Deborah James told children life won’t always go to plan and urged them to marry for love in last letter to family

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BEFORE her tragic death in June, Dame Deborah James wrote down all she had learned about staying positive in the face of adversity.

The inspirational Sun columnist and podcaster was determined to share her life lessons in new book How To Live When You Could Be Dead.

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Dame Debs wrote down all she had learned about staying positive in the face of adversity before she tragically passed away in JuneCredit: bowelbabe/Instagram
Prince William gave the inspirational campaigner her Damehood in May

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Prince William gave the inspirational campaigner her Damehood in MayCredit: Graham Prentice

Here, in an exclusive extract, Emily Fairbairn shares Deborah’s beautiful final letter to husband Sebastien, son Hugo, 14, and 12-year-old daughter Eloise.


“I AM currently sitting here next to the love of my life, Sebastien.

I never quite knew if you could really have a love of your life, but I now know what the very core of unquestioned love is between two people.

I have always loved my husband.

I fancied him from when I first met him, and I knew I would marry him after our third date.

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It was clear to me that, while he wasn’t perfect, there was something about him that was right for me.

He respected me, and he never let me walk all over him or wrap him around my little finger.

He has always been, and always will be, the one person who can come and make everything better at 3am. He makes me feel safe.

If I look across any room 18 years later, I still find him the most attractive man there.

He had to mellow like a fine wine, because he has a stubborn side, which makes the three-year-old in me want to throw all my toys out of the pram.

He loves a feisty debate and loves to joke — sometimes I just prefer a movie and a glass of wine.

When I look back at our relationship and marriage, I realise that it didn’t just happen without work.

The complexities of daily life sometimes got in the way.

It’s easy to forget that the person you love is still there in front of you when things are clouded by the annoyance of childcare logistics, money pressures and living like ships in the night.

I wish I had learned at a young age that making time for your marriage to work should be as much a part of your timetable as going to the gym or cleaning your teeth.

It’s important that you don’t allow the big arguments to build up, when all you really want is to forget about everything and cuddle the one person who you love.

As cancer brings my life to an end, I feel this cruel realisation that I’m not fully able to be myself with the one person I have adored and needed in my life more than anyone else.

Learn to balance living in the now and being present in the moment with your plans for the future (although this may be the hardest lesson of all).

Dame Deborah James

I feel robbed of the freedom of a body without pain to kiss with, the freedom for us to make whimsical plans for our future and retirement together.

Our goals and dreams have had to be adjusted week by week and day by day, depending on my cancer.

My husband has always been my rock. He holds me up when I can’t hold myself and wipes away my tears.

And yet I’ve wondered every day how it must have felt for him when the fairytale marriage he signed up for became a daily struggle to survive and fight for an extra moment of living.

I’ve wondered how he’s felt knowing he is about to become a widower.

I’ve wondered how he’ll remember me, and I’ve wondered if he will be OK.

To Hugo and Eloise, I can’t even speak about you without crying. You are my world.

I’ve learned that there are many ways to parent — nothing is right or wrong as long as there is love.

We are given 86,400 seconds every day, and we each choose how to use them.

Dame Deborah James

I’ve also learned that children are more resilient than we think.

There are mental snapshots of being a parent that will never leave you.

But the beautifully etched memories that will come to you in your death are not necessarily the ones you might expect.

One of my first is of Hugo when he was four days old.

He was lying next to me in our double bed in our flat, and he was looking for my breast to feed on — he was yellow and had a big conehead.

I remember looking at this little 6lb ball cradled against my tummy and thinking that it was only at this point that I had begun to understand what love was.

I now look at that same 14-year-old boy, who still takes the time to cuddle up next to me on the sofa, and I would give anything to continue being able to protect him in the way I did when he was just four days old.

I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, I believe in rebellious hope and I believe my children will be OK when I die.

Don’t leave the world and all it has to offer until retirement — experience it now.

Dame Deborah James

Because if I tell them they won’t be, then they might not be.

I want them to realise that life does not always go according to plan.

You can make plans, and you can have goals, but you have to be prepared for the fact that sometimes life is more interesting when you go off-piste — so be brave.

Take a chance and back yourself.

Remember to be your number one cheerleader.

Don’t leave the world and all it has to offer until retirement — experience it now.

Learn to balance living in the now and being present in the moment with your plans for the future (although this may be the hardest lesson of all).

Marry only for love.

Take a chance and back yourself. Remember to be your number one cheerleader.

Buy a dog — I bought Winston at one of the lowest points in my life and he has made me so happy. Nature and animals make me happy.

It is only towards the end of my life that I have really started to appreciate nature.

Take time out. Relaxing isn’t an indulgence — it’s a form of refilling ourselves. None of us can drink from empty cups.

Each day, do things that make you happy — build them into your life and never criticise others for the things that make them happy.

Every day we wake not knowing if we will see the full 24 hours of the day, so as the sun comes up on a new day, we should feel blessed.

We are given 86,400 seconds every day, and we each choose how to use them.

It is only as they begin to slip away from us that we understand the value of each and every one of those seconds.

So, my greatest advice to you is that you can do whatever you want with those seconds. You can use them however you want.

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The choice is yours, but the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Do you believe in yours?”

  • EXTRACTED from How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), out on August 18, 2022 © Deborah James.
  • £3 from each UK sale will be paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK.
  • Cancer Research UK is a charity registered in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666).
  • Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes.

EXTRACTED from How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), out on August 18, 2022 © Deborah James. £3 from each UK sale will be paid to the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK is a charity registered in England and Wales (1089464) and Scotland (SC041666). Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating our healthcare heroes.

Debs, pictured with husband Sebastien, said: 'I fancied him from when I first met him, and I knew I would marry him after our third date'

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Debs, pictured with husband Sebastien, said: ‘I fancied him from when I first met him, and I knew I would marry him after our third date’Credit: Instagram
Debs with kids Eloise and Hugo

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Debs with kids Eloise and HugoCredit: Instagram
How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), is out on August 18, 2022

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How To Live When You Could Be Dead, by Deborah James (Vermillion, £14.99), is out on August 18, 2022
Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes

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Dame Debs launched this year’s Who Cares Wins awards and was a celebrity judge for The Sun’s 2021 ceremony celebrating healthcare heroes

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