SIR Jeremy Heywood, the former Cabinet Secretary and head of the UK Civil Service, has died from cancer, Downing Street has said.

The 56-year-old, a civil servant for more than 34 years, served four prime ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May.

His wife Suzanne said her husband, who had stepped down from his Government role just two weeks ago, passed away on Sunday morning.

She paid tribute to a "wonderful father," who had "crammed a huge amount into his 56 years".

Lady Heywood said: "He saw it as a huge privilege to work so closely with four prime ministers and two chancellors and was unwavering in his efforts to help each of them reach their goals.

"He was always conscious of the need for civil servants to see the world through ministers' eyes while at the same time respecting the boundaries between politicians and civil servants.

"Away from his work, he inspired admiration, respect and affection in his many and diverse group of friends and returned it to them.”

She added: "Jeremy could light up any room or conversation and loved hosting a good party."

Theresa May led the political tributes to Sir Jeremy.

The Prime Minister said: “This is extremely sad news and all of my thoughts are with Jeremy’s family and friends.

“The many retirement tributes paid to Jeremy from across the political spectrum in recent weeks demonstrated his extraordinary talent supporting and advising Prime Ministers and Ministers, and leading the Civil Service with distinction.

“He worked tirelessly to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Civil Service and he is a huge loss to British public life.

“I will always be grateful for the support which he gave me personally and will remember his achievements across his career as we regret that he did not have the chance to offer his talents for longer in retirement.”

Mrs May added: “Jeremy will be sorely missed and I send my deepest condolences to Suzanne and the children and to all his family and many friends.”

Gordon Brown, the former Labour premier, said Britain had lost a "leader of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and - as we saw in the way he fought his illness - remarkable courage". 

He went on: “Jeremy Heywood was the most dynamic civil servant of his generation, a leader who inspired confidence, whose expertise was recognised by all and and whose impartiality was never in doubt.

“Jeremy was a unique civil servant who may not always have agreed with proposals from Ministers but always had a positive and often better  alternative to offer. He will be sorely missed for the remarkable contribution he has made to the government of Britain.

“Our hearts goes out to his wife Suzanne and his children,” added the former Labour leader.

Sir Mark Sedwill, Sir Jeremy’s successor as Cabinet Secretary and head of the UK Civil Service, said:

“Jeremy made an immense contribution to public life, serving four Prime Ministers with distinction. He joined the Civil Service in 1983, advising and supporting governments through some of the most challenging episodes of the last 30 years. Jeremy was the exemplary public servant.

“We will miss him more than we can say and will be the poorer without his advice, leadership and extraordinary insight. He set the highest standards and challenged us to meet them. Jeremy was always looking to move difficult problems forward, restlessly confident to deliver a better way. He was a champion of innovation and embraced change while consolidating and protecting the best of history. He promoted a diverse and inclusive Civil Service, fit to meet the digital, commercial and policy challenges of the future.

“Jeremy also considered it a privilege to lead the hundreds of thousands of civil servants up and down the country, and across the world, who work day after day to make people’s lives better.”

Sir Mark added: “We offer our condolences and best wishes to Jeremy’s wife Suzanne, his three children, the rest of his family and their friends.”

Former Treasury minister Yvette Cooper paid a tearful tribute to Sir Jeremy as the news of his death broke on Sky News' Ridge show.

She said: "People will not be aware of quite how many remarkable things he did to steady crises, deal with some of the most difficult problems and as a very honourable public servant to hold people together and to make sure the Government frankly did not do stupid things on many occasions.

"His contribution to public life for all governments, whatever your politics, was immense and we owe him a debt of gratitude," she added.

Sir Jeremy was appointed Cabinet Secretary in January 2012 and head of the Civil Service in September 2014.

Prior to that, he was Permanent Secretary at No 10 and held a range of senior roles, including Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Head of Corporate and Management Change at HM Treasury, and Principal Private Secretary to Chancellors Norman Lamont and Kenneth Clarke.

He also spent time at the International Monetary Fund and at Morgan Stanley.

His first job in the Civil Service in the early 1980s was as an Economic Adviser at the Health and Safety Executive.