Barbara Windsor Shutterstock

Barbara Windsor arrives for the Olivier Awards 2012 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Picture by: Simon Burchell / Featureflash

Entertainment

Dame Barbara Windsor: Military Community Pays Tribute Following Star's Death, Aged 83

Nation mourns following the death of Barbara 'Babs' Windsor

Barbara Windsor Shutterstock

Barbara Windsor arrives for the Olivier Awards 2012 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Picture by: Simon Burchell / Featureflash

Dame Barbara Windsor is being honoured in countless tributes from all walks of life following her death, aged 83.

A passionate supporter of the Armed Forces, notably in her dedication to supporting the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and London Poppy Day, Dame Barbara is perhaps best known for her roles in BBC soap EastEnders and Britain’s series of Carry On films – performances that cemented her image as a British icon of film and television.

However, her boundless enthusiasm for helping others, driven by her larger-than-life character and personality, ensured she will also be remembered for her support for a host of charity appeals and campaigns as she played on her status as a national treasure to promote causes close to her heart.

The daughter of a British Army soldier who fought in World War Two, Dame Barbara often spoke with affection about how the Armed Forces had always been a part of her life, perhaps making her a natural fit with campaigns in support of the military community.

The actress, one of Britain’s most beloved stars of entertainment who was often affectionately referred to as 'Babs', died following a long battle with Alzheimer's with which she had been diagnosed in 2014.

The news of her struggle with the disease was made public in 2018, but her condition did little to suppress her zeal for charitable endeavours as she, alongside her husband Scott Mitchell, launched into campaigning for greater dementia care from the Government.

Mr Mitchell, paying respects to his “wife, best friend and soulmate” said his “heart or life will never feel the same without you” as he led the tributes to Dame Barbara.

He said the cherished actress’s final weeks were “typical of how she lived her life” and “full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end”.

Mr Mitchell said: “Her passing was from Alzheimer’s/dementia and Barbara eventually died peacefully and I spent the last seven days by her side.

“Myself, her family and friends will remember Barbara with love, a smile and affection for the many years of her love, fun, friendship and brightness she brought to all our lives and the entertainment she gave to so many thousands of others during her career.

“Barbara’s final weeks were typical of how she lived her life. Full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end.

“It was not the ending that Barbara or anyone else living with this very cruel disease deserve. I will always be immensely proud of Barbara’s courage, dignity and generosity dealing with her own illness and still trying to help others by raising awareness for as long as she could.”

Speaking of he and his wife’s campaign to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s issues, he added: “Dementia/Alzheimer’s remains the UKs number one killer. Although in challenging times, I urge the Prime Minister, his government and other parties to be true to their previous promises and invest more into dementia/Alzheimer’s research and care.

“Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and carers who are angels at the care home for your kindness and care to Barbara and I throughout her stay with you. You are my heroes.

“And my gratitude to our family, friends and everyone in the media and the general public for all the good wishes and warm support that has been shown to Barbara over the last few years during her illness. Barbara deeply appreciated that.”

At the end of his moving tribute, Mr Mitchell said: “May you rest in peace now my precious Bar. I’ve lost my wife, my best friend and soul mate and my heart or life will never feel the same without you.

“I will be making no further statements and now need the time to grieve this painful, personal loss.”

Barbara Windsor PA

Barbara Windsor arriving at the Breast Cancer Care fashion show at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. Picture by: Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those paying tribute, saying in a post on Twitter: “So sad about Barbara Windsor, so much more than a great pub landlady & Carry On star.

“She campaigned for the lonely and the vulnerable - and cheered the world up with her own British brand of harmless sauciness & innocent scandal. Thoughts with Scott and all her family & friends.”

Such was Dame Barbara’s connection to the Armed Forces that the Ministry Of Defence was among those paying tribute to the star, with a post from the MOD press office on Twitter saying: “RIP Dame Barbara Windsor, a constant supporter of our Armed Forces for many decades. She was always prepared to help drum up support for @ArmedForcesDay and The Poppy Appeal. Thank you Barbara #CarryOn.”

A young Barbara Windsor first found fame in her role as a buxom blonde in the British comedy Carry On films, made at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, with starring roles in films such as Carry On Spying, Carry On Doctor, Carry On Matron and Carry On Abroad.

