Bill Turnbull, Classic FM presenter and veteran broadcaster dies, aged 66

1 September 2022, 09:18 | Updated: 1 September 2022, 11:43

Bill Turnbull, Classic FM presenter and veteran broadcaster dies, aged 66
Bill Turnbull, Classic FM presenter and veteran broadcaster dies, aged 66. Picture: Classic FM/Global
Classic FM

By Classic FM

Beloved broadcaster Bill Turnbull has died aged 66, his family has confirmed.

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Bill Turnbull, one of the nation’s most admired broadcasters who was much-loved by all at Classic FM, has died after being diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer in 2017.

A spokesperson on behalf of Bill’s family said: “Following a challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer, Bill passed away peacefully at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family on Wednesday, 31 August.

“Bill was diagnosed in 2017 and has had outstanding medical care from the Royal Marsden and Ipswich Hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and his GP. He was resolutely positive and was hugely buoyed by the support he received from friends, colleagues, and messages from people wishing him luck. It was a great comfort to Bill that so many more men are now testing earlier for this disease.

“Bill will be remembered by many as a remarkable broadcaster who brought warmth and humour into people’s homes on BBC Breakfast and Classic FM. He was also a devoted Wycombe Wanderers fan and an ever-aspiring beekeeper. Bill was a wonderful husband and father to his three children; his family and friends will miss how he always made them laugh, and the generosity and love he shared with those around him.”

The Classic FM presenter and former breakfast TV host revealed his cancer diagnosis in March 2018.

The following year, Bill was praised by the NHS after presenting a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive in which he raised awareness of the illness and urged viewers to get checked. After the programme was broadcast, Bill said he found himself “totally overwhelmed” and “deeply moved” by the support of his listeners.

Today, Prostate Cancer UK praised Bill for his determination to raise awareness of the illness and help save lives. “Bill worked tirelessly to raise awareness of prostate cancer following his diagnosis in 2017, and it was our privilege to work alongside him,” a spokesperson said.

Share your messages and memories of Bill with us here >

Bill Turnbull at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in Chelsea, London
Bill Turnbull at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in Chelsea, London. Picture: Alamy

Born William Robert Jolyon Turnbull in Surrey on 25 January 1956, Bill had a 44-year career in TV and radio broadcasting.

He was educated at Eton College, followed by the University of Edinburgh, where he edited the student newspaper. Bill began his career at Scottish local station Radio Clyde in 1978. Later, he freelanced in the US for a few years, before joining BBC’s Today programme in 1986.

In 1990, Bill became a news correspondent for BBC News, reporting on major stories from more than 30 countries. This included a four-year stay in the US as Washington correspondent covering the trial of OJ Simpson and the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Bill presented BBC Breakfast from 2001 until 2016, sitting alongside Susanna Reid, Sian Williams, Louise Minchin and Mishal Husain during his 15-year tenure on the show.

After joining Classic FM’s weekend line-up in 2016, the former Songs of Praise and Think Tank presenter said he couldn’t be happier to be working at a more “civilised” hour.

Bill Turnbull presents on stage with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during Classic FM's 25th Birthday concert
Bill Turnbull presents on stage with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during Classic FM's 25th Birthday concert. Picture: Alamy

A cherished TV and radio presenter, Bill was also a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2005, finishing sixth out of 12 contestants.

In January 2008 Bill appeared on Celebrity Mastermind, choosing beekeeping as his specialist subject. Two years later he published The Bad Beekeepers Club, a book about the highs and lows of apiculture. In 2012, Bill appeared in Professor Green’s music video for ‘Remedy’.

Bill was a fan of Wycombe Wanderers football club, where he commentated on home games for online listeners. He also enjoyed long distance running, competing in the London Marathon on five occasions and the Great North Run in October 2008.

A father-of-three, Bill also kept bees at home with his wife, Sesi McCombie, in Suffolk. The couple married in 1988, living in Buckinghamshire then Cheshire, before venturing south to Suffolk after saying goodbye to breakfast television.

Bill and Sesi’s first child, Henry, arrived in September 1988, followed by Will in October 1989. The family then welcomed daughter Flora in August 1991. Bill also shared his life with his Labrador dogs.

Bill Turnbull shared his life with his beloved Labradors
Bill Turnbull also shared his life with his Labrador dogs. Picture: Classic FM

The host of Saturday and Sunday mornings on Classic FM from 10am to 1pm, Bill also presented Pet Classics, the world’s first radio show for pets, featuring soothing music and practical advice on the busiest nights of the years for fireworks.

Bill announced in October 2021 that he would be taking a leave of absence from his regular weekend show.

Classic FM’s managing editor, Philip Noyce, said: “I’m deeply saddened by this news; Bill was an absolute treasure of Classic FM whose presence on and off the air will forever be missed. He was a very gifted journalist and presenter, and he loved radio and understood its ability to connect with people on a personal level – something he did with ease and aplomb.

“As well as being an outstanding broadcaster, Bill was a family man, a devoted father and husband, who loved the company of friends (including the four-legged variety), and was passionate about music, football, nature and his beloved bees. We have lost an exceptionally talented broadcaster, but most of all we’ve said goodbye to a fine man who will be dearly missed by us all at Classic FM, as well as his many listeners.”

Our thoughts are with Bill’s wife, Sesi, and their three children at this time.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Find out more about the symptoms, check your risk and get support at