Final photographs of racing legend John McCririck revealed

Final pictures of John McCririck outside of his home reveal the iconic racing pundit looking gaunt and frail as his beloved wife ‘Booby’ reveals the 79-year-old died after a secret battle with lung cancer

  • John McCririck died aged 79 yesterday with his wife Jenny by his side in hospital
  • In an interview hours after his death, she revealed he had died from lung cancer 
  • She blamed his sacking from Channel 4 Racing for sparking his decline in health
  • The journalist and broadcaster had previously blamed his frailty on a bout of flu 

These are the final photographs of legendary racing pundit John McCririck which showed how he had been affected by his secret lung cancer. 

The 79-year-old expert died yesterday, his wife Jenny, known affectionately as ‘Booby’, announced. 

Mrs McCririck said her husband did not release details of his illness as he ‘didn’t want the attention’. Although photographs taken early this year clearly show how frail the former presenter had become. 

Legendary racing pundit John McCririck, pictured here in London in January looking very frail. At the time, the former presenter was engaged in a secret battle with lung cancer. This is the last time McCririck is believed to have been photographed outside his house

In February, McCririck posed for this photograph at his home in Primrose Hill, north London along with  with his cat Gurtrude and dog Max

In his final months, the normally larger-than-life McCririck, pictured in January, looked frail and shrunken

Mrs McCririck said her husband, who she lived with in Primrose Hill, North London, had ‘defied medical science’ to beat sepsis but that the battle had left him too weak to overcome cancer. 

The journalist and broadcaster had previously blamed his frail appearance on a bout of flu. But in reality doctors had found a cancerous tumour while he was being treated for sepsis in January 2018. 

Mrs McCririck revealed the information in an interview hours after his death, in which she also blamed his sacking from Channel 4 Racing in 2013 for sparking his decline in health saying ‘his life kind of fell apart’.  

McCririck, who married his wife Jenny (right in 2018) in 1971 and famously referred to her as ‘Booby’, was an unmissable character with his deerstalker hat, sideburns and cigar, and thrived at the heart of what he called the ‘betting jungle’

Jenny McCririck (right) said her husband (right and left), who she lived with in Primrose Hill, North London, had ‘defied medical science’ to beat sepsis but that the battle had left him too weak to overcome cancer

She told The Sun: ‘The cancer was small and you would normally have an op to remove it, but because he was so ill he couldn’t do it. They said they would have killed him if they had done an operation.

‘The cancer spread and whenever he had and immunotherapy it left him weaker and weaker and then you get an infection. That’s how he died. But we had the best doctors. They did all they could.’ 

She was by his side yesterday, as he passed away in hospital nine months after revealing he wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried on a raceourse. McCririck had suffered declining health in his final years but never revealed exactly what he was suffering from until now.

‘You smoke too much and you eat too much’: Hard-hitting quotes from ‘pantomime villain’ McCririck

On Celebrity Wife Swap with Edwina Currie (2006):

‘That was a good earner – I was paid a five-figure sum. It was a horrendous week though. I know it is sexist to say it, but a bossy woman like Edwina is hard to put up with.’

On Chris Tarrant’s former wife Ingrid (2007):

‘Look at Ingrid here, she wrote that he had erectile dysfunction and was rubbish in bed. Is she any better? You had a cheek to say that he smelt of vindaloo and fish and chips in bed, what’s wrong with that? You’re such a ghastly woman.’

To Coleen Nolan on Big Brother’s Weekend of Judgment (2017):

‘You smoke too much and you eat too much’.

Defending himself at his employment tribunal hearing (2013):

‘Because Captain Hook is horrible to Peter Pan and kids in Peter Pan, it doesn’t mean the actor playing him goes around abusing kids in the street. All this is a pantomime villain thing that Channel 4 encouraged.’

His wife slammed Channel 4 Racing for the way they handled his sacking from the show, saying it sparked his decline in health. But said he ‘didn’t want people to know’ about his treatment even close to the end. 

She said: ‘John was devastated. He told me he couldn’t live without it. I think that was when the downfall began. He felt he’d been destroyed.’ 

She revealed he spent much of his time watching television after the sacking, especially the Jeremy Kyle show. And claimed her husband had only been informed of the sacking minutes before a press released was issued.  

