Dame Barbara Windsor’s widower Scott Mitchell traces her struggle with dementia back to a black cab ride gone wrong.
He recalls that, when he and Windsor were travelling through London by black cab in 2002, the driver was star-struck by the EastEnders legend. Attempting to dodge a van, he braked too late and sent Babs “headfirst into the partition.”
“I always believed that was the very start of Barbara’s ill health,” he said. “She was never quite the same.” Windsor died aged 83 in 2020.
Mitchell, 59, married Windsor in 2000 and cared for her through much of her illness. He recalled the black cab story last night to an audience at the Wimbledon BookFest. The occasion was a “celebration” of Windsor’s life which he co-hosted with David Walliams.
Mitchell spoke about Windsor’s early illness. “The main symptoms were forgetfulness, it started getting more so, I’d find objects in the wrong place, the TV control in the fridge or in the sink, repetitive and confused conversation, it would come and go… but within this time after the diagnosis she went back to Eastenders a couple of times.”
Reactions to the news were mixed. Mitchell said: “I remember after we went public her friend Christopher Biggins, who she’d known forever and a day, they had this have-a-go-at-eachother relationship. She always retained that little bit of humour even on days when it wasn’t good. I remember one day we were going out for dinner. She was being made up by her makeup artists. Biggins walked in and we’d just gone public with it and he went: “Hel-lo-oo Barrr-bara, my-yy name is Chris-to-pher.” Without moving she went: “f*** off Biggins!”
“David Baddiel was the one who told me, we bumped into him at a party in 2019, and his father, who he’d spoken about very publicly had Alzheimer’s as well, and David said to me ‘don’t worry, Scott. Whatever happens, there will always be a little part of her in there,’ and he was right, he was right until the very end.
“When we did go public, the charities were referring to it as “the Barbara Windsor effect”, because what happened was all those people who were living with it who didn’t want to talk to their families about it suddenly, they were saying “you know Barbara, Barbara Windsor, she’s got that thing I’ve got, and she talks about it” and it kind of made it ok.
“There was this incredible surge of awareness to do with dementia, the word dementia and Alzheimer’s was written in the press in an unprecedented way after Barbara went public.”
Mitchell had kind words for former prime minister Boris Johnson, who met with him and Windsor to discuss dementia and Alzheimer’s care. Johnson launched the Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, a research funding commitment.
“We were talking to him about the lack of social care, the problems of social care and the underfunding of it, and they’d already known each other when he was mayor. Barbara was his street party ambassador.
“He had this meeting with us that was fantastic, I know a lot of people don’t want really to talk about the good things Boris Johnson has done. But I have to say one thing: he has put a reform plan in place, he is the first prime minister out of 14 over the last 70 years to have actually done something about social care funding where there will be a cap on it, where people won’t have to be selling their houses.”