Kate Garraway: “I’ve got so much to be grateful for”

With her husband Derek still seriously ill from the long-term effects of Covid, KATE GARRAWAY admits that life is a constant struggle. But, she tells Cole Moreton, spring – and hope– are in the air. PHOTOGRAPHS: STEVE SCHOFIELD

Spring is coming and Kate Garraway’s career is blooming. ‘It’s a funny, odd thing, isn’t it? The yin and yang of life,’ says the Good Morning Britain presenter who has never been more in demand professionally, but whose husband Derek is still desperately ill two years after contracting Covid and requires 24-hour care at home. Yet despite all that, she still finds reasons to be grateful. ‘How many nights did I pray: “Please let him live”? And he did live, and he is home, so from there on anything else is a bonus.

Kate, 54, arrived today straight from the breakfast TV studios. She has a sharp beauty and an intensity that is understandable in the circumstances, weighing up every question before answering. When she is not at home caring for Derek or being mum to their two children, Darcey, 15, and Billy, 12, she has a punishing work schedule: up early twice a week to host Good Morning Britain and a daily show on Smooth Radio. She is also about to launch three new TV programmes: an augmented-reality medical series for the BBC, taking over from Piers Morgan on the in-depth, often revealing interview show Life Stories, and, finally, a follow-up documentary on Derek’s progress since coming home.

Kate Garraway

Kate was also given an honour in the New Year’s list for her services to broadcasting and charity. ‘I have strange, bittersweet feelings about the MBE. To have something so lovely and rewarding at a time when things are grim, personally… and obviously, what you’d like to be doing is going to receive it together.’

The MBE came after Kate won a National Television Award last year for her astonishingly open and emotional documentary Finding Derek, showing how she and the children were struggling to understand and cope with his plight. ‘As tough a watch as the first documentary was, the positive for myself and for Derek was that we could shine a light on things that other people were going through. I hope it will be the same with the next one.’

The forthcoming documentary will update all of us who have been so touched by the story of Derek, a political adviser turned psychologist and author who contracted Covid early in the pandemic before doctors knew what they were dealing with and is believed to be the worst affected victim of the virus in Britain. He was in a coma for months, is still largely bedridden and his speech is severely restricted to one or two words in a whisper. Kate said in the first, profoundly moving film that she was trying to see the future as a positive, maybe even beautiful thing – that when Derek came home they could fall in love again. Has that happened? ‘I think we’re there. I’m not sure that we’ve ever fallen out of love, but I think a new path is emerging, a new way to be in love.’

How does it show itself? ‘He puts huge trust in me. He just says: “Whatever you think.” Which is wonderful, but I do get quite tearful about it. I think: “God, I hope I’m worthy of that trust.” But I’ve got his back.’ She pauses to think. ‘That is a relationship in itself, isn’t it? How many times do couples have doubts about each other? That’s a positive thing to come out of this, to have that certainty of each other. He and I are very close.’

What are the moments now that make her hopeful? ‘For most of the time we were making the first documentary he had a tracheotomy, he was on ventilation, he was in a coma. He couldn’t be roused. Now he’s been to a pantomime, he is home, he is aware of where he is and that’s amazing. But it’s still a long way from where we would like to be.’

Kate Garraway

Her friend, Strictly Come Dancing judge Anton Du Beke, arranged for the family to see Cinderella at the Richmond Theatre just before Christmas. ‘That was wonderful, for Derek to be able to sit there and be with his children. He would whisper to me in the run-up: “Is it pantomime today?” So he was definitely aware of it and really determined to do it. It was fortunately not too long a show but it still wiped him out for Christmas, in terms of energy levels, but there’s a balance between keeping him healthy and pushing to have new stimulation.’

At home builders have fitted a wet room, ramps and a lift and there are now carers present around the clock. Kate says: ‘It isn’t just me. I’m the principal carer, but I couldn’t do it on my own. He needs 24-hour waking care, so it would be utterly impossible without somebody there. The carers are amazing.’

Being at home means Derek can also be with his children, and that gives him strength. ‘Darcey is doing her GCSE mocks at the moment in economics, which was one of Derek’s subjects at university. She mentioned a bit of terminology; I didn’t understand it, and she said: “Is that right, Dad?” And he said: “No.” And actually he was right, she was wrong! So every day there are moments when you get affirmation that he’s very much still “in” there, then also moments where he seems lost and unable to express anything. So you feel like, “But how do we get more of ‘Derek’ out?” It’s an emotional rollercoaster.’

It must all be so gruelling, surely? ‘Yeah. But if it is gruelling for me, it’s even more so for him, I’m sure, because he’s living with it. As much as it impacts on the children and myself, being in his body must be so much worse.’

That did come out in the first documentary when Derek managed to communicate that he was feeling suicidal because he just could not imagine how he would get better. ‘I still sense that in him,’ she says quietly. ‘But now I think he believes he can get better, but until we know how, it’s challenging.’

How is he doing in terms of speech? Can they have conversations? ‘Not really. It’s hard. I watch him microscopically; I feel like I read every flicker so I “get” him, but you wouldn’t walk into the room and think a conversation was being had. But he understands an enormous amount, he just can’t respond.’

There are still moments of deep connection between them, then? ‘Absolutely. I mean, I don’t think things will ever be the same again, because I don’t think we as a family and he as a human being could go through something like that and not be impacted by it. Months in a coma and then this. It’s going to change him, even if it’s only emotionally. We’ve all been through so much. I’m not the same.’