McCririck, who married his wife Jenny in 1971 and famously referred to her as ‘Booby’, was an unmissable character with his deerstalker hat, sideburns and cigar, and thrived at the heart of what he called the ‘betting jungle’. 

He was a divisive character whose misogynistic comments on TV caused fury among viewers in his later years, despite his insistence this was just part of a role he played as ‘pantomime villain’, especially on Celebrity Big Brother. 

His comments about women included telling how he called his wife ‘Booby’ ‘after a South American bird that is stupid, incredibly easy to catch and squawks a lot’, and said the most important thing about women is ‘the size of their breasts’.  

In 1981, he joined ITV Sport’s horse racing coverage, which then moved to Channel 4, where he spent more than 25 years in the betting ring. Prior to that he worked for the Sporting Life newspaper and in recent years he had appeared on At The Races. 

He appeared in various other mainstream programmes, including Celebrity Big Brother, before he acrimoniously left Channel 4 Racing in 2012. Something which his wife has now revealed had a major impact on his health. 

He subsequently lost an age discrimination case made against the station and production company IMG Media Limited, with Channel 4 saying he had been dropped for being ‘offensive’ and ‘disgusting’. 

Just a fortnight ago, he thanked well-wishers on social media for their support, as people shared concerns about his health online. 

His appearance on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side in October last year shocked viewers, with some pointing out he was looking ‘gaunt’ and ‘poorly’ compared with how he looked during his time as a contestant. 

McCririck is pictured with his wife Jenny at home in North London in a portrait for the Daily Mail last October

He then revealed he felt he had ‘no purpose in life’ after his regular television work came to an end and explained that the dramatic change in appearance was down to intentional weight loss and a severe bout of flu.   

But he added his main struggle was being without work for six years after his acrimonious departure from Channel 4.

Last autumn the star said he wouldn’t ‘live to see another summer’ – but blamed his massive weight loss ‘on a bad bout of flu’.

He said: ‘Life is empty. It’s a question of slipping away. I’ve prepared the Booby [his wife, Jenny] for it. When I’m gone she knows exactly what to do and she’ll be fine’. 

McCririck revealed he didn’t want a funeral in last MailOnline interview

Rebecca Davison with John McCririck

MailOnline UK deputy showbusiness editor Rebecca Davison interviewed McCririck last October. Here, she shares her memories of meeting him and what he had to say:

We had called him to talk about his recent weight loss and he was incredibly accommodating and honest and happy to give lots of his time. Booby was in the background.

He brought up the issue of death and said he didn’t want a funeral. He said his wife, Booby, knew what to do and he had already given her instructions in the event of his death.

He said: ‘I don’t want a funeral, I think it’s selfish. I want a cremation and to be buried at Alexandra Park Racecourse – Booby knows what to do!’

He was keen to talk about how he had never really felt in good health since his Channel 4 sacking, he was saying that he wanted to work and it gave him a sense of purpose. He was saying that he felt like he had lost his identity and it made him feel depressed.

He spoke about his weight loss and said he didn’t know what was going on but he had a serious chest infection and flu but it was taking him a while to recover – he also said he had blood tests with the doctor.

He also said he loved the Mail, was incredibly sweet and said I could call anytime I needed to. He seemed like he was happy to have a phone call.

He said he never recovered from losing his job as a racing pundit, adding: ‘I’m pining. The broken heart is for a lost job. Work comes first. I always worked. It’s the most important thing in life’.  

McCririck, who was born in Surrey and lived in north London, took legal action against the broadcaster in 2013 when they decided against including him on the broadcasting team. 

The pundit accused bosses of ageism, although a tribunal found against him, ruling that it was because his ‘pantomime persona’ had become ‘unpalatable’ to a wide audience.

BBC horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght described McCririck as ‘a one-off’.

He tweeted: ‘John McCririck has died; racing pundit, TV personality, award-winning investigative journalist, ‘failed’ (his word) bookmaker, showman, rent-a-gob, ‘marmite’ character, the list goes on & on… unquestionably a one-off.’ US Editor-at-Large Piers Morgan described McCririck as ‘a great British character’.

