Countryfile star Adam Henson was left terrified about wifes diagnosis
Exchanging wedding vows with his soulmate Charlie Gilbert, Countryfile favourite Adam Henson wept uncontrollably. After almost three decades together, their pledges carried a special poignancy.
For as well as celebrating their love, the couple feared their hastily-arranged wedding was Charlie’s final farewell. Weeks earlier, she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and now – instead of a honeymoon – she was hours away from life-or-death surgery.
“We cried a lot,” recalls Adam, 57. “Those vows cemented my emotions and let me say from the heart how I feel about Charlie.
“The registrar wasn’t aware of our situation and said she’d never had such an emotional couple. For us, it was a way of saying goodbye to everyone.”
Charlie, also 57, adds: “After 28 years together you do get a bit complacent, but getting married was suddenly really important – we didn’t know how long we had left, and I wanted Adam to know I was committed to him.”
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The pair had had an on-off relationship since their late teens. They got together, aged 28, eventually settling on the 1,600-acre farm west of Cheltenham, Gloucester- shire, where Adam grew up.
They almost lost the farm and their home in the 2001 foot-andmouth crisis – but nothing could have prepared them for Charlie’s perilous brush with death two years ago, as revealed in Adam’s new book, Christmas on the Farm.
“I had a gurgly stomach through 2020, occasionally needing to quickly dash to the loo,” Charlie says.
Her tummy upsets worsened over Christmas 2020 and, in early 2021, she saw her GP and had stool samples analysed for a possible farm infection.
The results were negative, but by May Charlie was suffering crippling diarrhoea and had lost 10lb in weight.
“I felt drained, washed out,” Charlie recalls. “I’d sneakily Googled my symptoms and found they could indicate pancreatic cancer.” Her GP recommended a hospital scan.
However, in the following weeks, Charlie’s symptoms stabilised. “Five weeks passed and you assume no news is good news,” Adam explains.
“You think if it’s serious – if it’s cancer – they’ll ring you in a week. But this was post-Covid and they probably had a pile of results to work through.”
Charlie was home alone in August 2021 when her GP called with devastating news.
“It was both barrels,” Charlie remembers. “The scan showed a four-and-a-half centimetre tumour on my pancreas, in a really tricky position. We knew people who’d died of pancreatic cancer and I absolutely felt this was going to be the end of my life.”
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Days later the shell-shocked couple had the diagnosis confirmed at Gloucester Royal Hospital. Charlie says: “Our darkest fears were confirmed. Adam had to practically carry me down the corridor. My legs were like jelly.”
Pancreatic cancer kills more than 9,500 people a year in the UK and often goes undetected until it is too late to treat effectively.
Because it didn’t look like the cancer had spread to Charlie’s other organs, her oncologist suspected it might be a more treatable but rarer neuroendocrine tumour.
A urine test would tell – but it would take 28 days for the results to come back. If not, Charlie was warned she was likely facing palliative care. On the drive home, Charlie dropped another bombshell.
“Getting married had never been important to me,” says Charlie. “Having two children together was all the commitment Adam and I needed.
“But now it was the most important thing in the world. I needed this public show of unity, and I needed to bring us together before I died.”
It took no time for Adam to agree. “I said ‘yes’, of course!” he says. The couple gave the cancer news in vague, unscary terms, to their two children – Ella, 25, now travelling in New Zealand, and Alfie, 21, who works in an investment company.
Charlie’s mum, Sue, and sisters Vicky and Katharin rallied round to help arrange the wedding for September 2021. Meanwhile, Adam had to mask his anguish while filming Countryfile, though the series producer and team facilitated a lot of filming on the farm so he could be at home for the family.
Faced with an agonising wait for Charlie’s test results, Adam instead tracked down one of Britain’s leading pancreatic surgery experts, Professor Giuseppe Fusai, who said the cancer looked operable. A biopsy confirmed it was a neuroendocrine tumour.
“It was going to be an incredibly complex operation,” Adam recalls. “And he wasn’t 100 per cent sure what he was going to find, but he told Charlie he would do his best, and said she would see our grandchildren one day.”
She was booked in for surgery for September 10 and the day before the couple were joined by their closest friends and relatives – who knew of Charlie’s condition – at Stroud Register Office.
“You’re trying to be happy, but I was going into hospital the next day, and didn’t know if I’d be coming out,” Charlie says. “It was the best possible last day I could have had.”
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Adam recalls: “Charlie wore an ivory dress and looked stunning. We were both crying through the vows, and the next very emotional time for me was giving a speech at the reception. I talked about how strong we were together, how we were going through some very difficult times – but we would come out the other side.”
The following day, the family drove to London for Charlie’s op.
“Saying goodbye to them all was horrible,” she says. “Cancer is so lonely – you get all this love and support from everyone, but you’re still on your own. It’s so hard.
“I’d written letters to Adam, the children and my sisters, and left them for them to find. All I could do was cling on to the fact I still had a chance, however tiny.”
Adam’s phone rang around 4pm. “The thought of life without Charlie was terrifying,” explains Adam. “I just didn’t know how I was going to handle it.
“Instead I kept the best possible outcome in my mind – and ultimately that’s what it was. Fusai told me the operation had gone well.”
Two years later, Charlie is back to work part-time and living from one six-monthly scan to the next.
“It has altered our outlook on life,” Adam admits. “In the past, I’d push the children to be more career focused and get ahead. But now I’m kind of – just have a lovely time. Look after yourselves – but have a lovely time doing it, because you just don’t know what’s around the corner.”
- Christmas on the Farm by Adam Henson (Little, Brown Book Group, £22) is available to order from Express Bookshop.
To order a copy for £22 visit expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on online orders over £25.
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