Friday, June 5
Ten weeks ago, on March 31, Good Morning Britain’s editor rang me with the awful news that our colleague Kate Garraway’s husband Derek Draper had been rushed to hospital with Covid-19 and was fighting for his life.
It was at the very peak of the pandemic, when hospitals were being swamped and people were dying in large numbers. So, this was a terrifying moment that brought the virus right to our work door.
I phoned Kate immediately and we had a long, heart-rending conversation, one of many we’ve had since.
It’s so hard to know what to say in such situations. I knew GMB’s Dr Hilary Jones would be giving her all the expert medical advice she needed (as he very kindly does for all of us on the team when we have family health issues), so instead I gave her the only suggestion I could think of that might actually help such a good, experienced journalist – to treat what was happening like a massive breaking news story and behave accordingly. It’s the mentality I’ve always tried to use myself when I’ve faced any kind of professional or personal crisis.
Kate Garraway with husband Derek Draper on Australia’s Gold Coast last December
‘Try to keep emotion out of it with the doctors and nurses,’ I said. ‘I imagine they’re getting overwhelmed by this virus and must have so many emotional relatives who aren’t allowed to visit the hospital bombarding them all day long. If you stay calm, and focused, and research everything very thoroughly, you’ll ask better questions and probably get more out of them.’
I wasn’t sure if that advice helped or not until I watched her incredibly moving GMB interview this morning – her first – with her usual Friday co-host and great friend Ben Shephard.
‘Very early on,’ she said, ‘I spoke to Piers and he just said, “Right, come on Garraway, you’re a journalist. This is the story of your life. Your focus now is Derek. You’ve got to fight for Derek. You’ve got to get all the information you can.” And that actually really helped because I thought, “I’ve got a job,” because we were in free-fall. My job is to fight for Derek and keep life safe for Darcey and Billy [their kids]. That forced me into breaking-news mode. When something awful happens and you’re on-air, you’ve got to not think about the emotion of it, you’ve got to think about doing your job. I rode that for weeks and weeks and weeks, thinking, “What do I need to do? What doctor do I need to speak to? What else can we be doing?” ’
Sadly, that purposeful, enquiring journalistic attitude has its limitations when you get to the point that Derek has now reached where nobody has any answers.
Kate has been told he may never wake up, and all there is left to be done is wait and hope for a miracle.
‘About two weeks ago I probably did crash,’ Kate admitted, ‘because you can’t stay like that forever. The problem is, I have huge hope and massive positivity and I’ll never give up on that because Derek’s the core of my life, but at the same time I have absolute uncertainty.’
I knew she was struggling when I saw photos in the papers taken doing the final Thursday night clap for carers last week, and she looked utterly exhausted and was wiping away tears.
‘It’s a living hell, to be honest,’ she replied when I messaged her to check if she was OK. ‘I keep saying I can’t bear it, but then somehow do. It’s managing feelings and holding in the same moment your greatest hope, greatest fear and total uncertainty about which way it’s going to go – all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more or felt more at risk of losing him.
‘But at least I still have hope, which lots of people have had taken away from them. Am going to watch Darkest Hour tonight, cry properly and fight back tomorrow.’
I was thinking of a suitably Churchillian reply to rally her spirits, but another great leader’s words rang louder in my head.
‘Remember the words of Mandela,’ I replied. ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’
For all of us who know and care about Kate, this has been a desperately sad time.
She’s one of the most decent, loyal, selfless, popular and fun people in the TV industry and everyone connected with GMB absolutely loves her.
What makes it so especially tragic is that in Derek, 52, she found her unlikely soulmate. I knew them both separately long before they got together – Derek was a Labour Party adviser whom I locked horns with many times in the late 1990s during my editorship of the Daily Mirror – and when they told me at a party in 2005 that they were getting married, I joked: ‘If I’d known the bar was that low, I’d have had a crack myself!’
It says everything about them that they both laughed hysterically, then put that quote on their wedding menus.
But the truth is that she and Derek, although by their own admission very different people, are actually perfectly suited and have a wonderfully strong and happy marriage.
The last time I saw them together was at my annual pub Christmas knees-up in December, just after she got back from starring in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
(Derek was ferociously proud of Kate during that show. ‘She is such an amazing woman,’ he texted me halfway through, ‘I so, SO want her to be No 1 for once.’)
They were blissfully happy that night, as could be seen from their kissing and cuddling for the paparazzi outside – and were buzzing with excitement about renewing their wedding vows this summer, after Derek proposed to her again when they were reunited in the jungle.
Now, agonisingly, Kate doesn’t even know if she will ever get Derek home again, let alone to renew those vows. It’s unbearably, gut-wrenchingly sad.