Downton Abbey star reveals long-term cancer battle

Cast photo for Downton Abbey Series 3

Former Downton Abbey actor Nicky Henson has revealed that he has been battling cancer for over 18 years, in a candid new essay.

Writing in the Mirror, the 73-year-old shared that his battle with disease began on Christmas Day in 2000, after experiencing 'terrible stomach pains'.

The actor, who has also starred in Eastenders and Fawlty Towers, was rushed to hospital by his wife Marguerite, before being given the devastating news a day later.

'I had a large tumour. They didn’t know what it was and were going to have to operate.'

But it seems the actor who starred in hit ITV show Downton as Charlie Crigg - a stage performer who starred with character Charles Carson - is determined to maintain a positive attitude.

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Rex)

He said, 'I rang my wife, who came in and I said to her, ‘We mustn’t feel sorry for ourselves, we’re going to sort this out’. The next morning I woke up and all the fear had gone.'

Nicky also shared how he made his cancer fight his sole focus.

'My brain just went, 'Right, I’m 57 years old, I don’t care if I never work again, this is my new job now, pointing at my stomach’. That’s how it’s been ever since, even if it did come as a shock as I wasn’t used to being ill.'

Nicky, who has three children with actress Una Stubbs, went on to share how his cancer returned twice again over the last 18 years. Most recently, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago, which is still proving tricky to this day.

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He shared, 'Eventually my urethra was worn out so I have a stent now, which has to be replaced every five to six months.'

However, the actor has stayed hugely positive, thanks to the support of his family.

'It's amazing what they can do now. When my generation heard the 'c' word we thought that's it.

'My three sons looked it all up on the internet and said, 'Listen dad, it's not like the old days - you'll be alright.' And I have been for 18 years.'

He concluded his remarkably candid essay by sharing that he accepts cancer as "part of [his] life" now, and will continue to enjoy life as much as he can.

'I've been fighting cancer for 18 years now so it's just part of my life. Whatever happens, happens. It's not so much fighting it, it's keeping a sense of humour.

'I swim half a mile every day but I’ve always done that. I haven’t smoked for about 45 years, but I drink alcohol and I’m not going to stop having a good time.

'If I’m going to be here, you need to enjoy it! I consider myself a very lucky person.”

Amy Hunt
Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is Life Channel Editor at, having been with the brand since 2015. She began as the magazine's features assistant before moving over to digital as a News and Features Writer, before becoming Senior Writer, and now a Channel Editor. She has worked on either women's lifestyle websites previously too—including Woman's Weekly,, Woman, and Woman's Own. In 2019, Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards, for her work on She is passionate about everything from books, to homes, to food and the latest news on the royal family. When she isn't editing or updating articles on cleaning, homewares, the newest home gadgets, or the latest books releases for the website, she's busy burying her nose in a gripping thriller, practising yoga, or buying new homeware of her own.