WHEN GMB presenter Kate Garraway’s son Billy returns to primary school tomorrow for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, it will be a particularly poignant moment.
For Billy, ten, is usually walked to school by his dad, Derek Draper, who is still in a coma ten weeks after contracting the virus.
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“Derek is such an amazing dad. He’s brilliant with the kids, and that’s one of the reasons why this is so hard. It just doesn’t feel right without him,” says Kate, 53, whose early starts on breakfast TV meant her husband, 52, was in charge of the morning routine.
“One of the things that makes it so sad is that I know he would have loved this, our time together in lockdown. He was never happier than being in this house, just the four of us,” she adds, smiling sadly.
“He is such a homebody. He would say, ‘It’s just you, me and the kids’ and he’d be so happy just pottering about, being here and doing a bit of work on his computer.
“Much as he loved his friends and going out, he loved coming back home.”
Psychologist Derek was hospitalised at the end of March after becoming worryingly breathless and, because of strict hospital hygiene rules, his family haven’t seen him in person since.
He tested positive for Covid-19, but even though he is now free of the virus, it has wreaked considerable damage on his major organs and he remains seriously ill.
Billy has now built a play den next to his dad’s side of the bed and sleeps there at night.
Before Derek went to hospital, the pair were building a Lego Death Star, and his son has left it so they can finish it when he returns.
In the garden, Kate — also mum to daughter Darcey, 14 — points out a grey cushioned sun lounger next to the hedge.
“No one is allowed to sit in that. It’s Derek’s. He sits there when it’s sunny and says, ‘It’s so lovely here — who needs posh Tuscany?’
Kate has been astonishingly strong in coping with the many setbacks to her husband’s health — including being told his heart had to be restarted. But she says it is sometimes the simple things that can floor her, out of nowhere.
“Derek always writes ‘R’ on the calendar for when it’s recycling day,” she adds. “His writing is all over it — then suddenly we turned the page for June and it just stopped because he hadn’t planned that far ahead.
“There are times when I can’t bear to look around this house. It’s full of things he’s chosen and we’ve chosen together, and when Darcey and Billy are with each other . . . there are moments as parents where you take pleasure because you see them do something, or change in some way, and that bonds you.
“Darcey is so like Derek. She always says, ‘I’m all Draper. There’s no Garraway in me’, but sometimes, I just watch both of them and think, ‘He’d be so proud’ or ‘Derek would have loved that’, and I then remember why he’s not able to enjoy it too. That’s the torture. He’s trapped at the moment, in a line between living and the uncertainty of recovery, and we’re trapped with that uncertainty as well.”
Derek had been suffering from a painful shoulder during the first week of lockdown, and also had sinusitis. But on Monday March 30, he had trouble breathing.
Kate called her GMB colleague, Dr Hilary Jones, who advised her to call an ambulance.
She says: “We didn’t even know it was Covid at that point. He had none of the symptoms — no cough, no temperature.
“Even when he got to hospital, and tested positive for the virus, doctors were very hopeful of recovery. There’s a text from him on my phone saying, ‘The doctors have been round, they’re saying I’m definitely not going to die. I’m doing great’.
“But it escalated from there. He said he felt like he was constantly on the moment of suffocating, all of the time. He had to take it second by second . . . Another breath, another breath. They then put him in a coma.
“I feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole — and never quite hit the bottom, thank God, because I think the bottom would probably be finding out he’d died.”
Kate and Derek, a former labour spin doctor turned psychologist, were introduced by their mutual friend Gloria de Piero, a former GMTV presenter who became a Labour MP before she stood down last year.
“After all the crazy, exciting Labour days, he’d had a breakdown and went to America to retrain as a psychologist. So I only knew him after all of that,” says Kate.
“The first time we met, I felt he still had a bit of sadness in his eyes. But Derek is such a colourful character. You only have to Google his name to know he’s had an extraordinary life.
