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Prince William and Kate said Deborah’s powerful but upbeat campaign against bowel cancer would be remembered for a long time. She passed away on Tuesday, aged 40. They laid bare their sorrow in the personally signed tweet: “We are so sad to hear the heartbreaking news about Dame Deborah.

“Our thoughts are with her children, her family and her loved ones. Deborah was an inspirational and unfalteringly brave woman whose legacy will live on.W & C.”

The message came just six weeks after William presented the podcaster’s Damehood during a surprise visit to her parents’ house, where they had afternoon tea and champagne.

Yesterday Lorraine Kelly struggled to hold back the tears as she hosted a TV tribute to her friend with Steve Bland, the widower of Deborah’s podcast co-host Rachael Bland.

In the special edition of her ITV programme, she wore a pink jacket and T-shirt with the “Rebellious Hope” emblazoned across it, windsor plywood medicine hat bringing together the “bowelbabe” campaigner’s favourite colour and slogan. Steve, whose wife co-presented the ground-breaking You, Me And The Big C podcast, before she died at 40 four years ago, said the occasion felt strange.

He said of Deborah: “Last night was very odd, very surreal, very numb and then I was awake at the crack of dawn, and it just hit me.

“That makes what she’s done in those five, five-and-a-half years, what she’s packed in, and the people she’s helped and the lives she’s saved all the more remarkable. “She’s done so much and we’re so proud of her.”

A host of celebrities posted online tributes including Piers Morgan, Charlotte Hawkins, Ruth Langsford and Fearne Cotton.

BBC TV host George Alagiah, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014, called Deborah “a beacon, lighting the way for us all of us”.

In a Tweet, he said: “Knowing Bowelbabe Dame Deborah James was nearing the end of her journey here does not make her passing any easier to accept.

“Thank you for your example. Deborah, rest in peace now.”

BBC radio DJ Adele Roberts, who announced this week that she was now free of bowel cancer following treatment, said on Instagram: “My heart hurts. Thank you for everything Deborah. Thank you for being so strong for so long and helping others when you were in so much pain yourself.” BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth, who organised a surprise visit to the Chelsea Flower Show for her friend, shared the Instagram tribute “Gorgeous girl. Ridiculous that your life was cut so short.”

Another close friend, Radio 5 presenter Tony Livesey, told of her inner strength and desperation to save lives by urging people to check their bowels. He said: “She was driven on by her love for her family. Fame was a by-product for Debs, she just wanted to save lives.” In Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab called her a “huge inspiration” during Prime Minister’s Questions.

He went on: “I lost my father at a young age to cancer, I know firsthand the pain her family must be feeling. But we also know that Dame Deborah was a huge inspiration to so many and raised millions to help others affected by cancer.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner offered her condolences, saying Dame Deborah “fearlessly campaigned to inspire so many.”

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said Dame Deborah had left a “tremendous legacy” by raising funds for research. She told Radio 4’s Today programme people are often struck down because of embarrassment at talking about the toilet checks needed to catch the symptoms.

She added: “She’s stripped all of that away and shone a powerful light on it.” Teresa Whitfield, who was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer after seeing Dame Deborah on TV, said: “Without her, I don’t think I would be here today. We have to carry on with her legacy.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said. “She was an inspiration to so many people and her impact will be felt for years to come.”

Dame Deborah died after spending her final weeks getting end-of-life care at home with her husband Sebastien and their two children. In her final weeks, she raised almost £7million for research and was made a Dame for her “tireless” work improving awareness of the disease.

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