill’s particular instance it was too late, his diagnosis was too late.
‘And I think that’s why he was so compelled and so passionate about telling his story so that other men would come forward and check their risks.’
‘As well as being an outstanding broadcaster, Bill was a family man, a devoted father and husband, who loved the company of friends (including the four-legged variety), and was passionate about music, football, nature and his beloved bees.
‘We have lost an exceptionally talented broadcaster, but most of all we’ve said goodbye to a fine man who will be dearly missed by us all at Classic FM, as well as his many listeners.’
Former BBC Breakfast presenter Turnbull joined Classic FM in 2016 where he hosted Saturday and Sunday programmes from 10am to 1pm.
He also launched and presented Classic FM’s Pet Classics, to help keep pets and their owners relaxed during fireworks season.
In October 2021 he took a leave of absence from the radio station.
Turnbull started his broadcast career at Scotland’s Radio Clyde in 1978, joining the BBC as a reporter for the Today programme in 1986 before becoming a reporter for BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later.
In 1990, Turnbull became a correspondent for BBC News and reported from more than 30 countries, with notable stories he covered including the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the OJ Simpson trial.
After moving back to the UK, he became one of the main presenters on BBC News 24, as it was called back then.
Turnbull also worked for BBC Radio 5 Live, including presenting Weekend Breakfast.
He joined BBC Breakfast in 2001 as a presenter alongside Sian Williams and they worked together until 2012 when she departed after the programme moved from London to Salford.
The presenter co-anchored alongside Susanna Reid, with the pair presenting together until 2014, when Reid left the show to join ITV, and Turnbull’s other co-hosts included Louise Minchin and more.
Recalling his most memorable moments from his breakfast career as he signed off from the red sofa in February 2016, he recalled ‘nearly getting into a fight with a ventriloquist’s dummy called Bob’ and wearing a jumper made of dog hair.
‘It was all right, it was just very warm and I couldn’t get the stuff off me for weeks,’ he said.
He made numerous television appearances outside of BBC Breakfast, including as the presenter on BBC One’s Songs Of Praise.
In 2005, he competed as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing partnered with Karen Hardy, and was the seventh celebrity voted off the show.
Other TV appearances include ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Through The Keyhole; the BBC’s Celebrity Mastermind, Would I Lie To You?, Pointless Celebrities and Room 101, and he appeared in the dictionary corner for Channel 4’s Countdown.
In 2011 he appeared in the Doctor Who episode The Wedding Of River Song in which he played himself.
His passion for beekeeping led to the 2011 publication of his book The Bad Beekeepers Club, a humorous account of the ups and downs of an apiarist.
A tweet from BBC Breakfast said: ‘Former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull has died. He was 66. He was loved by our viewers. He was loved by his colleagues.
‘Bill will always be remembered for his warmth, humour and being a brilliant journalist.’
A tweet from Classic FM described the radio station’s former presenter as ‘one of the nation’s most admired broadcasters’.
The tweet read: ‘We are very sad to say that Bill Turnbull, one of the nation’s most admired broadcasters who was much-loved by all at Classic FM, has died aged 66. Our thoughts are with Bill’s family at this time.’
Prostate Cancer UK tweeted: ‘Our friend and ambassador Bill Turnbull has died.
‘Bill worked tirelessly to raise awareness of prostate cancer following his diagnosis in 2017, and it was our privilege to work alongside him. Our thoughts are with Bill’s loved ones today.’
And NHS England shared information on prostate cancer along with a message saying ‘We’re sad to hear about the death of Bill Turnbull from prostate cancer.’
It tweeted: ‘1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer – that’s a dad, brother, uncle or best mate. Read about the symptoms, causes and tests for prostate cancer, and share with your loved ones.’
Tears for the man ‘who made TV magical’: Bill Turnbull’s Strictly dance partner Karen Hardy pays emotional tribute to the BBC Breakfast icon who was her ‘mentor’ after his death aged 66 following prostate cancer battle
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Karen Hardy wiped away tears as she remembered Bill Turnbull in a heartfelt tribute, saying he had been a mentor and crediting him with being a ‘legend of TV’.
The professional dancer, 52, was partnered with former BBC Breakfast presenter Turnbull, who has died aged 66, during her first stint on Strictly in 2005.
Turnbull was a contestant on the third series of the BBC One programme, becoming the seventh celebrity voted off, having danced alongside that year’s other famous faces including Gloria Hunniford, Patsy Palmer, Zoe Ball and the series winner, cricketer Darren Gough.
Speaking to BBC News from New Zealand, Hardy was tearful as she reminisced about Turnbull, who was a fixture on the BBC Breakfast sofa and screens for 15 years before his departure from the corporation in 2016.
Describing him as ‘such a gentleman, such a mentor, life-changing for me’, she recalled their first Strictly meeting.
She said: ‘When I met him, I had had an incredible career, I had been dancing for, gosh, 20-odd years, I’d won some of the biggest titles in the world and I had long retired.
‘And out of the blue, I got this phone call from the BBC saying, ‘I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this TV show, Strictly Come Dancing, but we’d love to have you on it’.’
Describing the secrecy surrounding first meeting her Strictly partner, she said: ‘I was driven out in a BBC car, out into I don’t know, (what) seemed like a forest.
Karen Hardy wiped away tears as she remembered Bill Turnbull in a heartfelt tribute on BBC News today
‘There was this beautiful driveway we drove up to and all the way along I’m going, ‘What have I done? I’m coming out of retirement. I’ve won these titles. What am I doing?’
‘And I didn’t know who would be behind this door, and I remember standing there and this gruff voice came out from behind going, ‘Good Lord, can we please just get on and get this over with?’
‘And then I met this man that turned out to be my mentor, friend, gosh, so much he ended up being and I owe him so much because it was from that first show and my debut on TV that he made TV magical.
‘He told me what it was about. He shared all the magic.’
Hardy became emotional as she spoke about Turnbull, adding: ‘For him, it was all about the truth and I remember him saying… he taught me about the news and it was always about seeking the truth and finding the truth no matter what.’
A message on Strictly’s official Twitter account said: ‘Sending heartfelt condolences to Bill Turnbull’s family and friends. A truly brilliant broadcaster turned ballroom dancer when he joined us on series three of Strictly.’
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