Ex-Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell dies after lung cancer diagnosis 

Tributes have poured in for former Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell, who has died aged 55 following a three-year-battle against stage four lung cancer. 

Her colleagues led the outpouring of grief with actress Sally Ann Matthews saying the ‘world has lost a little sparkle’ after her death.  

The ex-soap actress who played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, died in September surrounded by family, her manager revealed today.

Matthews was among the first to pay tribute and wrote: ‘So sorry to hear that the beautiful soul, Leah Bracknell, has lost her battle with cancer. The world has lost a little sparkle x.’

Former Coronation Street star Sarah Lancashire said: ‘Such sad news – the brilliant Leah Bracknell has passed away aged 55 after a three year cancer battle.

‘Thoughts go out to her family and friends.’

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Tragic: Former Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell has died three years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

Tragic: Former Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell has died three years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

Tragic: Former Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell has died three years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

Director Duncan Foster said: ‘I’m truly sad to hear that we have lost Leah Bracknell.

‘She was one of the first actresses I ever worked with. Very talented and also just a very special woman. So sad. RIP Leah. X.’

John Whiston, ITV’s managing director of continuing drama and head of ITV in the North, said: ‘Everyone on Emmerdale is very sad to hear of the death of Leah Bracknell.

‘Leah was a hugely popular member of the Emmerdale cast for over 16 years.

‘During that time she featured in some of the show’s most high profile and explosive plots and always delivered a pitch perfect performance.

‘Zoe Tate was one of soap’s first lesbian characters and Leah made sure the character was both exciting and credible.

‘Leah herself was a very generous and caring colleague, much loved by cast and crew alike.’

Life On Mars actor Dean Andrews said Bracknell was ‘a wonderful actress’ who was ‘taken far too young’.

Emmerdale’s Lisa Riley said on Instagram: ‘GOD BLESS YOU LEAH a true angel to work with.

Bracknell wed her long-term partner Jez Hughes in a quiet ceremony as she continued to battle cancer

Bracknell wed her long-term partner Jez Hughes in a quiet ceremony as she continued to battle cancer

Bracknell wed her long-term partner Jez Hughes in a quiet ceremony as she continued to battle cancer

Bracknell discussing her illness on daytime TV

Bracknell discussing her illness on daytime TV

The actress, 55, dubbed herself a 'cancer rebel' when she previously discussed her time at Trew Fields, the UK’s first cancer awareness festival

The actress, 55, dubbed herself a 'cancer rebel' when she previously discussed her time at Trew Fields, the UK’s first cancer awareness festival

Tragic: Bracknell, who also had roles in A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks, was diagnosed in September 2016 after rapid weight gain around her abdomen and breathlessness prompted her to seek medical help 

‘You lost your battle far far to young. R.I.P. heaven gains an angel of the truest form.’

Coronation Street’s Sally Dynevor said: ‘So sorry to hear Leah Bracknell passed away. Such a beautiful person and an inspiration to many, so shocked, too young.’

Bracknell previously described how she had an ‘attitude of gratitude’ during her cancer battle.  

She was often vocal about her cancer treatment, sharing her experiences in a blog and through interviews.

In the months leading up to her death she wrote ‘The Cancer Rebel’s Manifesto for Life’ to ‘reject the notion of being a victim’.

In it, she said: ‘I rebel against the fear of cancer, against pity from others and myself, against being defined by cancer, and against being bullied by cancer.’

And in her final interview in August she said that she wouldn’t ‘let herself live in fear’ adding that she was ‘just going to have a good life.’

It comes as tributes pour in from across the industry as her friends and former co-stars, including Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley, share their condolences.  

The actress, 55, who played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales ITV series for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, died in September surrounded by family, her managed has said (character: Zoe Tate)

The actress, 55, who played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales ITV series for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, died in September surrounded by family, her managed has said (character: Zoe Tate)

The actress, 55, who played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales ITV series for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, died in September surrounded by family, her managed has said (character: Zoe Tate) 

Tributes have begun to pour in from across the industry as her friends and former co-stars, including Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley, shared their condolences.

Tributes have begun to pour in from across the industry as her friends and former co-stars, including Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley, shared their condolences.

Tributes have begun to pour in from across the industry as her friends and former co-stars, including Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley, shared their condolences. 

Ms Riley, who played Mandy Dingle in Emmerdale between 1995 and 2001, and again in 2019, said: ‘God bless you Leah. A true angel to work with. You lost your battle far, far too young. RIP. Heaven gains an angel of the truest form.’ 

While Ms Matthews, who played Jenny Bradley in Coronation Street from 1986 to 1991, and Sandra Briggs in Emmerdale in 2005, said: ‘So sorry  to hear that the beautiful soul, Leah Bracknell, has lost her battle with cancer. The world has lost a little sparkle.’ 

