'My heart is truly broken' Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell's widower shares emotional tribute to late wife... and likens the loss of his 'best friend' to 'a raw, primal, timeless wound'
The husband of the late Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell has broken his silence since her tragic death, posting an emotional tribute to her on Facebook.
Jez Hughes lost his wife to cancer last week, at the age of 55.
He took to social media on Monday evening to pen a moving post, thanking fans of Leah for their good wishes.
'My soul mate' The husband of the late Emmerdale star Leah Bracknell has broken his silence since her tragic death, posting an emotional tribute to her on Facebook
He wrote: 'Thank you everyone for all your kind words, prayers and love. They mean the world to me at this time and I apologise that I can't respond individually as I haven't the words in me right now.
'My darling wife, best friend and soul mate flies free in spirit. I have been the luckiest man in the world to spend time walking, dancing, laughing, praying, dreaming, singing, drumming, talking, travelling, crying, planning, hoping, loving, going wild, exploring, rebelling, forgiving, celebrating, playing, sharing secrets at dawn, opening hearts, minds and soul- alongside a woman of such depth, power, humour, humility, honour, intelligence and love- it is impossible to do justice to with the transient, flimsy power of words.
'Ali is the bravest person I've ever met and she faced the last three years of cancer with dignity, grace and light. She shone bright in this world with fire in her heart and water in her soul. The great mystery of existence always visible through her beautiful eyes.
'She inspired and changed the lives of so many, loved ones and strangers alike. Every day I learn of more people who she helped which brings the warmth of pride and gratitude to have known her into my heart. She taught me more than I'm able to comprehend and we shared more than I dreamt was possible in this life. More than either of us thought was possible.
Tragic: 'My heart is truly broken and the pain is intense as I wander aimlessly, waiting to awake from this dream, from hour to hour, day to day,' he wrote
Tribute: Jez's post in full, which received an outpouring of support from followers
'My heart is truly broken and the pain is intense as I wander aimlessly, waiting to awake from this dream, from hour to hour, day to day.
'My only prayer is that through the burning down of everything that I hold sacred and precious, through this raw, primal, timeless wound, something else will arise and I am able to embody just a little of Ali's grace, bravery, tenacity, and lightness, in order to serve her legacy well in the world.'
Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2016 and fought it for the following three years.
Her former show Emmerdale dedicated two episodes to 'unforgettable' Zoe Tate actress Leah in a touching tribute on Thursday.
Ahead of the two installments - which aired on ITV at 7pm and 8pm for 30 minutes each - an announcer said: 'Tonight's episodes of Emmerdale are dedicated to Leah Bracknell, who played the 'unforgettable' Zoe Tate.'
Special moment: Emmerdale dedicated two episodes to 'unforgettable' Zoe Tate actress Leah Bracknell in a touching tribute on Thursday, following her death aged 55
Following the latest two editions of the series, ITV also shared a recent image of the late actress, alongside the caption: 'In Loving Memory of Leah Bracknell 1964 - 2019'.
Emotional viewers flooded Twitter with praise for the broadcaster's tribute, with one penning: '@emmerdale Touching tribute at the end of tonight’s episode for Leah Bracknell. Also nice to decicate the episodes to her. #RIPLeahBracknell.' [sic]
Another shared: 'Well done @emmerdale lovely tribute to the beautiful #LeahBracknell she was a fantastic actress Who played a legend of a character as Zoe Tate & was so very brave kind and such a lovely lady in her real life Rest in peace x #Emmerdale.' [sic]
'What a double emmmerdale that was. Leah bracknell will be watching over very proud #emmerdale', a third wrote.
Honour: 'Tonight's episodes of Emmerdale are dedicated to Leah Bracknell, who played the 'unforgettable' Zoe Tate', the announcer said (pictured as Zoe in 1999 with Peter Amory)
'She'll be watching over': Emotional viewers flooded Twitter with praise for the broadcaster's tribute
Another fan even insisted that the teacher should be honoured with a special prize at next year's National Television Awards and British Soap Awards.
They tweeted: '@OfficialNTAs @SoapAwards @emmerdale hope we can get a recognition for the legendary Leah Bracknell for not only her contribution but for ground breaking storylines. A legend in the show , as she was out of it ❤.' [sic]
Earlier in the week, Leah's colleagues led the outpouring of grief with actress Sally Ann Matthews, who played Jenny Bradley in Coronation Street from 1986 to 1991 and Sandra Briggs in Emmerdale in 2015, saying the 'world has lost a little sparkle' after her death.
'She's a legend': Another fan even insisted that the teacher should be honoured with a special prize at next year's National Television Awards and British Soap Awards
The jewellery maker first rose to fame as Zoe in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005.
Sally was among the first to pay tribute as she 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 added: '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.'
Heartbreaking: The former soap star passed away following a three-year battle against stage four lung cancer in September surrounded by family, her manager revealed on Wednesday
Condolences: Tributes poured in from across the industry, from her co-stars to devoted fans
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. You lost your battle far far to young. R.I.P. heaven gains an angel of the truest form.'
Coronation Street's Sally Dynevor added: 'So sorry to hear Leah Bracknell passed away. Such a beautiful person and an inspiration to many, so shocked, too young.'
Tragic: She was diagnosed in September 2016 after rapid weight gain around her abdomen and breathlessness prompted her to seek medical help (left in 2017, right earlier this year)
Leah 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.'
The TV star, 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, the media personality 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.
Long-running stint: Leah pictured as Zoe in Emmerdale
Leah 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.'
Details: 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
Portrayal: The ex-soap actress played Zoe Tate in the Yorkshire Dales show for 16 years from 1989 to 2005 (pictured in August 1993)
On Wednesday, a statement was issued by Leah'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.'
Revelation: Her 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 (pictured in 1989)
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
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'.