Danny La Rue has died after a short illness, his spokeswoman said.

The legendary female impersonator, who was 81, had been suffering from cancer.

His spokeswoman said on Monday: “Danny died peacefully in his sleep just before midnight last night after a short illness – his beloved companion Annie Galbraith was with him at their home in Kent.”

La Rue – who was born Daniel Patrick Carroll – enjoyed a glittering career for some 60 years and was once described by Noel Coward as: “The most professional, the most witty… and the most utterly charming man in the business.”

The stage star was born in Cork, Ireland and at nine came to England, where his family initially settled in London.

He was evacuated to Devon during the Blitz and worked in a store in Exeter after leaving school at 15.

La Rue worked in cabaret alongside Barbara Windsor when first starting out.

On the West End stage he triumphed in seven major shows including Come Spy With Me at the Whitehall Theatre, The Danny La Rue Show at the Prince of Wales Theatre, and Aladdin at the London Palladium.

He has undertaken 53 pantomimes at major venues all over the country.

His national tour with his Danny La Rue Show was a box office success and he was a particular hit in Australia, where he would spend half his working year entertaining in TV as well as theatre and cabaret seasons.

La Rue was awarded an OBE in recognition of his work for charity and theatre.