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Jonnie Irwin: Escape to the Country and A Place in the Sun host dies aged 50

Jonnie Irwin
Irwin said being dropped from A Place in the Sun left him "really low"

TV presenter Jonnie Irwin, who fronted property shows Escape to the Country and A Place in the Sun, has died.

Irwin, 50, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2020 after the disease had spread from his lungs to his brain.

A statement on his Instagram announcing his death said he touched "the lives of so many with his kindness, warmth and infectious spirit".

Irwin was initially given six months to live, but defied the odds and made his illness public after two years.

At the time he said he hoped his diagnosis would inspire people to "make the most of every day".

"It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of Jonnie's passing," said a statement on the account where he used to post updates on his health.

"A truly remarkable soul, he fought bravely against cancer with unwavering strength and courage."

Freeform Productions, the production company behind A Place in the Sun, said, in a statement on X: "Jonnie was a much-loved part of the A Place in the Sun family and for more than 18 years he brought joy, wit and bundles of energy to the show.

"We will miss him terribly."

Jasmine Harman, his long-time co-presenter on the Channel 4 show, wrote a fulsome tribute on Instagram to the man she shared the screen with for nearly two decades, recalling his "incredible ability to connect with people".

"I have never admired you more than over the last few years as you've faced life with cancer with positivity, determination and bloody mindedness," she wrote.

"The world is a little darker today without you, but I will always smile when I think of you."

Meanwhile, a number of his fellow Escape to the Country presenters have also paid tribute - Nicki Chapman said she was "heartbroken", while Sonali Shah said she felt "so lucky to have known Jonnie".

Jules Hudson, one of the BBC show's longest-serving hosts, said Irwin was the "life and soul" of the Escape to the Country "family".

The BBC described Irwin as an "extraordinary man and wonderful presenter".

"He brought such warmth and fun to Escape To The Country where he was a firm favourite with not just viewers, but the production team too," head of BBC daytime Rob Unsworth said.

"More recently, he did some truly inspirational reports for Morning Live about his illness, tackling taboos around end-of-life care and wonderfully demonstrating the limitless positivity that he brought to everything he did."

Channel 4 said he helped "realise the dreams of many on the show and inspired countless viewers to find their own place in the sun".

'Devastating'

Irwin first presented A Place in the Sun in 2004, and began hosting BBC One's Escape to the Country in 2010.

The first sign of his illness came when his vision became blurry when driving in Italy while filming in August 2020.

"Within a week of flying back from filming, I was being given six months to live," he told Hello! magazine.

"I had to go home and tell my wife, who was looking after our babies, that she was on her own pretty much. That was devastating."

Irwin married wife Jessica in 2016, and they have three young sons Rex, Rafa and Cormac.

He told ITV's Good Morning Britain he would film his remaining time with his family so his children would remember him. "I want it at least on camera, on film, to be able to show them that the early days were brilliant," he said.

Following his diagnosis, the presenter said he decided to keep his illness private because he did not want people to treat him differently and didn't want to lose work.

After telling the bosses of A Place in the Sun he had cancer, Irwin said the network dropped him from the show. The production company said they could not get insurance.

He told The Sun newspaper: "I've been a presenter, then I wasn't a presenter for A Place in the Sun after 18 years. And then I turn the TV on, and there's someone else doing my job.

"To have that taken away, to have that wage taken away, to have that purpose taken away... If having cancer wasn't bad enough... I was really low. That really affected me. I can't even watch the show now."

Freeform Productions and Channel 4 responded at the time: "Whilst we were unable to continue to film abroad with him, we're delighted that he was able to remain as part of our team in the UK for exhibitions. We of course understand how frustrating this must be for him at this incredibly difficult time."

Irwin returned to screens while having treatment on BBC One's Escape to the Country and Morning Live.

He also decided to throw a 50th birthday party months early, which was attended by 170 friends and family.

"It was a great night. I chose a playlist with some great tunes from the '90s and 2000s and people came from all over the country and abroad," he said.

"I didn't know the extent of the loyalty and generosity that my friends would exhibit."


How can you spot lung cancer?

There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer but they do develop as the condition worsens.

Many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

  • a persistent cough

  • coughing up blood

  • persistent breathlessness

  • unexplained tiredness and weight loss

  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death around the world, with 2.1 million people diagnosed in 2020 and 1.8 million deaths.

It is also the biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK, killing more than 35,000 people a year - about a fifth of all UK cancer deaths.

The NHS says more than 43,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year.