Perhaps the scene for which she became most famous featured in the 1969 Carry On Camping film, in which her character, named Babs, took part in an exercise lesson during which her bikini top pings off.

But Dame Barbara is more recently remembered for her equally iconic role for which she was to become a household name, playing Peggy Mitchell, the Queen Vic’s battle-axe landlady in EastEnders.

Away from her acting roles, her personal life was perhaps almost as colourful as her TV soap character – as she told all in her autobiography ‘All Of Me: My Extraordinary Life’ in which she spoke openly about her personal life and relationships.

She had connections to the East End gangsters, the Kray twins, including a relationship with Reggie Kray, and she had been married to former nightclub owner and criminal Ronnie Knight, from 1964 to 1985.

Her colourful way with words occasionally landed her in public controversy and drama, such as the time she said, during a live interview with Sky News, that people who do not wear poppies for Remembrance Day could “sod off” – a comment for which she later apologised.

Barbara Windsor - Carry On

File photo dated 12/12/73 of Carry On stars Sid James and Barbara Windsor welcoming guests to a party for ITV's Christmas performers at the New London Theatre.  Picture by: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

Few could doubt her passion for supporting the Armed Forces, however, and her backing of The Royal British Legion and the Poppy Appeal has earned particular praise from military community.

A spokesperson for The Royal British Legion said: “Everyone at The Royal British Legion is incredibly sad to hear of the passing of Dame Barbara Windsor. An unforgettable character, Dame Barbara brought joy to all who knew her with her infectious laugh and personality.

“She was a dedicated and passionate supporter of The Royal British Legion, and of the Armed Forces.

“We are incredibly grateful for the time and energy Dame Barbara devoted to supporting the charity’s work, from launching the Poppy Appeal to her unwavering support for London Poppy Day, for which she was the figurehead from its inception until ill health prevented her from continuing.

"Memorably, on London Poppy Day in 2013, she hosted Service personnel and Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge aboard a Routemaster double-decker, her fun-loving spirit shining through as she encouraged everyone to join in a chorus of ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’. 

“On many occasions, Dame Barbara spent time meeting Service personnel, veterans and volunteers, taking an interest in everyone and learning more about the work of the Armed Forces. She never failed to raise a smile on the faces of those she met and she was never too busy to talk to anyone.

“We are privileged to have worked with Dame Barbara. She was more than a supporter, she was a friend to the charity who is held dear in the hearts of all of us. Her warmth, her smile and her extraordinary support will be missed by the entire Armed Forces community.”

 

In 2016, BFBS The Forces Station spoke to Dame Barbara when she was a guest of honour at a Blind Veterans UK Christmas lunch. 

BFBS broadcaster Tim Humphries chatted to the actress about her love of the Armed Forces, on being made a Dame, and her role in Eastenders, and also about her reasons for supporting Forces charities.

She told how the Armed Forces had always been a part of her life, saying: “My Dad was in the Army and I always remember as a little girl, because I am quite old, nearly 80, I remember him standing there and him telling me why he was going leave his daughter.

“Not because he wasn’t talking to me Mum and I was a bad girl but he was going because there was a nasty man in a place called Germany.

“We lost a couple of people where I lived you see and he said ‘you know, the girls that were, your best friends, I lost’ he said ‘ that man didn’t like them’ and he told it in a childish way, you know what I mean and I thought that’s why he went off because he was doing good.

“The Army’s always been part of my life. All the forces have, our Forces are absolutely magnificent but especially the Army because I always remember him coming back in his Army uniform and I was so proud, so very very proud.” 

Blind Veterans UK posted a comment on Twitter following news of the star’s death, saying that Dame Barbara Windsor was a cultural icon and supporter of many good causes and charities including its own cause.

The charity added: “She was as happy to help at our Christmas lunches as read at our Centenary @wabbey. Our condolences go to Scott, her friends & family. She'll be hugely missed and never forgotten.”

A tweet with a photo from Westminster Abbey added: “We are saddened to hear of the death of Dame Barbara Windsor. She's pictured here at a service in the Abbey to mark the centenary of @BlindVeterans, a charity she supported for many years.”

A post on Twitter from 16 Air Assault Brigade, Britain’s UK Global Response Force, read: “RIP Dame Barbara Windsor, a constant supporter of the Armed Forces for many decades.