Former Coronation Street star Sarah Lancashire said: ‘Such sad news – the brilliant Leah Bracknell has passed away aged 55 after a three year cancer battle. Thoughts go out to her family and friends.’

Director Duncan Foster said: ‘I’m truly sad to hear that we have lost Leah Bracknell.

‘She was one of the first actresses I ever worked with. Very talented and also just a very special woman. So sad. RIP Leah. X.’

Bracknell, who also had roles in A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks, was diagnosed in September 2016 after rapid weight gain around her abdomen and breathlessness prompted her to seek medical help. 

After she was diagnosed, fans helped her raise more than £50,000 to undergo groundbreaking treatment in Germany, which despite she later revealed had failed. 

While undergoing gruelling treatment, Bracknell married her long-term partner Jez Hughes in a quiet ceremony at a grade II listed Georgian building in Horsham, West Sussex. 

She appeared in public numerous times over the past three years, discussing living with cancer and talking openly about her numerous methods to ease her symptoms.

Bracknell also wrote about her experiences in a poignant blog titled: Something Beginning With C. 

During her final interview in August, she told the Mirror: ‘I don’t need to go and fulfil a bucket list, that’s not my style, I just want to do the things I want to do while I am healthy and strong.

‘I won’t let myself live in fear, I’m just going to live a good life.’ 

Tributes have begun to pour in from her co-stars Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley

Tributes have begun to pour in from her co-stars Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley

Tributes have begun to pour in from her co-stars Sally Ann Matthews and Lisa Riley

Writer Andrew Walsh also paid tribute to Ms Bracknell today, saying she was 'always polite, friendly and positive'

Writer Andrew Walsh also paid tribute to Ms Bracknell today, saying she was 'always polite, friendly and positive'

Writer Andrew Walsh also paid tribute to Ms Bracknell today, saying she was ‘always polite, friendly and positive’ 

Leah Bracknell is pictured on Lorraine in December 2017. During an appearance on the show last year she explained how she likes to hold onto an 'attitude of gratitude' with her at all times, even if she has to 'fake it'

Leah Bracknell is pictured on Lorraine in December 2017. During an appearance on the show last year she explained how she likes to hold onto an 'attitude of gratitude' with her at all times, even if she has to 'fake it'

Leah Bracknell is pictured on Lorraine in December 2017. During an appearance on the show last year she explained how she likes to hold onto an ‘attitude of gratitude’ with her at all times, even if she has to ‘fake it’

Bracknell wanted to distance herself from being seen as a victim, or someone who is battling cancer, and so styled herself as a ‘cancer rebel’. 

‘A lot of language is very negative – victim, sufferer, cancer-stricken. But that was not how I would describe myself,’ she added.

Bracknell also wrote a moving ‘cancer manifesto’ in the months before her passing.

After being inspired by April’s emergency climate protests, the star – who has already defied odds by living longer that she was expected to – wrote ‘The Cancer Rebel’s Manifesto for Life’ to ‘reject the notion of being a victim.’ 

Points in her manifesto, which were detailed in her blog, included: ‘I embrace the strength of my spirit and every opportunity that cancer gives me to learn, to grow, to expand.

‘I embrace the path on which I find myself, embrace gratitude and above all else I embrace life

‘For I am a cancer rebel with a fierce heart, an independent mind, a warrior spirit, and an ocean of desire to keep on keeping on and making a difference and making a noise as long as there is sweet breath in my body.  

‘To life. Long and sweet may it be for us all,’ she revealed.  

Leah Bracknell as Zoe Tate in Emmerdale

Leah Bracknell as Zoe Tate in Emmerdale

Leah Bracknell as Zoe Tate in Emmerdale

In October of last year, Leah revealed she lived 14 months longer than was expected when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2016

In October of last year, Leah revealed she lived 14 months longer than was expected when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2016

In October of last year, Leah revealed she lived 14 months longer than was expected when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2016

A statement from Bracknell's manager said: 'It is with the deepest sadness that Leah Bracknell's family confirm that Leah passed away in September, three years after her diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer

A statement from Bracknell's manager said: 'It is with the deepest sadness that Leah Bracknell's family confirm that Leah passed away in September, three years after her diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer

A statement from Bracknell’s manager said: ‘It is with the deepest sadness that Leah Bracknell’s family confirm that Leah passed away in September, three years after her diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer 

Hundreds have paid tribute to the actress on Twitter (above and below), with many describing how inspirational her character was on Twitter

Hundreds have paid tribute to the actress on Twitter (above and below), with many describing how inspirational her character was on Twitter

Hundreds have paid tribute to the actress on Twitter (above and below), with many describing how inspirational her character was on Twitter

Leah also added: ‘Time is running out. I reject the expected notion of being passive or a patient or of being a victim, and I am prepared to try almost anything to ‘save’ my life.’ 

