After a battle with lung cancer, Emmerdale actress Leah Bracknell has died at the age of 55, her manager has announced.
In a statement they 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.”
(Image: Leah Bracknell/Instagram)
After announced her diagnosis in September 2016, Leah said: “I was feeling perfectly well, fit and healthy.
Teaching yoga classes and workshops, it was a time of new beginnings: preparing to move house, youngest child fleeing the nest, and excited to be starting rehearsals for a comedy play, being back onstage, going on tour.
“But, it turns out that the universe had other plans. Life was about to be unexpectedly turned on its head.
“I began to feel breathless climbing stairs … I just put it down to a bit of stress.
“My abdomen suddenly ballooned – and within a matter of a few days I looked heavily pregnant.
“I could barely walk or breathe. Then, one Saturday night at the beginning of September I ended up in A&E.”
(Image: Rex Features)
Her Emmerdale co-stars immediately rallied around her at the time of the diagnosis, with Dominic Brunt, who played Paddy Kirk, saying: “I visited my friend Leah. There is always hope.”
In August 2017 it was announced her targeted biological therapy had stopped working and that she had been surviving solely on expensive alternative treatments for several months.
Her quest to undergo alternative treatments of immunotherapy and integrative medicine in Germany led many to dip into their pockets and donate to Leah’s treatment. Within a few days, kind-hearted benefactors had donated £50,000.
Choosing not to say how long doctors had given her to live,Leah thanked everyone for their support and donations, saying in a statement: “I really did not expect or feel deserving of such interest and kindness.
(Image: Leah’s Cancer Fund)
And, I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for all the donations, the messages of encouragement, and for sharing the campaign.
“I feel extremely blessed. We did not expect to raise anywhere near that amount, and certainly not in such a short space of time.”
She remained positive and upbeat, and in 2019 she confirmed she was on an immunotherapy clinical trial which kept her cancer stable.
Leah remained hopeful of a cure, and credited her positive thinking with keeping her alive.
Speaking in August, she said: “People think, ‘Oh, she’s crazy’, but I believe in thinking outside the box.
“Medical science is an amazing thing and it is keeping me alive, but it has limitations because it is to do with the logical mind.
“But things we call miracles, things we don’t understand, happen all the time, they happen outside the realms of logic and scientific data.
“Nobody knows why they happen, but it is possible for the impossible to happen. I still hope I could get my impossible miracle.
“And if not, I am going to have a bloody good time along the way.
“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.”
Leah was born Alison Rosalind Brachnell on July 12 1964 to the late English television director David Ian Bracknell and Chinese-Malaysian actress Li-Er Hwang. She grew up in London and Oxford and spent a year in New Zealand and Fiji.
First appearing on our screens in 1976 in TV show The Chiffy Kids, directed by her father, Leah joined ITV’s Emmerdale as vet Zoe Tate in 1989 less than two years after attending the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
Playing the first lesbian character on a British soap, she was nominated for the 2002 National Television Award for Most Popular Actress, and won the 2006 British Soap Award for Best Exit after her character sensationally blew up Home Farm in a scene still remembered by fans.
After leaving the show, she turned to the stage, appearing in Gaslight and Strangers on a Train, before touring the 2008 production of Turn Of The Screw in the lead role of the governess.
Stepping out of the spotlight, she moved to Worthing, Sussex, and taught yoga and meditation, while also designing jewellery.
Leah is survived by her two daughters, Lily and Maya, from her marriage to Lyall Watson, and her partner, Jez Hughes.
Head of drama at Emmerdale John Whiston said: “Everyone 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 soaps 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.”