When Dame Barbara Windsor died in the dark Covid days of December 2020 the nation mourned the loss of not just an immensely talented and likeable actress, but a friend.  We felt we knew this pocket dynamo, through her countless appearances, from her early days in the Carry On films to her later role as Peggy Mitchell in Eastenders, which she played for 20 years.

We didn’t really know her of course, not the real Babs.  But one man did.  Scott Mitchell was 26 years younger than the love of his life.  They met when he was 29 and she was 55 and married, and predictably, many thought the relationship wouldn’t last.  How wrong they were.  The couple were married for 27 tempestuous years during which they weathered her many bouts of ill health, his drinking, her fame and its relentless intrusion into their lives.  At different times, they both encountered the black dog of depression.  Yet despite it all their bond proved unbreakable and, when Barbara was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, Scott was there by her side.  Four years later they went public with Barbara’s condition.

This was hugely important.  As I wrote at the time, when entertainment royalty such as Barbara Windsor speak out it makes headlines, generates discussion, and raises awareness in a unique and powerful way.  In less than 48 hours the subject of dementia was projected into everyone’s lives.   Donations to the Alzheimer’s Society increased 30 per cent.   In 2019, Scott, a former alcoholic, ran the Dementia Revolution Marathon: it was to become the most successful London marathon partnership of all time, raising over 4 million pounds.

It is only now, having read Scott Mitchell’s account of his phenomenal life with this legendary actress, that I understand the depth and complexity of their love for each other and the huge courage it took them to tell the world their very personal news.

Their handling of Barbara’s dementia was perhaps the most poignant example of the way in which their personal and public personas were inextricably linked.  Just a few months after taking the painful decision to move his wife into a care home – “My Fear Has Become A Reality” screamed the Sun headline – Scott was told that Barbara was now receiving palliative care.

When her death was announced it led all the news bulletins, Good Morning Britain dedicated a whole programme to her, the then Prince, now King, Charles publicly announced his sadness, along with the then Prime Minister, other politicians, Royalty, and hosts of celebrities, many of whom were close friends of the couple.  Barbara Windsor’s illuminated name was circulated round the top of the Post Office and Blackpool Towers, and Alzheimer’s Research UK set up a condolence page that raised £130,000 within the month.

This summer Boris Johnson launched a national mission to tackle dementia and pledged to double research funding into the condition to 160 million pounds a year by 2024.    The mission is named the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission.  Let’s hope that this pledge survives the current political and economic turbulence. If it does, it will be a remarkable tribute, and legacy.