“But that’s not the core of Derek. We’re very different on the outside and I think a lot of people find us quite a curious couple, but it all makes sense when we're alone together — that moment when you get into bed at night and it’s just the two of you, unpicking the day. He always says we’re surprisingly similar on all the important things, like our values and approaches.”
Shortly before he was put into an induced coma to try to help his body fight the virus, Derek spoke to Kate on the phone and said: “You have saved my life. I don’t just mean now, I mean everything. Being married to you, and the children.”
“Well, he saved mine, too,” she says with a sad smile. “He’s amazing. I have learnt so much from him, particularly the way he is with the children.
“I find myself saying things to them, then thinking, ‘That’s what Derek would say’. There’s a new reality to cope with now. We have to find a way of making our life go on while we’re waiting for Derek.
'HE HASN'T REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS'
“We have to try to live with the uncertainty that we won’t necessarily know that he’s OK.”
Three weeks ago, the hospital withdrew the drugs that had placed Derek in an induced coma but, despite occasionally opening his eyes, he hasn’t yet regained consciousness.
In the meantime, the family FaceTime him every day.
Kate says: “There is no reason to think that his hearing isn’t working. And he’s opened his eyes, so the hope is that he moves through stages of consciousness and emerges.
“When the kids first asked if they could talk to Dad, I said ‘yes’ but warned them that he wouldn’t be able to respond.
“I was nervous about it because he does look very sick.
“But they were amazing. Billy said, ‘Hi Dad, I’ve been jumping off the swings in the garden . . . safely though’, and just chatted away.
“Darcey’s wanted a new chest of drawers for ages. At first she said she would wait for him to come home, but then she decided to build the flatpack herself, talking to him throughout on FaceTime. Hopefully that normality is filtering through for him.”
It’s a stark contrast to last winter, when Kate took part in the prime-time TV show I’m A Celebrity and Derek and the children flew out to Australia to support her — often appearing on TV themselves.
When she finally came out of the show, an emotional Derek proposed to her for a second time and they were planning to renew their vows this August.
Kate says: “We were talking about it just before he got sick and I was saying we will have to put it back because we wanted to have a big party.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll keep. We’ll do it after’. So I hope we get the chance . . . ”
Derek used to tease his wife about her “telly nonsense” but was incredibly proud of her career.
When the hospital asked her to drop off a few items familiar to him — such as the shampoo and body wash he likes — she put them in a small suitcase she has last used on a work trip just before lockdown.
“I opened it up and there was a card he’d written for me, which I’d read at the time. It says how much he loves me, how proud of me he is, and that he was feeling so good about us. It was just so romantic and it feels so odd reading it now he’s in this state.
“You know that feeling, when you’re driving along and someone pulls out in front of you and your heart lurches, so you drive really cautiously for the next five minutes and then calm down? Well, it’s like you’re constantly in that heart lurch stage, without the calming down bit.
“It’s the same for Derek’s poor parents and sisters too. They’re in Chorley and want to be here but can’t be.”
What would Derek say to her right now, if he was able to?
“I know he’d say, ‘Make sure the children are safe and forge on’. I hope he’d be happy with how I’ve been handling it all. I also think he’d say the house is very untidy!” Kate says with a laugh, before turning serious again.
“I think he would be proud and know that I’m trying. I hope that I’ve done what we would have done together. There have been so many times when I’ve almost gone to call him, then thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I just know that I love him and really miss him.
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“I have been contacted by thousands of people from Derek’s life — patients he’s helped with his psychotherapy and people he worked with in politics. I’m not sure he knows they all feel like that. I hope he does. Lots of people have recorded messages and I’m playing them to him in the hope he can hear.”
She says their neighbours have been incredible with offers of help, along with her ITV and Smooth Radio colleagues.
“Derek is still here and I’m grateful for that because there are many others who have lost people. We take lots of hope from seeing people leaving hospital after being in a long time, but when this thing takes hold you don’t know where it’s going to go. All we can do is hope.”