George Alagiah’s life and career, from Kosovo to Kofi Annan, as BBC newsreader dies aged 67
Posted by  badge Boss on Jul 24, 2023 - 02:28PM
George Alagiah has died, nine years after being diagnosed with bowel cancer (Picture: Rex/Shutterstock)

George Alagiah, long-serving newsreader and the face of BBC One’s News At Six since 2007, has, his agent has confirmed.

Mary Greenham told the PA new agency: ‘I am so terribly sorry to inform you that George Alagiah died peacefully today, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

‘George fought until the bitter end but sadly that battle ended earlier today.

‘George was deeply loved by everybody who knew him, whether it was a friend, a colleague or a member of the public. He simply was a wonderful human being.

‘My thoughts are with Fran, the boys and his wider family.’

The Sri Lanka-born journalist was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer, which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes, in April 2014.

The popular newsreader, pictured here on BBC World News in 2006, first joined the corporation back in 1989(Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
He becamemain presenter on the Six O’Clock News alongside Sophie Raworth (Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)

Alagiah was a popular and reassuring presence on BBC channels beamed into homes for more than 20 years, his unflappable demeanour making him a hit with viewers.

He joined the corporation in 1989 and was one of the broadcaster’s leading foreign correspondents, filing dispatches on subjects ranging from the Rwandan genocide to civil wars across Africa thanks to his expert knowledge of the developing world.

Alagiah was born in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo in 1955 when the city was still considered part of the former British territory of Ceylon. During the BBC’s coverage of the 2004 Asian tsunami, he returned to the country to find that his grandfather’s former home had been destroyed in the natural disaster.

The late broadcaster and journalist was forced to take breaks from television following his bowel cancer diagnosis in 2014 and shared updates as he battled the disease, including in June 2020 when he revealed it had spread to his lungs.

Alagiah spent part his of childhood in Ghana in west Africa where he moved with his engineer father Donald and mother Therese.

He then moved to the UK to attend secondary school in Portsmouth after which he read politics at Durham University, where he also served as editor of the student paper and a sabbatical officer of the students’ union.

Before joining TV, Alagiah was a print journalist and developing world correspondent (Picture: Tony Larkin/Rex/Shutterstock)

It was there that he met his wife, Frances Robathan. The couple married in 1984 and share two sons: Adam and Matthew.

Before starting with the BBC in 1989, Alagiah was based in Johannesburg as developing world correspondent for South Magazine.

He was named Amnesty International’s journalist of the year in 1994 for reporting on the civil war in Burundi and also won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s award for television journalist of the year.

He was also part of the BBC team that won a Bafta Award in 2000 for its reporting of the conflict in Kosovo, one of several prizes he received during his broadcasting career.

After first presenting BBC Four News in 2002 he went on to co-anchor the corporations 6pm news bulletin, first alongside Sophie Raworth and then Natasha Kaplinsky.

From 2007 he was the programme’s sole presenter while he was also a relief presenter for News at Ten.

Alagiah takes part in a Comic Relief edition of Weakest Link in 2001 (Picture: Rhian Gruffydd/Comic Relief via Getty Images)
With Six O’Clock News co-presenter Natasha Kaplinsky in 2007, before he became sole anchor (Picture: Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)

He interviewed several world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In 2008, he was made an OBE in the New Year Honours list for services to journalism.

It was first announced in April 2014 that he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was later revealed the disease had .

After undergoing treatment, he revealed on social media in October 2015 that he would return to work, subsequently appearing on-screen in November.

An ever-popular presenter, his return was welcomed by viewers and his fellow journalists, including presenters of competing news programmes.

In 2016, Alagiah said he was a ‘richer person’ for his cancer diagnosis, which saw him undergo several rounds of chemotherapy and three major operations, one of which included the removal of most of his liver.

The journalist interviewed world leaders including United Nation Secretary General Kofi Annan, pictured here in 2005 (Picture: EPA)
He also spoke with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe (Picture: AP)
Alagiah with his wife Frances and sons Adam, 21, (left), and Matt, 17, at Buckingham Palace, after collecting his OBE from the Queen in 2008 (Picture: PA)

Alagiah’s health was back in the headlines in March 2020, when amid a global pandemic he tested positive for Covid-19.

He credited his experience of fighting cancer with helping him deal with the ‘mild’ case of coronavirus.

In June 2020, Alagiah revealed the cancer had spread to his lungs but delivered a typically philosophical judgment. He told the Times newspaper: ‘My doctors have never used the word ‘chronic’ or ‘cure’ about my cancer.

‘They’ve never used the word ‘terminal’ either. I’ve always said to my oncologist, “Tell me when I need to sort my affairs out”, and he’s not told me that, but what he did tell me is that the cancer is now in a third organ. It is in my lungs.’

Alagiah said he had kept the development a secret, only telling his editor.

He said: ‘I said to my doctor, “You’re going to have to do the worrying for me.” I don’t want to fill my mind with worry. I just know that he’s a clever guy, doing everything he can.’

Pictured here with the then-Duchess of Cornwall, Alagiah was philosophical in his approach to cancer (Picture: PA)

In October 2021, a representative for Alagiah announced that he would be taking a step back from his presenting and journalism duties as .

During an interview in January 2022, Alagiah spoke candidly about his long battle with cancer, saying ‘it will get me in the end’, before adding: ‘I’m hoping it’s a long time from now, but I’m very lucky.’

Despite his matter-of-fact approach to the disease, Alagiah remained positive when reflecting on his career and family life.

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

He added: ‘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), 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.’

He returned to present on the BBC News At Six in 2022 for a final few months (Picture: Rex/Shutterstock)

Alagiah temporarily returned to BBC News At Six in April 2022.

However, in October he once again announced that he had been after scans showed that the cancer had spread further.

While sharing the news, Alagiah said: ‘A recent scan showed that my cancer has spread further so it’s back to some tough stuff.

‘I’m missing my colleagues. Working in the newsroom has been such an important part of keeping energised and motivated.

‘I look forward to being back in that studio as soon as I can.’

Away from journalism, Alagiah was a published author, and his debut novel was shortlisted for a Society Of Authors award.

His thriller The Burning Land, about corruption and homicide in South Africa, was in the running for the Paul Torday memorial prize, which is awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60.

An award-winning journalist, Alagiah’s debut novel was also shortlisted for a Society Of Authors award (Picture: Twitter/@BBCAlagiah)

Following the news of his death, BBC director-general Tim Davie paid tribute, saying: ‘Across the BBC, we are all incredibly sad to hear the news about George. We are thinking of his family at this time.

‘George was one of the best and bravest journalists of his generation who reported fearlessly from across the world as well as presenting the news flawlessly.

‘He was more than just an outstanding journalist, audiences could sense his kindness, empathy and wonderful humanity. He was loved by all and we will miss him enormously.’