He tweeted: ‘RIP John McCririck. He spoke his mind, loved to ruffle feathers, was as funny as he was outrageous, and had such a deep knowledge of & tremendous passion for horse-racing. A great British character.’ 

Top jockey Frankie Dettori paid tribute to a ‘larger than life character’ who was ‘very knowledgeable about racing’ following the news of John McCririck’s death at the age of 79.

Dettori is one of the genuine household names in racing, a tag that McCririck also carried, and the pair enjoyed many moments together over the years, as they struck up a good friendship.

‘I met him for the first time when I was very young. I was 16 and I was an apprentice. He was a big part of my racing life since I started,’ Dettori told PA.

‘He was very flamboyant and controversial, but I always got on really well with him. We did a few things together and he will be missed.

‘He did put on a bit of a show, but underneath it all he worked very hard and was very knowledgeable about racing.

‘He was a larger than life character. I’m very sad for Jenny, his wife.’

He appeared in various mainstream TV programmes, including Celebrity Big Brother in 2005

McCririck talks to model Caprice in the Jacuzzi on Celebrity Big Brother on E4 in January 2005

Multiple champion jumps rider Sir Anthony McCoy added his memories of ‘Big Mac’.

‘John was just about the most recognisable figure in horse racing when I came to England, people had only just heard of Frankie Dettori, so it was John or Lester Piggott,’ said McCoy. 

‘That says a lot about him to say that he wasn’t a trainer, owner or jockey. He had attitude, he had a voice and said what he thought, he wasn’t frightened of upsetting somebody.

‘I don’t think I was ever on the end of one of his jockey bashings – thankfully.

‘There’s a good chance in this day and age, with everything needing to be so politically correct, he might not have been the great character on TV now that he was in the 80s and 90s.

‘You don’t get away now with saying what Big Mac or John Francome did, so for that reason it’s a lot harder now and more restrictive than then, but back in the day that team did a great job of representing horse racing.

‘They made it as easy and enjoyable to watch as possible, but the world is changing.

‘He was very good at promoting the sport, he was a very bright man, well educated and, while he had an opinion, what you have to say is he tried to be constructive. He was a punters’ man, that’s what he was there for.

‘I thought he was a bit shy off camera, quietly spoken. At first he was the sort of man you’d have to go up to to talk to rather than the other way and I used to think it was arrogance or ignorance, but soon realised he was a bit shy.

‘I never watched Big Brother, but flicked it on a couple of times when he was in there and when he was walking around in those white pants he certainly left an impression!’

McCririck, pictured in 1984, enjoyed being in the ‘Betting Jungle’, the term he coined for his excitable workplace

McCririck is taken for a walk at The Blue Cross Dogs At Work Awards in London in 1998

Roger Easterby, a close friend of McCririck for more than 40 years, told the Racing Post: ‘John was often referred to as being like Marmite, but I believe people genuinely liked him. He was kind, generous and knew his subject inside out.’

Jim McGrath, a long-time colleague of McCririck’s at Channel 4, told Sky Sports Racing: ‘John was a legend, one of few people who transcended racing.

‘If you went anywhere in racing in the 1980s and spoke to people with no interest in racing, they would always ask if you knew him. A lot outside racing knew him but nothing about racing, he was larger than life.

‘He was a very good journalist for the Sporting Life. In the later years of his career, he very much went down the media route, but that gets away from the fact that John had expert knowledge and was a very hard worker. 

‘He was one of the first in the press room with his figures and stats, which he adored.

‘We had very differing opinions, but he cared about the ordinary punter and he did stand up for them.’

McCririck with poses with a group of women on Ladies Day at Royal Ascot in June 2013

Edwina Currie serves breakfast to McCririck on Channel 4’s Celebrity Wife Swap in 2006

McCririck poses with models at the World Poker Exchange London event in August 2005

McCririck, pictured in February 2006, was described by his family as an ‘award-winning journalist, broadcaster and for many years the face of British horse racing’

Just a fortnight ago, he thanked well-wishers on social media for their support, as people shared concerns about his health online

Another of his Channel 4 colleagues, former champion jockey John Francome, also paid tribute.

