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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Lizzie Catt

Bill Turnbull's daughter says late BBC presenter would be 'moved' by the impact he's had

Heading out for an early morning run in the dark may not be an entirely appealing prospect, but for Flora Turnbull, training for the London Marathon offers a welcome chance to remember her father.

She is the daughter of Bill Turnbull, the much-loved BBC Breakfast presenter, who died last summer, almost five years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.

Bill was a keen runner himself, with five London Marathons under his belt, one completed in three hours 45 minutes and another in a full beekeeping outfit.

His passion for running, says Flora, 31, was passed on to her and older brothers Henry, 34 and Will, 33.

Flora, a teacher who lives with husband David, 28, will be running this April for Prostate Cancer UK in honour of Bill, continuing his mission to raise awareness of the disease. So she is regularly out on training runs near her home in rural Suffolk.

"I used to go out for runs with Dad when I was a teenager and I think about him a lot while I'm running," she says.

Bill Turnbull (left), pictured with daughter Flora Turnbull (right), died last year (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)
Flora will be running the London Marathon in his memory (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)

"It's such a shock when someone dies, even if you're expecting it. We all lead really busy lives and I've found that when you lose someone it's nice to have that time where you're thinking of them in a reflective way and not always in a sad way. It gives me a sense that I'm doing this for him."

Bill was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in November 2017, going public in March the following year. He described that time as the "worst days of my life".

"Dad had been getting aches and pains for a while," remembers Flora. "Eventually my brother asked him to go to the GP."

After being referred, Bill was told the cancer had already spread to his bones in his legs, hips, pelvis and ribs. He went on to speak openly about his illness, encouraging men to tell their doctor about any concerns.

"Those first few years, I tried to see it more as a chronic illness rather than a terminal one. We didn't know he was only going to have five years. The doctors said he had between three and 10 and Dad was such an optimist I think he thought, 'I can do 10 years'."

Flora said she tries to find time to think of her late dad in a 'reflective way' (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)

Bill was cared for by wife Sarah McCombie.

"My mum was amazing, she and Dad had an incredible relationship.

"Saying, 'I have cancer' was really difficult for Dad. He was so brave but I do think he found it very difficult to face that. The psychological effect of cancer is huge – the focus is on getting better physically but my goodness, it really affects people mentally. Losing somebody makes you think about death in a different way. It made me realise we definitely don't think or talk about death enough."

Bill died on August 31, aged 66, weeks after he'd felt well enough to return to presenting his show on Classic FM.

"I remember Mum and Dad talking about how exciting it was for him to go back, and then he did deteriorate very quickly.

"It's so strange because although you cognitively understand that person is ill, the emotional impact of thinking, 'Gosh, this is really it,' was a big shock.

"We were lucky enough to have hospice care at home. The nurses were amazing, they treated him with such dignity which is so important. It takes a very special person to do what they do.

She will run the London Marathon for Prostate Cancer UK (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)
She will continue her dad's mission of raising awareness of prostate cancer (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)

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"In many ways it was an amazing time because the family was together, my brother was over from Australia. Before Dad really deteriorated he was in his room, in bed, and we laid a little table up there and had supper with him at the table every night.

"He couldn't talk a lot towards the end, but we were all with him. To share that special time was something we're so grateful for."

Christmas and new year, Flora says, were "a reality check".

"Moving into a new year without Dad was strange and we're all finding ways of remembering him. His birthday falls tomorrow on Burns Night, which he absolutely loved. He'd perform the full Burns address to the haggis, go over the top with the full Scottish accent.

"He shared a flat with Gordon Brown at Edinburgh University and was friendly with Robbie Coltrane, so he could do the accent!"

Flora's also grateful for memories of her wedding day, held in 2020 "bang between lockdowns". Plans for a big wedding were dropped in favour of a small affair with just family, the best man and two bridesmaids at the same church where Bill's funeral and burial took place two years later.

Flora is grateful for the memories she has of her dad, including from her wedding in 2020 (Daily Mirror / PR Handout)

"We just wanted to get married, and do it while Dad was well. It was the last year he was properly himself. He'd recently had chemo and although it was horrible, it bought him a year or two of feeling relatively OK. Dad was at his best and gave a brilliant father of the bride speech. He was so proud."

Following Bill's death, Prostate Cancer UK reported a huge spike in people seeking information about the disease – 61,000 completed the charity's Risk Checker page, up 2,500%.There were 11,000 more visitors than usual to its homepage and its specialist nurses saw a 132% increase in calls.

Flora hopes men will continue to be vigilant about symptoms, saying that of all the tributes, those from people who had sought treatment because of Bill's openness were particularly special.

"After the shock and sadness of losing someone, of going through that experience with them as they die, it was so lovely to hear how he'd affected people's lives.

"Especially people who said, 'I heard your dad talking about it, I got checked and got this sorted before it became something that could have killed me as well'.

"Dad was such a modest person but I think he would have been so moved by that, to know the impact that he had."

To support Flora's fundraising appeal, click here.

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