Presumably in a situation like this you are fuelled by memories of what the other person had before? ‘You are. And exploring what the future might look like at the same time. Some of the practical, physical things of caring are less challenging than the emotional things.’

Does she not get lonely? ‘It’s very lonely. It’s very lonely in a very crowded space. It’s hard to admit that, but it’s true,’ Kate reflects. ‘Actually, loneliness isn’t the right word. There’s a missing of somebody at the same time as being very present with them, like you’re missing the person who is there. But having said that, I’m very lucky that Derek is home, it makes [us] complete. I get to see Darcey and Billy’s reaction to him and his reaction to them. Those are powerful, wonderful things.’

Kate Garraway

Derek has had some visitors but thinks more of his friends will be able to come soon. ‘Hopefully that will be springtime and we’ll have a roster of people coming to spend time with him.’ Her own spring involves a lot of exciting work, including interviewing the singer Charlotte Church, the cook Nadiya Hussain and the footballer John Barnes on the show she has taken over from her controversial friend. ‘Life Stories was created around the Piers Morgan phenomenon, so I don’t know whether to be flattered or worried that I’m next. There’s the thought: “Do they think I’m like Piers?”’ She laughs. ‘It will be different but I don’t shy away from asking anything; I’ll just do it slightly differently.’ Anyone who has seen her on Good Morning Britain knows she doesn’t hesitate to ask tough questions. ‘Piers, I think, revels in riling people up, whereas I think: “I can’t ask this!” Then I ask it anyway.’

Life Stories is broadcast on ITV, but so in demand is Kate, she also has a new show coming out next month on BBC Two. In Your Body Uncovered with Kate Garraway, doctors take a detailed scan of a patient and create an extraordinary 3D image that can be examined while wearing virtual reality glasses. ‘We can say: “This is literally your heart and you can see it moving.” That is amazing for the future of medicine. I found it fascinating because of my own medical journey.’

Cancer, endometriosis and a stroke are among the conditions examined from all angles. In the first episode Kate and Dr Guddi Singh show a young woman the 100 benign tumours that have grown inside her womb. The technology is a revelation, the images are fascinating and the reactions of those seeing inside themselves are compelling. I did have a moment though, watching Kate show empathy for a woman with a frozen shoulder, when I wondered if the presenter was secretly thinking: ‘You think you’ve got troubles, love? You should see mine!’

She denies it quickly, of course. ‘I didn’t feel that. I know exactly what you mean, but pain is all-consuming whatever you’ve got. There will be people who look at my situation with Derek and say: “You’ve not got any troubles. My loved one died.” Whatever you are dealing with, if it’s having a massive impact on your life, it’s important.’

Kate has said previously she doesn’t have the energy to be angry with those who deny Covid’s existence or refuse to be vaccinated despite the evidence of what has happened to her husband. But this programme is a clear statement on behalf of accurate medical information, isn’t it? ‘There is that element. It’s also about understanding your own body. There’s a lot of celebration about the wonder of it. When you see inside the body and realise it’s a magical thing.’

Your Body Uncovered was filmed last year, when she was still not sure whether Derek would ever come home. So I wonder if work has been a distraction from the emotional pain for her, even a kind of anaesthetic? ‘Yeah. There’s a pleasure in it as well. Most of the things I’ve been doing have been focused on other people – immersing myself in someone else’s life and listening to their highs and lows – which has been really therapeutic, because when you are effectively a single parent and carer, albeit with support, you become rather self-centred. You become very self-involved with your own woes. So I found it really uplifting to share other people’s stories.’

Kate Garraway

Good Morning Britain also brings perspective. ‘This morning on the show we met a Holocaust survivor. There’s always something, whatever job I’m doing, that reminds me there are lots of other people who have been through worse and everyone has challenges. It’s also lovely to get someone else to do your hair and make-up!’

During Finding Derek her Good Morning Britain co-presenter Ben Shephard said he was worried Kate was holding it all together for now but would crash one day. Is it coming? How will she cope? ‘There have been moments when I’ve been struggling, but I have employers who are incredibly supportive. I know other people who have had to give up work.’ What about the personal pressure on her? ‘I don’t think I’ve crashed emotionally yet. I think everybody around me is slightly holding their breath, but because I’ve got so much to be grateful for it keeps me going.’

I read somewhere that she didn’t want to do therapy yet because it could open up a can of worms that would be hard to cope with at the moment. ‘It’s more that I’m still very focused on– and busy with – the practical, so there isn’t time. I say that very carefully, because Derek is a psychologist and a great believer in therapy. I’m sure a therapist would say: “You have to make time, and then you’re more constructive.”’

As our time together draws to a close I ask Kate how on earth she keeps going. ‘There isn’t any choice. What else could I do? Put the children into care? Send Derek away? I would never do that, of course. And also there are so many other people who every day get their life changed, by stepping in front of a bus or being diagnosed with a disease. So, actually, it’s just life and I’ve had a very lucky one.’ Really? She can still say that? ‘Derek is here with us, we’re still working our way through the process of understanding how he’s doing and what to do about it and where we go next. So it is very difficult, there are very hard days and nights, but, yeah, I’ve got a lot of hope.’

Kate Garraway’s Life Stories is on ITV on Thursdays at 9pm; Caring for Derek will be on ITV on Thursday 24 February at 9pm (both also via ITV hub). Your Body Uncovered will be on BBC Two early next month