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Rebecca Wilcox poses for HELLO! shoot

Rebecca Wilcox on continuing her mother Esther Rantzen's Childline legacy and coping with her Dignitas wish

The journalist was joined by her sons Benjamin and Alexander for the exclusive shoot

Tracy Schaverien
Features Contributor
June 16, 2024
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Esther Rantzen's daughter Rebecca Wilcox has told HELLO! how she is planning to continue her mother's legacy when she takes over from her as President of Childline. 

Rebecca, 44, a journalist and consumer presenter on the BBC's Morning Live programme, joined HELLO! for an exclusive interview and photoshoot, with her sons Benjamin, 11, and Alexander, nine, at their home in Surrey. 

Rebecca Wilcox and family pose for HELLO! shoot
Rebecca Wilcox said the family are "so lucky" to still have mum Esther Rantzen

Former That's Life presenter Esther, who turns 84 next weekend, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last year but her condition is being kept stable with a "miracle" drug. 

"We're so lucky that she is still with us," says Rebecca. "We had another Christmas and she's having another birthday. She saw the tulips come up that she planted. We're all sort of keeping ourselves in the present. 

"It's like you're holding the sand and you're watching it run through your fingers, knowing that each and every grain of sand is the most precious thing and you have to value it. I think anybody whose loved one has had a terminal illness, or a terminal diagnosis themselves, will recognise that feeling."

Rebecca Wilcox and family pose for HELLO! shoot
Her mother Esther was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last year

Esther's close bond with her grandchildren

Rebecca says that in spite of her mother's failing health, she still shares a close bond with her grandchildren.

"She is very mischievous and if the boys haven't said poo or asked for something they're not supposed to have, like ice cream instead of fruit, then she hasn't done her job for the day," says Rebecca with a laugh. 

"She can't be called Grandma, or Granny, or Nan; those names never suited her, so my eldest named her Etta. She's got such a fun sense of humour and strong sense of play. Even now, when her energy is limited, we will all sit around the table drawing consequences."

Rebecca Wilcox and family pose for HELLO! shoot
Rebecca's sons call their grandmother Esther "Etta"

Taking over as President of Childline

While Esther's diagnosis is heartbreaking for Rebecca and her siblings Joshua and Miriam, it's also a blow to the charities she has spearheaded for decades and into which she has put so much passion and energy. Poignantly, Rebecca has agreed to take over her mother's role as President of Childline, the NSPCC's counselling service for children and young people, which Esther founded almost 40 years ago. 

"Mum is President for life, so I am Deputy President until the inevitable happens," explains Rebecca, who has trained as a volunteer counsellor. 

"Obviously I've grown up with the charity and it has always held a very special place in my heart. It is unique as a safe space for children to talk about what they want to talk about in a non-judgmental environment and it's something that should be treasured. 

"The volunteers are so important and so valuable and they have this emotional intelligence that is surpassed by no one.

Rebecca Wilcox and family pose for HELLO! shoot
"She is very mischievous and if the boys haven't said poo or asked for something they're not supposed to have, then she hasn't done her job for the day," said Rebecca of her mother

"I was sitting outside the radiology department with Mum when I got the email asking me to do it and she said, 'I think this is a brilliant idea; I couldn't ask for somebody better.' 

"Obviously, she will be a very hard act to follow and I know that I am a faint shadow of her. I am constantly apologising for not being Mum, and I think I will do that for the rest of my life. I feel like I should get a tattoo saying: 'What would Mum do?'"

Esther's assisted dying wishes

After spending decades fighting injustice and exposing wrongdoing, Esther's last battle has seen her lead a 100,000-name petition to force a parliamentary debate into assisted dying. Meanwhile, she has joined Dignitas, the assisted dying organisation in Switzerland, and Rebecca and her siblings are left with a terrible dilemma. 

"My mum said quite recently that she lost her mother, her husband and her dog within a very short time and that of the three, the dog had the most wonderful death, and the others didn't," Rebecca says. 

"We're just hoping that flight to Dignitas doesn't have to happen any time soon. 

Rebecca Wilcox and family pose for HELLO! shoot
The shoot took place at Rebecca's home in Surrey

"I can't say whether I would go with her because I would face prosecution, which would be a nightmare at the worst time in my life and something I don't think I'd ever get over. But it would be a very strange version of me that would let her go alone."

She adds: "For me, my mum's legacy will be her endless capacity for kindness. Constantly thinking of other people is a wonderful, if not exhausting, way to live, but it is how she's lived her life."

For more information about Childline, visit childline.org.uk

To the full interview, pick up the latest issue of HELLO! on sale in the UK now. You can subscribe to HELLO! to get the magazine delivered free to your door every week or purchase the digital edition online via our Apple or Google apps.

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