DEBBIE Dowie is a footballer’s wife who not only turned the stereotype around but also found a way to raise thousands of pounds to help local hospitals.

And that chapter in her remarkable “career” kicked off in Bolton when she started the Boot Out Breast Cancer charity seven years ago.

Debbie was actually born and brought up in Portsmouth. She planned to become a physiotherapist at a rugby club but when she failed to do as well as she had hoped in her A-levels, she decided instead to become an air hostess as they were called back then.

She left home at 19 and moved to Luton where she joined Brittania Airways and later worked for British Airways.

“The work schedules weren’t as hectic then as they are now,” she stated, “It was a great job and I loved the work and the travel.”

In Luton, she met professional footballer Iain Dowie — now a TV presenter and pundit — in a local nightclub; he was then playing for Luton.

“He was very funny – a great storyteller,” recalled Debbie.

The two got together, later got engaged and married in picturesque Portchester Castle. When Iain’s playing career was over and he became a football manager, the couple — by then with two sons, Ollie and Will — moved north to live in Bolton as Iain was appointed manager of Oldham Athletic.

They made their home in Lostock. “I’m chatty and inquisitive and felt at home here straight away,” stated Debbie. Over time, she also became involved in local fundraising and worked at the sharp end of the Home Start charity which helps families with young children.

In 2009 at the age of 41, Debbie noticed a change in her breast. She ended up having tests at the Royal Bolton Hospital and breast cancer was diagnosed.

As she had private medical insurance, Debbie was able to be dealt with very quickly — including costly tests which indicated whether or not she would need chemotherapy. She didn’t. She went into the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle under Professor Andrew Baildam and, after being diagnosed on August 5, she had a mastectomy on August 20 and a reconstruction at the same time.

She recovered quickly and was even back out running six weeks later. “What I realised straight away was just how fortunate I had been and that this experience was not typical for many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer,” she stated.

She asked Professor Baildam how she could help and he pointed out the desperate need for the latest diagnostic equipment in NHS hospitals. Within months, she had decided to launch a charity that could buy individual breast cancer equipment for local hospitals around the North West. Boot Out Breast Cancer was born.

With the help of seven friends, Debbie created a team organising a ball and, using her previous fundraising CV, hers and Iain’s contacts and the help of local businesses, she put on a Bollywood evening at Gorton Monastery. It raised an amazing £75,000 and allowed Debbie and the charity to buy a Faxitron machine for the Royal Bolton Hospital which speeds up diagnosis during lumpectomies.

Since then, the charity has held a ball and other fundraising events each year. So far, it has raised an amazing £780,000 and bought vital equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer for hospitals including Wigan and Leigh, Wythenshawe, the Nightingale Centre and Liverpool.

Debbie is naturally modest and always insists the work is a team effort but it’s plain that she is not only the inspiration behind it all, but also the lynchpin.

She has attracted hard-working patrons like paralympic cycling champion Dame Sarah Storey, who also set up successful Boot Out Breast Cancer women’s cycling teams, footballing legend Alan Shearer, Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham and Professor Baildam.

Ask her about her own cancer and she will always say how “lucky” she was. But she knows how this affected her family and the stress that such a diagnosis can always cause – and she wants to continue making it easier for others with the help of the charity.

Over the years, she has learned much about fundraising and about the buying the often large pieces of equipment like the mammography machine.

She is currently busy organising a ladies’ lunch at Rivington Barn on January 6 and then the big fundraising ball in November, 2018.

Debbie still has a dream, though, for Boot Out Breast Cancer. “I would love to make it a national charity,” she insisted, with the charming smile that hides the steely will to do exactly that.