Tracey Emin presents Attitude Award to Russell Tovey from her bed
2nd December 2020

Tracey Emin admits she’s ‘not very well’ as she’s seen for the first time since revealing she has aggressive bladder cancer – and presents virtual Attitude Award from her bed

  • Tracey Emin, 57, presented the Culture Award last night over video from her bed
  • The British artist declared her ‘good friend’ Russell Tovey as one of the winners
  • She appeared from her bed after being treated for an aggressive cancer 
  • Earlier this year she revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer 
  • She had surgery where many of  her reproductive organs were removed
  • Said at time tumour was discovered was working on painting of malignant lump

Tracey Emin admitted she’s ‘not very well’ in her first public appearance since revealing she has aggressive cancer.

The 57-year-old artist presented the Culture Award to Russell Tovey via video link from her bedroom at her Margate home at last night’s virtual Attitude Awards.

When presenting the award, Emin said: ‘So I’m in bed. It’s not an affectation, I’m not very well. 

‘But the good news is, I suppose, is that none of us can be there in reality, which is a shame, because this award – the Attitude Culture Award – for 2020, goes to a very good friend of mine. Congratulations Russell Tovey.’ 

At the end of October, it was revealed the Turner Prize nominee had undergone treatment for an aggressive cancer that left her fearing she could be dead by Christmas. 

The artist, 57, discovered she had a tumour in her bladder in June and was told by doctors they hoped to treat it by removing the growth and starting chemotherapy.

However, Miss Emin was found to be suffering with very aggressive squamous cell cancer, which surgeons feared would kill her in months if it spread to her lymph nodes.

As a result, a decision was made to remove not only her bladder but also her uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, lymph nodes, urethra and part of her colon and vagina.

Prior to the surgery, Miss Emin said, she stayed up for 24 hours with her solicitor rewriting her will before sending an email to 70 friends breaking the news of her cancer and instructing them: ‘Do not contact me’. 

British artist Tracey Emin, 57, says she was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and is in remission after an operation. She is picture (above) in a selfie taken in August but released yesterday

Artist Tracey Emin presented the Culture Award at last night’s Attitude Awards from her bed (pictured), after revealing earlier this year she had undergone treatment for an aggressive cancer

Tracey Emin is pictured with her mother Pam in 2009. Before her cancer surgery, she contacted 70 friends with the news and asked them not to get in touch with her while she came to terms with her illness 

But now, following a six-and-a-half-hour operation carried out by 12 surgeons in July, she is in remission.

She has been left with a stoma bag as a result of having ‘half my body chopped out’ and is still struggling to find the energy to paint.

In a frank interview with The Times, Miss Emin admitted that if she had received the diagnosis last year she ‘probably would have topped myself’.

But, she said, she was now glad finally to be talking about the illness, as it would stop people assuming she was just hungover when too unwell to attend events.

Discussing her ordeal she said: ‘It was squamous cell cancer, which means it’s really rapid, really aggressive. It’s known as bad cancer.’

She recalled her surgeon telling her: ‘We have to move fast. But the good news is, your bladder is really c**p and what we’re going to do is just take all your bladder out and the cancer will be gone.’ But, she added: ‘It didn’t turn out like that.’ 

Tracey Emin, aged about six, with her twin brother Paul

Tracey Emin poses for photographers next to her 1998 artpiece, entitled ‘My Bed’ at an auction house exhibition space in central London.

Pictured, arriving at the annual British Book Awards (known as the Nibbies) at Grosvenor House, Park Lane on April 20, 2005 in London

Miss Emin was told if they found cancer in her lymph nodes during surgery she would be dead before Christmas. ‘That’s what the stakes were.’

Remembering her conversation with the surgeon, she recounted: ‘He said, ‘So we’re going to remove your bladder and we’re going to remove your uterus, your fallopian tubes, your ovaries, your lymph nodes, part of your colon, your urethra.’

‘I said to him, ‘Oh my God, anything else?’ And he said, ‘Yes, part of your vagina.’ And I went, ‘Oh ****ing hell’.’ 

Miss Emin had suffered from frequent bladder infections as a result of having to self-catheterise since doctors discovered her bladder had ‘blown out and stopped working’ when she was in hospital for appendicitis five years ago.

Art critics, journalists, academics and fans paid tribute to Tracey Emin and her bravery

However she decided to seek help from a Harley Street urologist in June after finding her catheters blood-stained and experiencing pain that felt ‘really wrong’.

