"We couldn't be more proud of her" - the heartbroken parents of a talented young photographer and actress have told the News following her untimely death at the age of 26.

Steph Oakley, a rising star of Wall Heath Camera Club and popular stage star with Wordsley Amateur Dramatic Society, passed away suddenly at home in Garrick Close, Dudley, on November 3 - leaving parents Gill and Gary and sister Tracey, aged 29, devastated.

Mum Gill Oakley said: "She was perfectly fit and well, there was nothing wrong with her - she just died."

Stourbridge News:

She said Steph, who worked as a receptionist at Midtherm Flue Systems in Dudley, had just got home and had just taken a photograph of her cat Toots when she passed away.

Heartbreakingly - she had been due to move to a new house with her boyfriend of five years, Neil Brookes, the following week.

Gill said: "He's devastated. We're just trying to support him, We're so glad he was in her life."

She added: "It's awful - but we're so glad she didn't suffer and happy that she had so many lovely people in her life. We couldn't be more proud of her. She's our hero."

Steph, who was due to turn 27 this Saturday, had a "really natural talent" for photography - she said - adding: "She'd just moved into doing macro photos."

Stourbridge News:

A keen wildlife photographer, she had been a popular and award-winning member of Wall Heath Camera Club and had just managed to capture a striking image of a fox at Sandwell Valley Country Park after a year of befriending the wild animal.

Stourbridge News:

Gill said: "Steph spent nearly a year going there with bits of food and gained the trust of the fox so that it got close enough to take a photo. She did the same with a robin. They would come right up to her. But she never told us any of this. I had never seen that photo until after she passed away."

Wall Heath Camera Club member Graham Pritchard described the image as a "cracker" and said: "She was a relative newcomer to photography but she was always winning inter club competitions.

"Her special interest was natural history and animal images and she had a gift of anticipating the right moment in time to click the shutter."

Stourbridge News:

He said Steph's sudden death had "sent a shockwave" through the club and he added: "We’ve lost one of our shining lights. She was destined for greatness in the photographic community.

"All our members at the club are just in pieces. We're all so proud of her. She set the standard for everyone else to aspire to."

University of Wolverhampton drama graduate Steph, a former student at The Kingswinford School and Halesowen College, had also been a popular member of Wordsley Amateur Dramatic Society (WADS) since she was 16 and had appeared in many plays - including last month's Sense and Sensibility.

Stourbridge News:

Gill said: "WADS was a massive part of her life, she always called them her second family."

A funeral service for Steph will be held at St Mary's Church, Kingswinford, on Monday November 27 at midday, followed by a gathering at Himley Hall where a collection of her photographs will be displayed.

Donations made in her memory will go to Children in Need and WADS.