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Dame Esther Rantzen quits Childline charity after cancer diagnosis

Dame Esther Rantzen has announced that she is stepping down as president of children’s counselling charity Childline after 37 years due to health issues.

Rantzen, best known for presenting BBC series That’s Life!, founded the charity in 1986. She began her role as president in 2018, having previously been a Childline trustee.

However, months after sharing that her lung cancer had progressed to stage four, Rantzen, 83, announced on Thursday (7 December) that she is now leaving her role at Childline. Her daughter Rebecca Wilcox will deputise in her place.

A spokesperson said: “Because of Esther’s health issues, she has sadly had to reduce her work as President, but we are both thrilled that Childline and the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) have suggested that her daughter Rebecca should now deputise for her.

“She feels deeply honoured to take on this role, she has grown up with Childline and enormously values the many achievements of the service, the dedicated staff and volunteers, all working to protect and support millions of children who have nowhere else to turn.”

They continued: ‌”Rebecca has two sons, is a journalist and broadcaster and is very in touch with the challenges facing young people today.

“Rebecca is about to start training as a volunteer counsellor and is greatly looking forward to meeting as many volunteers and staff and visiting as many bases as possible.”

‘That’s Life!’ presenter’s daughter Rebecca Wilcox will deputise in her place


Rantzen confirmed in January that her lung cancer had spread, adding in May that it had progressed to stage four. Cancer Research UK describes stage four – also called secondary or metastatic cancer – as when the cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ.

Writing in her column for The Mirror, she said: “My diagnosis of stage four lung cancer made me realise how very lucky I’ve been in my life, working with Childline and the Silver Line, and meeting so many fascinating and inspiring people, and especially lucky to have spent 21 years working as producer/presenter of That’s Life!

Rantzen founded Childline in addition to her success as a journalist and broadcaster. In 2006, the charity – which offers counselling and support for children and young people in the UK up until the age of 19 – became part of the NSPCC.

In 2013, Rantzen set up The Silver Line, a charity which supports elderly people in the UK who are battling loneliness. She was made a DBE in 2015 for services to children and older people with her charity work.

Of Rantzen’s exit from Childline, NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said: “Due to health reasons Esther is taking a step back as the president of Childline. Everyone at Childline and the wider NSPCC family sends her our very best wishes.

“For more than 35 years Dame Esther Rantzen has been the face and the heart of Childline, working tirelessly to set up, build and promote the service as a place where children and young people across the UK can go for free and confidential help and support.”

He continued: “It is impossible to put into words the gratitude we feel for everything she does. We welcome Rebecca to her new role while we continue to keep Esther updated on all the great things that Childline continues to deliver.”

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