“Here she is visiting our troops collecting for the Royal British Legion at Liverpool Street station on London Poppy Day, 2017.”

Dame Barbara made her debut as Peggy Mitchell in 1994 and soon became one of the small screen’s best-loved characters as she yelled at rogue drinkers to “get outta my pub!”.

It became the defining role of her career and saw her star alongside Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden as her fictional sons Grant and Phil, with the late Mike Reid as her on-screen husband Frank Butcher.

The character left our screens in 2003 when Dame Barbara took a sabbatical for medical reasons after being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, but she returned as a series regular in 2005.

In 2009, Dame Barbara announced she would be leaving the soap again in order to spend more time with her husband Scott, who she married in 2000.

She returned for cameo appearances in the soap over the next few years but in 2016 she played Peggy for the final time.

Her final scenes aired in May that year as the Walford stalwart took her own life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Born in Shoreditch, London, in 1937, Dame Barbara launched her showbiz career early, making her stage debut at 13 and her West End debut in 1952.

Before becoming synonymous with Albert Square, Dame Barbara delighted Carry On fans with her portrayals of a “good time girl,” appearing in nine films in a series known for its bawdy humour.

She first appeared in Carry On Spying in 1964, with her final film role coming in 1974’s Carry On Dick.

The actress was made a dame in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list for her services to charity and entertainment.

Both Dame Barbara and her husband campaigned to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s following her diagnosis.

In August this year, Mitchell said his wife had been moved to a care home in London.

Barbara Windsor - Dame - PA

File photo dated 22/03/16 of Barbara Windsor after she was made a Dame Commander of the order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. Picture by: John Stillwell/PA Wire/PA Images.

Her former EastEnders co-stars were among those paying tribute to her.

Patsy Palmer, who played Bianca Jackson on the BBC soap, shared a moving tribute on Instagram.

Alongside pictures of the pair together, as well as a photograph of a young Dame Barbara, Palmer said: “I’m extremely sad to hear that my friend ‘Dame’ Babara Windsor has passed away. I’m sitting here thinking of the 100’s of memories we shared.

“Too many to comprehend. We were like family for a long time, ups downs, ins and outs but you will never meet a more professional actress than Babs.”

Palmer, 48, also praised Dame Barbara’s husband, Scott.

She wrote: “@scott.mitchell3 You were the best husband she could’ve wished for. You deserve the highest accolade. We shared such magical times together and I’ll cherish every one. I can hear that laugh now as I sit and think about her. I hope it’ll ring in my ears forever.

“She always looked out for me and so did you. Love you both very much. I’m gutted! I could say so much but I’m so sad. RIP BABS.”

Little Britain star Matt Lucas said, “it’s not an overstatement to say I think the whole country is in mourning today”. He added:

“She delighted us on stage and sparkled on screen in a long and illustrious career. She also worked tirelessly for charity, and continued to do so, even when her own health was failing her.”

David Walliams, Lucas’ Little Britain co-star, said Dame Barbara was the “unofficial Queen of England, an icon for over half a century and treasured by the nation”.

Following her death, The Alzheimer’s Society praised Dame Barbara and her husband, saying it is “incredibly grateful” for their work bringing awareness to the disease.

In a statement to PA, the charity said: “Dame Barbara Windsor was an amazingly true, much-loved national treasure, and in speaking out about her experiences shone like a beacon for others affected by dementia.

“Our heart goes out to her husband Scott Mitchell and all their family and friends at this very sad time. Alzheimer’s Society is incredibly grateful to have had Barbara and her husband Scott’s support – what they achieved over the last couple of years for dementia has been truly awe-inspiring.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK said in a statement its staff were “devastated”, with director Tim Parry adding: “Dame Barbara’s work in helping to rally support and demystify an often-misunderstood condition made a difference to us and many others and further adds to her legacy as one of the nation’s favourites.

“She was a friend to our charity, and we are desperately sad to lose her.”

Teresa Greener, The Royal British Legion’s head of special events and celebrity liaison, said that the basis of Dame Barbara’s support for the Armed Forces came from the fact that she was a child in the Blitz in London and remembers her father being away at war for a long time during World War Two - spending those years with her mother, with bombs falling all around her.

She added: “From then on I think her devotion to the Armed Forces was key in her life.”

Dame Barbara is survived by her husband.