EXCLUSIVE: The Classic FM presenter battling cancer is taking on a new fight – against a Sizewell C nuclear plant in local area which he says will devastate wildlife and ruin the countryside
Broadcaster Bill Turnbull is ready to do “whatever it takes” as he turns his attentions from fighting the Big C to a new enemy – Sizewell C.
The former Strictly contestant has become an unlikely eco warrior, warning a proposed new nuclear plant will devastate wildlife and ruin the countryside around his home for years to come.
At its peak, a 14-year building plan would see 1,500 lorries a day thundering down country lanes.
As his own battle with cancer continues, Bill, 64, is chairing local opposition meetings and drumming up support to halt the development at Sizewell, Suffolk.
Speaking from his home Bill says: “It would be a complete travesty if the new plant is built.
“Sizewell C is just too big and destructive for this special environment. It is the wrong project in the wrong place. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
“It is very close to a beautiful and important nature reserve. That would be destroyed. It just does not make any sense. I won’t back down, there is no backing down.”
EDF Energy – which runs the current plant at Sizewell – is planning two new nuclear reactors in a £14billion project.
The plant would be the size of 300 football pitches and would border RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, home to some of the UK’s rarest wildlife.
The build could start next year – but the plant won’t be able to provide electricity until 2035.
Bill, best known for 15 years on BBC Breakfast alongside the likes of Louise Minchin, moved to the area four years ago.
Over tea and biscuits with his wife Sarah – who he affectionately calls Sesi – Bill says: “People come here for dark skies, tranquillity, beautiful landscapes and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
“If this plant goes ahead, that will be cut in two. People will have roads built across their farms, there will be traffic day and night, an influx of construction workers.
“I worry about RSPB Minsmere. It is a jewel of wildlife, a natural treasure and a very precious nature reserve.
“Birds breed there that they haven’t had for decades.
“The idea you would build two nuclear reactors on its doorstep and have the largest construction site in Europe just a couple of hundred yards away is just bonkers.
“It will be 24/7, there will be light, noise, dust. It’s not just the birds, it’s otters, water voles and other animals. I worry about those populations being decimated, I worry about water contamination from the site. It will have a huge impact.”
Bill turned activist after a chance meeting in his local pub with Alison Downes, who leads local campaign group Stop Sizewell C.
He admits he was reluctant to speak up publicly because he spent his whole career as a journalist, where impartiality is a necessity.
Bill goes on: “I never meant to become an eco warrior, it just sort of happened. It feels a little bit strange, but also feels liberating.
“I think about it daily and feel very passionately about it because it overshadows the way we are going to live.”
And he jokes: “I’ll be throwing myself in front of whatever I can throw myself in front of to prevent the build.”
The energy giant plans to build 2,500 temporary multi-storey homes for construction workers – and he fears the area could be overrun with prostitution and drugs.
He explains: “The stories I hear about the 1980s and 90s, when they built Sizewell B, are not pretty.
“You hear tales of prostitution coming to the area and drug abuse, because there are so many workers away from home. It would take a lot of the tourism income out of the area long term and ruin it for future generations.”
The campaign is a huge undertaking for Bill, who was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer in 2017.
Yet he says lifestyle changes – including cutting out meat and dairy and taking up yoga and meditation – have left him feeling healthier.
He says: “At the moment, we are holding steady. I’m on a treatment called Radium 223.
“It was working very well for five months, now it is working sort of okay.
“I feel very well. I’m pretty much not eating meat or dairy.
“I did a lot of research and it comes up time and time again that a wholefood, plant-based diet is good for you. It gets overwhelming, but it is great to be part of that cancer family. You get a lot of support from other people.”
Bill is also on a hormone treatment, which gives him mood swings.
He says: “Most of the time, I am absolutely fine, I get hot flushes, they pass. But occasionally, I can feel my mood dipping. Now when we go down into a dip and I howl like a baby – well, like a grown man, which is much worse – I understand it is chemically induced and it will pass the next day. And it always does.”
Bill, who was on Strictly in 2005, currently presents a weekend show on Classic FM.
He recently stepped in for Piers Morgan alongside his old breakfast TV sidekick Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain.
He says: “It was thrilling being back, I think viewers liked the novelty of having me.