True love: Lynda and Michael arm-in-arm in the last pictures of them together
Wrapped in a comforting embrace from the love of her life, brave Lynda Bellingham slowly, yet peacefully, slipped away as the cancer which she had battled with “dignity and courage” claimed her life.
Her husband Michael Pattemore paid a heart-felt tribute to the much-loved actress, who died in hospital on Sunday night, aged 66.
Michael, 59, said: “I can tell you now that the words on her gravestone will be, ‘The curtain went up on May 31 1948 – and the final curtain went down on October 19 2014’.
“She started her career as an actress and never thought of herself as a celebrity. She has always been an actress.”
He went on to explain that the advanced stage of Lynda’s horrible illness meant she was not able to die at home, as she had so dearly wished.
“She was in too much pain,” he sighed. “They didn’t have it under control enough for me to be able to look after her.”
Michael rang around Lynda’s closest friends on Sunday afternoon to warn them that her health had taken a turn for the worse.
But just hours later she passed away having finally succumbed to colon cancer, which had spread to her lungs and liver.
Among those friends to have received the grim call was actor Christopher Biggins, 65. “Michael rang me at 4.30 in the afternoon,” he explained. “He said, ‘I’ve got some bad news, it’s going to be 48 hours.’
Lynda and Michael leaving after her last appearance on ITV
“I told him I’d come tomorrow on my way home. Then he rang back two, three hours later to say that she had gone. It’s a blessing in a way, we didn’t want her to suffer any more.”
Yesterday Lynda’s agent released a statement confirming her death.
Sue Latimer said: “Lynda died peacefully in her husband’s arms yesterday evening at a London hospital. Her family, to whom she was devoted, would like to thank the nurses and staff for their tremendous care and support.
“As an actor, writer and presenter, Lynda was a consummate professional to the very end. Those of us privileged to have known her personally will miss the entertaining, life-enhancing, true and honest friend that blessed our lives.”
The doctor who looked after Lynda during her final days said she remained “cheerful, chirpy and smiling” until the end.
Justin Stebbing, professor of cancer medicine and oncology, at Imperial College London, said: “Lynda was a hugely brave, inspirational woman and she will be very missed.
“Throughout her illness she handled it with tremendous dignity and courage. She also emphasised that cancer care is not just about killing the cancer and giving chemotherapy. It’s about
treating the whole patient, all of their wishes, psychological, spiritual, emotional, as well as the physical.”
Asked how Lynda was feeling during her final days, he told Channel 5 news: “She was always very cheerful and chirpy and always had a smile on her face. A lot of the staff and the nurses are all very sad today.”
Lynda, who was best-known for her role in the Oxo gravy ads, was diagnosed with colon cancer last July. But she decided to end her treatment in August to limit the amount of suffering her family would witness.
She had hoped to see one last Christmas with Michael and her two boys, Michael and Robbie Peluso.
Speaking about ending her treatment, she explained at the time: “The decision to give up chemo was a huge relief because I took back some control of myself. It’s there on the table if I want it. I don’t want the boys or my husband to see me die a little sad old lady.”
Yesterday her co-stars on Loose Women paid a tearful tribute to Lynda on the ITV show – just days after she gave them what turned out to be her final interview, which will be aired tomorrow.
Jane McDonald, who appeared on the panel show with her, also praised Michael. She told how he had “been unbelievable throughout this whole experience, he has been a rock”.
Speaking about her former co-star, she added: “She would be mortified if we were all sad and weeping and wailing because Lynda was the fun, fabulous, amazing person.”
Her Loose Women co-host Nadia Sawalha, who also appeared with her in the long-running Oxo adverts, said she was “heartbroken” Lynda died before Christmas. She said: “We’re just all heartbroken because her last wish was that she would spend this Christmas with her family.
“Anyone who knew Lynda, knew that she was this absolute live wire. She would come into a room and light the place up. Everybody loved her.”
Kaye Adams, who also worked on the special farewell episode of Loose Women, said Lynda was “an incredibly courageous person”.
She said: “She just had such an energy and a dynamism and you were just always pleased to see her and always felt she was pleased to see you, which is a fabulous thing to be able to do.” Christopher Timothy, her co-star from All Creatures Great And Small, said: “She was a life-force. She was funny, she was loyal, she was talented. She was a great mum, she was a real friend and on-set she was ‘one of the boys’ really.
“She was naughty and funny. We’ve all been expecting it but it’s so unjust that she didn’t make her last Christmas as was her intention.”
Radio 2 breakfast show host Chris Evans said: “Lynda Bellingham – an absolute mensch of the highest order. Enjoyed her company on several occasions. Outstanding spirit and company.”
The actress planned her own funeral, which will take place in Somerset, as well as a big bash in London to celebrate her life.
Lynda wrote in her book There’s Something I’ve Been Dying to Tell You: “Does one choose a funeral with hymns and prayers that suit only the deceased? Surely part of the mourning process is for the loved ones left behind? Should they not be allowed some say? There will be a service in Somerset and a knees-up in London. So if you are passing, do drop in for a quick boogie.”
Meanwhile, fans have launched a campaign to get Lynda’s famous gravy advert re-screened this Christmas. A Facebook page has been set up and attracted more than 9,300 followers within a matter of hours.
Lynda’s on-screen daughter in the adverts described her as “a mum figure to everybody”.
Alison Levell, 39, said: “She was exactly as she appeared to people on TV. She was always warm, generous, friendly and down to earth. She looked after me as a young kid and would always have us in fits of laughter. It would never feel like work.
“You would never forget her if you met her. She was so vibrant and genuine. Lynda was a mum figure to everybody, part of the family. I’m not surprised so many people have been touched by this.”