Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

My Wendy’s valiant cancer struggle

Wendy Richard
Letitia Dean (Left) and June Brown arrive for the funeral of Wendy Richard at St Marylebone Parish Church
June Brown leaves the funeral of Wendy Richard at St Marylebone Parish Church, Marylebone Road in central London

The Belfast-born husband of former East-Enders actress Wendy Richard has spoken of the last moments he shared with his TV-star wife and the overwhelming sense of loss he now feels since she passed away last month.

John Burns (45) — a former painter who now works in TV — married the popular actress, who was 20 years his senior, last October after spending 12 years together.

Speaking candidly to two Sunday newspapers ahead of a BBC documentary about Wendy which is to be aired this week, the 45-year-old recalled how the pair met and how from that moment on he knew he would never leave her side.

“I offered her a drink and she asked for a glass of champagne,” he told The Mail on Sunday about the day they met in 1996. “She only drank Moet — if a pub didn’t serve it, she wouldn’t drink there. I said I could have bought my daughters two pairs of socks with what it cost me. She laughed and we hit it off, although at first we were just friends.”

A tear fell off my cheek, hit my jumper and rolled onto her arm

More than a decade later, the pair were still friends which John believes was key to their longevity.

“Wendy was not just my wife,” he told The Mail on Sunday. “She was my friend. She was gorgeous and caring and the funniest person I ever met. Everywhere I go I’m reminded of her. Her Chanel suits are still hanging in the wardrobe and her pictures are all over the wall.”

John explained her quick death came as a complete shock to him.

Although Wendy had been diagnosed with cancer twice before — the first case being just two weeks after they first met — she had beaten it and he had believed she would beat it again. “At no stage were we told her cancer was terminal,” he added.

However shortly after doctors informed them her cancer had returned, Wendy — made famous by her roles as the sexy Miss Brahms in the comedy series Are You Being Served? and as dour-faced Pauline Fowler in EastEnders — took a turn for the worse and died with her beloved John by her side.

“I was with her that morning” he told the Sunday Mirror. “I gave her a kiss and said, ‘See you shortly’. She said, ‘Yeah, OK’. Then I nipped out to take the dog for a walk. But when I got back the nurse told me to wait before seeing her again.

“Five minutes later, they said: ‘You need to come quickly’. The consultant told me a few technical terms. I asked, ‘What are you trying to say? I’m not a doctor’. He said, ‘She’s not going to make it. You’ve got to say goodbye’.”

When it finally became clear he was going to lose his soulmate, John sat down and began caressing her forehead and told her he loved her.

“A tear fell off my cheek, hit my jumper and rolled on to her arm,” he explained to The Mail on Sunday. “It seemed to happen in slow motion. There was no struggle and it was incredibly peaceful. I don’t think she could hear me cry. I hope she couldn’t, and she wasn’t aware of what was going on.

“It was so surreal. The fact is that I’d grown up watching Wendy Richard. My wife was dying in front of me but so was a legend. I knew I wasn’t going to be the only one to miss her.”

On the day Wendy passed away, John said he received 600 text messages of condolence. Her local Marks & Spencer branch sent a bouquet of flowers, the Maltese spa where they loved to holiday declared it was naming Wendy’s favourite suite after her and even the staff at Golders Green crematorium told John it was an honour to be a part of her funeral.

“As sad as I am, I feel happy that I’ve known Wendy, and lucky that I spent so much time with her,” he added.

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