‘I knew he’d been ill for a while. He was eccentric, incredibly generous – he was brilliant at his job. He was great company and I loved him. 

‘I feel very sorry for Jenny as they were a great team.

‘He reached outside the sport – the two names that were mentioned by people outside racing were Frankie Dettori and Big Mac. 

How McCririck became a reality TV regular

Despite his prominence in the racing world, it was McCririck’s reality TV appearances that made him a household name in later years.

Stints in Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap, starting in 2005, cemented his pantomime villain character.

His protests in Celebrity Big Brother about being refused Diet Coke remain some of the most memorable the series has aired.

In Wife Swap, he teamed up with also-outspoken politician Edwina Currie, creating strangely absorbing television as his co-star refused to buckle to McCririck’s obstinate ways.

The Telegraph described them as ‘like a real-life Alan Partridge and Lynn’.

In 2007, he was in hot water with Alan Titchmarsh on his chat show for insulting Chris Tarrant’s estranged wife, Ingrid. At one point, Titchmarsh ejected McCririck from the teatime programme, saying: ‘Go on, off you go’. 

‘He had a persona for TV, he was nothing like what you saw on screen, he was a lovely man.

‘You’d never want to get into an argument with him because he wouldn’t argue with you unless he’s researched it to the nth degree!’

Coral’s David Stevens said: ‘It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of John.

‘As a newcomer to the bookmaking PR game, I had the good fortune to come into contact with him, and while an intimidating figure at first, it soon became apparent that beyond the performer, the deerstalker and the cigar, was a knowledgeable, passionate, enquiring mind, who understood the importance of racing to betting, and vice versa.

‘He would also keep us bookies’ reps on the straight and narrow, which was no bad thing!

‘John also never forgot that racing and betting were first and foremost part of the entertainment business, important yes, but also something fun, to be enjoyed. He was a true one-off, never to be replaced. RIP Big Mac.’

A statement released by his family said: ‘Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and for many years the face of British horse racing, John McCririck, passed away at a London hospital on Friday, July 5 aged 79.

‘John’s interest in horse racing and betting began at Harrow where he was the school bookie. On leaving he worked for an illegal street bookmaker then legally on-course where he learned the art of tic-tac, clerking bets and making a book.

‘John cut his teeth in racing journalism on ‘Formindex’, a tipping sheet otherwise known as ‘The Golden Guide’. He went on to write for the Sporting Life where he won British Press Awards, ‘Specialist Writer of the Year’ and ‘Campaigning Journalist of the Year’.

McCririck enjoys a cigar on London’s Piccadilly during the Liberty and Livelihood March for rural issues in September 2002

McCririck poses for a photograph at Lingfield Park racecourse in Surrey in March 2009

McCririck in his earlier days presenting horse racing at Cheltenham in March 1988

The statement continued: ‘John joined ITV in 1981 for Shergar’s Derby then became a household name as part of the Channel 4 Racing team when they took over coverage of the sport in 1984.

‘His flamboyant broadcasting style from the heart of betting ring proved extremely popular with racing fans and beyond.

‘John continued to work for Channel 4 Racing until 2013, as well as satellite channel At The Races.

‘In this time he transcended the world of racing, appearing on numerous mainstream TV news and light entertainment programmes including Question Time, The Weakest Link, Celebrity Wife Swap and Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 and 2010.

‘Despite suffering ill health in recent months, John continued to make several TV and radio appearances. He is survived by Jenny, his wife of 48 years. His funeral will be private.’

Ascot Racecourse has released a statement saying it is ‘deeply saddened’ by the death of McCririck.

‘Everyone at Ascot is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John McCririck,’ it tweeted. ‘He was an unmistakable presence in racing, and one of the most impactful broadcasters of his generation.’

The British Horseracing Authority paid tribute to McCririck, tweeting: ‘We are saddened to hear of the passing of John McCririck.

‘Throughout a lengthy and colourful career, one thing was always clear – his enduring passion and love for the sport of horseracing.

‘He was a recognisable figure and resonated with the wider public. Our condolences go to his family.’

McCririck is not due to have a funeral, his wife has revealed. Instead he will be cremated with only his wife and a friend in attendance. His ashes are then due to be scattered at Alexandra Park racecourse in North London.

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