George Alagiah feels ‘lucky’ for the life he has lived

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 25: British newsreader, journalist and television news presenter George Alagiah attends a photo call during Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019 on August 25, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 25: British newsreader, journalist and television news presenter George Alagiah attends a photo call during Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019 on August 25, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)

George Alagiah has said he feels “lucky” for the life he has lived even though cancer will “probably get me in the end”.

The BBC newsreader, 66, was first diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in April 2014.

In a conversation with Craig Oliver, for the former Downing Street director of communications’ podcast Desperately Seeking Wisdom, Alagiah discussed living with the disease.

He said: “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get rid of this thing. I’ve got the cancer still. It’s growing very slowly.

“My doctor’s very good at every now and again hitting me with a big red bus full of drugs, because the whole point about cancer is it bloody finds a way through and it gets you in the end.

“Probably… it will get me in the end. I’m hoping it’s a long time from now, but I’m very lucky.”

He added that when he was first diagnosed with cancer, it took him a while to understand what he “needed to do”.

Camilla and George Alagiah speaking
George Alagiah with the Duchess of Cornwall (Leon Neal/PA)

“I had to stop and say, ‘Hang on a minute. If the full stop came now, would my life have been a failure?’

“And actually, when I look back and I looked at my journey… the family I had, the opportunities my family had, the great good fortune to bump into (Frances Robathan), who’s now been my wife and lover for all these years, the kids that we brought up… it didn’t feel like a failure.”

Alagiah has had an illustrious career as a journalist.

As a foreign correspondent for the BBC, he reported on events including the Rwandan genocide and interviewed Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his role as a specialist on Africa and the developing world.

Scottish Dragons Den type event
George Alagiah at a Dragons Den-style event in Glasgow (Danny Lawson/PA)

In June 2020, Alagiah said the cancer had spread to his lungs, liver and lymph nodes and he has since taken a break from TV.

The time since his diagnosis has allowed Alagiah to reflect on having to be vulnerable.

Asked what piece of wisdom he would give, he said: “I think it would be to constantly ask the question, ‘What is it we can do together?’

“I spent a lot of my time in Africa, and in South Africa they have a word: Ubuntu. It’s the idea that I’m only human if I recognise the humanity in you.

“There’s this collective notion of life which I think we have lost.”

Desperately Seeking Wisdom With Craig Oliver is available on all major podcast providers.