BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker thanks listeners for support after doctors told him to ‘prepare to die’

BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker has thanked listeners for their supportive messages as he deals with a terminal illness.

In 2019, the presenter, who has worked at the BBC since 1969, was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – when the lungs become scarred and breathing becomes increasingly difficult. At the time, Walker was given a prognosis of two to five years, and he continued to present his radio shows from his home in Dorset.

The 79-year-old and his wife, Tiggy Jarvis, revealed earlier this month that doctors had told him to “prepare to die at any time” and that he had a “finite amount of time” left to live, which could range from weeks to six months.

During Sunday’s live instalment of his show Sounds of the 70s (23 June), Walker read out a message from a listener who thoughtfully suggested the song “You’ve Got A Friend” as a show of support for the veteran radio DJ.

The listener, Jeanette Beale from West Sussex, said the “most appropriate [song suggestion] is ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ sung by James Taylor or Carole King, or the two of them together, [because] you’ve been a good friend to all of your listeners, and we’re thinking of you and Tiggy at this time”.

Walker remained in positive spirits despite the circumstances, and thanked Beale for her kind message before playing King’s 1971 version of the song.

Walker pictured in 2004 (PA)
Walker pictured in 2004 (PA)

Walker, who also hosts the The Radio 2 Rock Show, needs round-the-clock care and is being looked after, full-time, by Tiggy.

Another listener wrote in to request the 1972 song “The Rocker” by the band Thin Lizzy on behalf of his wife, before explaining that she had helped him through a period of cancer recovery. After Walker read out the message, he was empathetic as he said: “Well, I know all about that.”

It was in honour of Carers Week earlier this month that the presenter and his wife opened up about Walker’s terminal illness on BBC Sounds podcast, Walker and Walker: Johnnie and Tiggy.

In it, Walker, who was previously cared for by Tiggy when he was diagnosed with cancer early on in their marriage in 2006, told his wife: “Here we are at the end of my life when you’re having to care for me all over again.”

He said of Tiggy: “You definitely saved my life when I went through cancer. I’m positive I wouldn’t have made it without you. Your love was just so sustaining, it gave me so much to look forward to. And your caring for me now makes my life so much better.”

Tiggy said that she has required help in “grieving” the life that they share, stating: “It’s only by going to the doctors and going on antidepressants that I have kept going because I was crying every single day and I was overwhelmed.”

Walker photographed in 2014 (Mike Webster/Shutterstock)
Walker photographed in 2014 (Mike Webster/Shutterstock)

She said they were told by a consultant that Walker should “prepare to go at any moment”, before adding: “Equally, you might be around for six months.”

The couple are joint patrons of Carers UK, a charity that supports people caring for loved ones or family members.

Walker now uses an oxygen machine for his IPS and told The Telegraph last month that he does “panic occasionally when I can’t breathe” but clarified that he is “not in pain”.

He added that presenting Sounds Of The 70s gives him a “purpose” and that he believes he would “die a lot sooner” if he stopped doing the Sunday show.

“Anyway, when you play records, you are bringing back memories for people as well as playing records that they love,” he said.