Speaking to Lorraine in December she revealed she had been the recipient of pity from some people – and said she didn’t want to be written off.

‘I can’t think that anybody, anywhere wants to be pitied. It’s like all of your power has been taken away, and I’m very much about how can we hold on to our power in order to deal with hospitals, doctors, people who have qualifications – it’s intimidating,’ she said.

‘How do we retain that so we still have authority over ourselves?’

She added: ‘It’s obviously part of one’s life, whether it’s cancer or another disease or chronic condition, but the point is, it’s life. It’s living.

She explained how she likes to hold onto an ‘attitude of gratitude’ with her at all times, even if she has to ‘fake it’. 

The ex-soap actress, 55, played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005 (she is pictured in August 1993)

The ex-soap actress, 55, played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005 (she is pictured in August 1993)

The ex-soap actress, 55, played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005 (she is pictured in August 1993)

Leah Bracknell, who played Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, is pictured with Peter Amory whjo played Chris Tate in the soap opera - both are pictured in a scene when Chris Tate returns to Home Farm after a kidnap ordeal in a 1999 episode

Leah Bracknell, who played Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, is pictured with Peter Amory whjo played Chris Tate in the soap opera - both are pictured in a scene when Chris Tate returns to Home Farm after a kidnap ordeal in a 1999 episode

Leah Bracknell, who played Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, is pictured with Peter Amory whjo played Chris Tate in the soap opera – both are pictured in a scene when Chris Tate returns to Home Farm after a kidnap ordeal in a 1999 episode

Today, a statement was issued by Bracknell’s manager, which said: ‘It is with the deepest sadness that Leah Bracknell’s family confirm that Leah passed away in September, three years after her diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer. 

‘They would like to thank all the public for their support and generosity which contributed to the extension and quality of her life over the past three years. 

‘Leah continued to embrace life and faced her illness with positivity. Many aspects of her journey can be found on her blog.

‘Leah was best known and much loved as Zoe Tate in Emmerdale. She also had roles in Judge John Deed, A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks to name just a few, as well as numerous appearances on stage and in pantomime. 

‘As well as acting, Leah was also an accomplished yoga teacher and shamanic healer.

‘Leah had an energy and enthusiasm for life, a kind heart and much love to give to those around her.

‘Her family have asked for privacy at this very sad time.’

John Whiston – MD Continuing Drama & Head of ITV in the North said in a statement – which was also posted on the official Emmerdale Twitter account: ‘Everyone on Emmerdale is very sad to hear of the death of Leah Bracknell. 

‘Leah was a hugely popular member of the Emmerdale cast for over 16 years. During that time she featured in some of the show’s most high profile and explosive plots and always delivered a pitch perfect performance. 

‘Zoe Tate was one of soap’s first lesbian characters and Leah made sure the character was both exciting and credible. Leah herself was a very generous and caring colleague, much loved by cast and crew alike.’   

Leah Bracknell on set during filming of Emmerdale Farm in 1989. She also had roles in A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks

Leah Bracknell on set during filming of Emmerdale Farm in 1989. She also had roles in A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks

Leah Bracknell on set during filming of Emmerdale Farm in 1989. She also had roles in A Touch of Frost, The Royal Today and DCI Banks

Bracknell's cancer diagnosis came to light in October 2016 when her husband Jez Hughes launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS (she is pictured in 1989)

Bracknell's cancer diagnosis came to light in October 2016 when her husband Jez Hughes launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS (she is pictured in 1989)

Bracknell (pictured last year), who played Zoe Tate on the ITV soap for 16 years until 2005, died in September, three years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

Bracknell (pictured last year), who played Zoe Tate on the ITV soap for 16 years until 2005, died in September, three years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer

Bracknell’s cancer diagnosis came to light in October 2016 when her husband Jez Hughes launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS (she is pictured left in 1989 and right at the Houses of Parliament in 2018)

Life On Mars actor Dean Andrews said Bracknell was ‘a wonderful actress’ who was ‘taken far too young’.

Emmerdale’s Lisa Riley said on Instagram: ‘GOD BLESS YOU LEAH a true angel to work with.

‘You lost your battle far far to young. R.I.P. heaven gains an angel of the truest form.’

Coronation Street’s Sally Dynevor said Bracknell was ‘an inspiration’.

‘So sorry to hear Leah Bracknell passed away,’ she tweeted.

‘Such a beautiful person and an inspiration to many.’

Hundreds have paid tribute to the actress on Twitter, with many commending her character on Emmerdale for her ‘inspirational’ and ‘groundbreaking’ storyline. 

Claudia Boleyn said: ‘So sad to hear about Leah Bracknell. A true icon as Zoe Tate. It’s awful when people die so young. 

‘You don’t really know what to say other than that you feel dreadful for them and their poor family. Such a talent lost.’

