AT the end of each day Bill Turnbull leaves his home and goes to a secluded place where he launches an explicit rant at his prostate cancer.
It is part of the previously placid BBC Breakfast presenter’s dogged refusal to give in to the disease — even though it is incurable.
Since his devastating diagnosis two years ago, cameras have followed the former news anchor’s moving journey for documentary Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive.
The defiant 63-year-old said: “I’m not dying yet, I just don’t feel that way. I understand that I may succumb to the disease eventually and that’s a very real possibility, a probability. But not for some time.
“So every day I go down the bottom of my garden, usually at night-time, and I shout at my cancer and tell it to get stuffed. I use much stronger language.
“I also say, ‘Not today. In a couple of weeks time I might not feel so good. But right now you’re not having me’.
“You can stay on top of it or it can get on top of you — and that’s not a good place to be.
“I believe that how much time you have left depends on you, on the way you view it.”
Bill does not know how long he’s got. His cancer has spread to his bones.
He has had nine rounds of chemo therapy and is having injections of a tumour-busting radioactive substance, Radium 223.
Yet his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) — a marker for the cancer — is growing.
So he was up for trying almost anything, ranging from extreme diets to smoking cannabis, a medicinal treatment still illegal in the UK.
In one of the documentary’s many heart-warming moments Bill is seen getting high and having a fit of the giggles.
He said: “I felt embarrassed about it. But if it helps other people in my situation then it’s worth doing.
“Of course, I’ve tried it before. I was a teenager in the Seventies, most of my generation did.
“I remember when I was younger getting the giggles. But I haven’t been running out to buy a bag on a street corner.”
Bill, who came sixth on the third series of Strictly Come Dancing with pro dancer Karen Hardy, didn’t want to continue using the drug because he wasn’t sure how it benefited him.
He added: “If it got to a stage where I thought all else had failed then I’d probably go for it in a more concentrated way.
“It’s such a dark area, unlit area, that needs a lot more examination. We need to have a proper conversation in this country about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, because it is legal for medicinal purposes in more than 20 countries — intelligent, advanced countries — and we should be one of them.
“We have something which has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and it’s only been illegal for about 100 years.
“I’m not talking about recreational use, simply for medicinal reasons.”
The Classic FM presenter admits he occasionally selects a piece of music he would like to be played at his funeral, but he refuses to contemplate what is to come.
Bill, who has been married to wife Sarah for 31 years and has grown-up sons Henry and Will, and daughter Flora.
He says he is “held aloft by good will and love” from friends and family, so would never consider a Dignitas clinc.
He said: “I don’t think my family would want me to do that. I owe it to them, they’ve supported me all this way. Why would I just chuck it in and say, ‘Sorry chaps’.
Quality of life
“I suppose you think, ‘What if I became an intolerable burden and there was no quality of life and it was stretching the family’s resources?’ Then you might think about it, but it is not on the horizon.”
Bill, who says he went to a “very dark place” after his initial cancer diagnosis in November 2017, does understand how someone could want to end it all.
He said: “There is a tendency when you have an illness like cancer, which could be terminal, though it doesn’t have to be, where you might think, ‘Oh what’s the point?
“And if I was on my own I might think, ‘Why put yourself through all this trouble and pain and worry?’ But if you have a family it’s not an option.”
Instead Bill tries to stay positive, throwing himself into his work as a DJ and commentating on his beloved footie team Wycombe Wanderers.
He quit BBC Breakfast in 2016 after 15 years sharing a sofa with the likes of Louise Minchin and Sian Williams, who had a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, and Susanna Reid, now a co-host on ITV’s GMB with Piers Morgan.
Bill said: “Maybe I could biff Piers for the day and they’d let me in. There’s an idea, and my attitude is that anything is possible.
“I could never go back and do it full time. It looks easy but it takes a lot out of you. But if they were to send me an invitation, who knows.”
Bill has adopted a “you never know” attitude which extends to the hope that a new treatment could come along to help him.
Though he can often spend long periods crying due to his hormone treatments, having cancer has also given him a new zest for life.
He explained: “You get a different perspective to where you are with the disease and what it means for your life.
“You have important stages in your life. For me it was when I got married and then had children. This is another big chapter. I’m saying, ‘Right, I have it and I’m going to see where it takes me’.
“But once you get diagnosed with an incurable disease you don’t waste another day. You don’t wake up and think, ‘Oh God not another day!’ You think, ‘Great, this is another day and I’m going to live it’.”
- Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive is on Channel 4 next Thursday at 10pm
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