Heather James, mother of late cancer campaigner Deborah James, paid a sweet tribute to her daughter as she danced with Strictly Come Dancing judge Anton Du Beke.
Gymnastics coach Heather, 64, posted a video on Instagram in which she took an exclusive lesson in latin and ballroom with Du Beke, 56, while wearing a white dress imprinted with red poppies from Deborah’s InTheStyle collection, which was designed in the last weeks of her life.
Writing about the special lesson as Anton returned to TV screens as a judge on the new series of Strictly, Heather wrote: ‘A few weeks ago I was overwhelmed to be able to dance with Anton Du Beke. This brought back memories of my youth as dancing was my love.
Heather James, known as the ‘Bowel Gran’, posted a video on Instagram of herself dancing with Strictly Come Dancing judge Anton Du Beke
The dress worn by Heather was from Dame Deborah James’s InTheStyle collection which was white and imprinted with red poppies
‘I had a wonderful time and Anton was so kind and encouraging. Obviously my enjoyment was mixed with sadness knowing how much Deborah loved Strictly and particularly Anton and would have adored to be with us dancing.
The dress I’m wearing is the Tea Dance dress from Deborah’s In The Style Collection so felt she would be with us as we danced. Thank you Anton for giving up your time and to the Rosewood Hotel for hosting us.’
Dame Deborah James passed away at the age of 40 on 28 June 2022, five years after being diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer.
After her diagnosis the former headteacher became a co-host of the BBC’s You, Me and The Big C podcast, and used her social media platforms to educate people about the symptoms of bowel cancer under her nickname, The Bowel Babe.
Heather James took an exclusive dance lesson with Anton, which she posted on Instagram just as the new series returned
Heather James (pictured with her daughter Deborah) said she wanted to wear the dress to carry her daughter with her during the dance lesson as she was a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing
In May this year, when the broadcaster revealed she was having palliative care, she raised more than £7 million for Cancer Research UK through The Bowelbabe fund. She also successfully campaigned to have the symptoms of bowel cancer printed on toilet roll packaging among certain retailers.
One of Deborah’s many achievements in her final months was designing a collection with online clothing retailer InTheStyle. One of the most popular items from the collection was the ‘rebellious hope’ t-shirts, recognising the mother’s determination to maintain hope throughout her journey with cancer.
Just days after their release, the t-shirts alone raised a staggering £400,000 for Cancer Research UK.
As she announced her clothing range in an Instagram post, Dame Deborah posted photos of herself in other items from the range, including a dress in the poppy print worn by her mother Heather during her dance lesson.
Admiring Heather’s sweet tribute to her late daughter, people commented on the video to send their good wishes.
Lauren Mahon, who hosted You, Me and The Big C with Dame Deborah, wrote: ‘Go on gal!
Jazz singer Natalie Rushdie wrote: ‘Oh Deborah would have adored this!’
Heather James (centre) posted the photo of herself with the family and podcast cohosts at the ceremony at the Guildhall in London. L-R: Alistair, Sarah, Lauren Mahon, Heather, Benjamin, Steve Bland
The James family (L-R: Alistair, Heather, Sarah, Benjamin) attended the Guildhall to collect the degree on Deborah’s behalf on a ‘bittersweet’ day
Heather posted a photo of Deborah’s father Alistair shaking hands as he accepted the posthumous honorary degree for the campaigner
A further well-wisher wrote: ‘You look stunning in the dress! Your Debs was defo with you in spirit, dancing along with y’all.’
Heather’s sweet tribute to her daughter comes two weeks after she and the family accepted an honorary degree on Dame Deborah’s behalf from the Institute of Cancer Research.
They were accompanied by Dame Deborah’s You, Me & The Big C co-hosts, Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, who also received degrees for their outstanding contribution to raising awareness of living with cancer.
Posting photos of the graduation ceremony on Instagram, Heather wrote: ‘Today was a bitter sweet day. Deborah and her colleagues Lauren and Steve from You, Me & The Big C were awarded honorary degrees by The Institute of Cancer Research for their outstanding contributions to raising awareness of living with cancer and the importance of cancer research.
‘We were proud to accept the award on Deborah’s behalf in the most beautiful setting of the Guild Hall City of London.’
Heather was accompanied by Deborah’s father Alistair, her brother Benjamin and her sister Sarah in the grand building as they picked up the degree.
On her Instagram story Heather posted a clip of Alistair addressing the crowd as he accepted the degree on Dame Deborah’s behalf.
He said: ‘When Deborah was invited to accept today’s degree, she was honoured and proud. But this was mixed with a sense of sadness as she realised it was one of the first entries in her diary that she was unlikely to fulfil.
‘However in recognition of what this award meant to her, Deborah was clear in her wishes it was her family who should be here today on her behalf and to give thanks to the Institute and its staff for its work.’