While another said: ‘In 47 years of Emmerdale, there wasn’t a character as groundbreaking as Zoe Tate. Because of her, gay and bisexual women were given the strength to come out. 

‘Leah was the most incredible ally of the LGBT community.’

And Laura Mann said: ‘RIP Leah Bracknell. Thank you for bringing us the great Zoe Tate. A brave lady until the end inspiring others with your fight. 

‘May you now be at peace and rest with the angels. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends and everyone at Emmerdale.’  

Pioneering actress who played British soap word’s first lesbian character and later formed ‘relationship’ with the cancer that would kill her  

Emotional: Leah Bracknell, 55, has written a moving 'cancer manifesto' after she was given a mere few months to live following her terminal lung cancer diagnosis in 2016

Emotional: Leah Bracknell, 55, has written a moving 'cancer manifesto' after she was given a mere few months to live following her terminal lung cancer diagnosis in 2016

Emotional: Leah Bracknell, 55, has written a moving ‘cancer manifesto’ after she was given a mere few months to live following her terminal lung cancer diagnosis in 2016

Leah Bracknell became synonymous with Zoe Tate, the Emmerdale character she played for almost 16 years from December 1989.

Born Alison Rosalind Bracknell on July 12 1964, the multi-talented mother-of-two was also known for her work teaching at the British School of Yoga and for creating her own line of jewellery.

Her father, television director David, first brought her acting career to the screen in The Chiffy Kids series in 1976, before she took her future into her own hands.

Only two years after studying at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and aged 25, she was cast in ITV’s Emmerdale, where she made her mark playing British soap’s first lesbian character.

She left the series in 2005 in an episode voted the Best Exit at the British Soap Awards in May 2006.

But that certainly didn’t spell the end of her acting career, appearing in Judge John Deed, Casualty 1907, Doctors and another ITV1 soap, The Royal Today.

She also turned her attention to theatre, starring in both Gaslight and Strangers On A Train.

In October 2016, aged 52, Bracknell revealed she had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Her battle with cancer came to light when her partner launched a Go Fund Me page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS.

More than 2,500 fans joined together to raise £50,000 to help pay for cutting-edge treatment for her in Germany.

She thanked everyone involved, adding: ‘I really did not expect or feel deserving of such interest and kindness.’

Talking in February on ITV’s Loose Women she said she had a positive outlook on life and was not fearful despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She said she had formed a ‘relationship’ with her cancer to try to understand it.

She revealed she had been diagnosed after rapid weight gain around her abdomen and breathlessness prompted her to seek medical help.

She told Loose Women: ‘I’ve talked before about how my response was one of absolute anger, it’s infuriating – how dare you tell me this – which is why I didn’t want someone to guesstimate what someone thought my prognosis would be.

‘It’s based on statistics that could be out of date, that could be not about my age, not about my specific sort of cancer. I don’t want to be a statistic.’

Bracknell also revealed to the TV panellists that she was taking a new medication she hoped would give her a longer life expectancy.

In August she revealed her cancer treatment has stopped working.

Writing on the appeal page on donations website Gofundme.com, her partner Jez Hughes said it appeared the drug she was using started to fail several months ago, but Bracknell’s aim is still ‘long-term remission’.

He also thanked everyone for their help, writing: ‘These treatments and private consultations aren’t cheap, so we are so very grateful for the opportunity to keep Leah strong and well in this way as we really believe it is working.’

Bracknell appeared on ITV’s Lorraine in December, where she revealed she had been the recipient of pity from some people.

She said: ‘I think I just decided, it’s still my life, but other people were writing me off quicker and even people close to me, they’d come and – I don’t mean to be unkind – but people were embarrassed, or didn’t know what to say.

‘They come in and they’re feeling very sorry and very pitiful, and actually it’s the worst – the one thing that nobody wants is pity.

‘I can’t think that anybody, anywhere wants to be pitied. It’s like all of your power has been taken away, and I’m very much about how can we hold on to our power in order to deal with hospitals, doctors, people who have qualifications – it’s intimidating.

‘How do we retain that so we still have authority over ourselves?’

She added: ‘It’s obviously part of one’s life, whether it’s cancer or another disease or chronic condition, but the point is, it’s life. It’s living.

‘Even when it’s a diagnosis like I had and they literally said there are no options, I am still alive.

‘And I’m not going to embrace anything else, full stop. I’m alive until the point I am not. And that to me is the key, not to surrender to something else.’

She said she does not wake up with a feeling of dread in the morning and that she has pushed aside her worries about the ‘minutiae of life’.

Bracknell, who announced she would be hosting a talk to help other people going through a similar experience, said she appreciates the ‘simple, little things’ in life to help her.

She explained how she likes to hold onto an ‘attitude of gratitude’ with her at all times, even if she has to ‘fake it’. 

  

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