An MRI scan detected the growth and she underwent the dramatic surgery a month later, she told The Times. 

Following the diagnosis Miss Emin joked: ‘I said to the doctors, ‘So I’m going to lose a load of weight and have a really tight vagina – and this is bad?’ ‘ Of the surgery, she added: ‘I managed to keep all of my clitoris. Not that it’s working.


Bladder cancer is caused by a tumour developing in the lining of the bladder or the organ’s muscle.

Around 10,200 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year and 81,400 people in the US, according to figures.

It is the 10th most common cancer in the UK – but a little more prevalent in the US – and accounts for about three per cent of all cases.

The cancer is more common in men and has a 10-year survival rate of about 50 per cent. Around half of cases are considered preventable.

Symptoms of the disease include blood in the urine, needing to urinate more often or more urgently than normal and pelvic pain.

However, unexpected weight loss and swelling of the legs can also be signs of the killer disease.

Smoking and exposure to chemicals in plastics and paints at work can increase the risk of getting bladder cancer.

Treatment varies depending on how advanced the cancer is, and may include surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Source: NHS Choices

‘But they had to cut away a whole side of the vaginal wall and sew it back together, so it’s really, really sealed.’

She said she hoped that would not be permanent but will require a series of therapies. Despite her upbeat attitude to her ordeal, Miss Emin admitted: ‘If it was a year ago I probably would have topped myself anyway, because I was so depressed.’

She added that while she was now on the road to recovery she had not yet been able to do the thing she loves most – paint.

In a separate interview, with art website Artnet, she said: ‘Yesterday, I was crying because I wanted to paint and I didn’t have the energy to do it.’

She told The Times it had been a relief to her that she was childless, explaining: ‘There was one big problem I didn’t have to face, did I? Didn’t have to look my children in the face and say, ‘Mummy might be dying’.’ 

The artist said that following her recovery she was hoping to find love.

When asked about her future ambitions she said: ‘Well, it’s a lot different from what it was before.

‘To get past Christmas would be a good one. I would like to be with someone who really, really loved me for who I am. But also they’d have to really love my art.’

Miss Emin told Artnet: ‘I can feel more than ever that love is allowed. At my age now, love is a completely different dimension and level of understanding. I don’t want children, I don’t want all the things that you might subconsciously crave when you’re young – I just want love.

‘And as much love as I can possibly have. I want to be smothered in it, I want to be devoured by it. And I think that is okay.’

Squamous cell cancer of the bladder accounts for about five in 100 of all bladder cancers.

The survival rate for women at one year is 64.5 per cent and falls to 43.9 per cent at five years. Miss Emin, who lives in Margate, Kent, was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999. Her famous works include her unmade bed installation.

She is gearing up for the launch of her latest exhibition Details Of Love, but she will not be at the opening in Brussels this Friday.

Next month Miss Emin will exhibit her never-before-seen paintings alongside works by Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch as part of a ‘landmark exhibition’ at the Royal Academy. 

Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness Of The Soul will focus on themes of grief, loss and longing, with Miss Emin picking 19 oil paintings and watercolours by Munch, including his 1907 painting The Death Of Marat, to explore his complex relationship with women.

These will sit alongside 25 of her own pieces, including paintings – some of which will be on display for the first time – neons and sculpture.    

Highlights of Tracey Emin’s career 

1995, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95: This piece first brought Tracey Emin to wider fame, both in the art world and among the general public

1999, My Bed: The piece is Emin’s record of several days spent in bed in the grip of depression. The bed is unmade and the sheets are stained. All around are strewn a variety of items such as condoms, contraceptive pills, underwear stained with menstrual blood, money, and cigarette ends. The work was nominated for the Turner prize in 1999 and received a hugely mixed response from the public and press

2001, The Perfect Place to Grow: This work pays homage to the artist’s Turkish Cypriot father who, she says, is a fantastic gardener but a terrible carpenter. It consists of a wooden birdhouse-like structure on wooden stilts

2004, Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing: This appliquéd blanket work is a blistering attack Margaret Thatcher, and her participation in the Falklands War of 1982

2011, I Promise To Love You: In the 2000s, Emin began working extensively with neon lighting. These works feature words and phrases in her handwriting. Pictured, 2011’s neon sculpture I Promise To Love You


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