With her daughter Rosie stuck in Singapore when the pandemic struck, Lorraine Kelly spent a nerve-jangling and very emotional few weeks wondering when she would see her again. They tell Julia Llewellyn Smith how it felt to be reunited.
When Lorraine Kelly finally threw her arms around her 25-year-old daughter Rosie, after five tense months apart, it was all she could do to keep the tears in check. ‘We’d been in touch, we’d been doing Zoom calls, but there’s nothing like being able to give your child a cuddle,’ Lorraine says.
‘Every mother will know what I’m saying – there’s just nothing like the smell of your child’s hair. Rosie always smells so good. I’m trying not to be too teary, because I don’t want to embarrass her, but being able to hold her after all that time was just fantastic.’
Lorraine, 60, had last seen Rosie, her and cameraman husband Steve Smith’s only child, at Christmas when she visited them in their Buckinghamshire home from Singapore. At the time, they had no idea of the extraordinary and tragic events about to engulf the world that would make them desperate to be reunited.
As news of coronavirus worsened daily, Lorraine became increasingly anxious about Rosie. ‘Talking to her I always felt very reassured, because the Singapore authorities were on it right away, way before us, taking temperatures, doing tests where needed,’ she says. ‘So logically, I knew she was probably in the safest part of the world from the virus, after Antarctica or the International Space Station. But at the same time, when you’re living through such scary times, you want your child with you.’
In early April, with both the UK and Singapore in lockdown, Lorraine had an emotional call with Rosie live on her morning show. ‘It’s good to talk to you, baby, it’s so good to see your wee face,’ she sobbed.
Unknown to viewers, before the crisis hit Lorraine had been looking forward to seeing her daughter regularly, with Rosie already having decided that 2020 was the year she’d return to the UK. As the pandemic intensified, she decided to quit her job sooner than planned.
‘My plan had been to go to Bali first,’ Rosie tells me on the phone. ‘But Singapore stopped all travel. I could have stayed there longer but the restrictions were mental. You couldn’t do anything without a mask on, even put out your rubbish. It was 38 degrees and the humidity is nuts, so it wasn’t worth going out at all. I decided that rather than sit in my flat I might as well go home a lot earlier.’
But, one after another, the London-bound flights she booked were cancelled. Eventually, Rosie found one, but was told she’d only know 24 hours in advance if it was leaving or not. ‘It was a weird one because I had to get all my furniture out of my flat, but if the flight was cancelled I’d have ended up back there sleeping on the floor.’ Happily, the flight took off from a deserted Changi Airport with only 16 passengers on the huge plane.
‘That flight was the thing I was most worried about,’ Lorraine says. ‘I didn’t realise there’d be so few passengers – but it only takes one sick one, doesn’t it? Dr Hilary [Jones, the resident doctor on ITV’s Good Morning Britain] was really reassuring. He said, “She’s young, she’s fit, she’s resilient.” So although [coronavirus] could happen to anyone, the chances wereshe’d be fine. Rosie was very relaxed and Steve has always been great at calming me down and saying, “Come on, it’ll be all right.”’
Rosie wasn’t frightened about flying but, on arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport, was shocked to find no health checks on passengers. ‘Everything seemed like normal,’ she says incredulously. ‘Obviously, there were fewer people in the passport queue and my flight was the only one at the belt for baggage. But I expected a temperature check, or staff wearing masks, or enforced social distancing in the queues – just something. Coming from a place where everything was so restricted, it was completely bizarre. I thought, “OK, I’m starting to see why Britain’s not doing very well.”’
Although her parents invited her to stay with them in Buckinghamshire, Rosie decided to quarantine herself in their Central London flat, formerly used by Lorraine on weekdays when the family lived in Scotland. ‘They said, “Just come home and stay in your room for two weeks,” but I thought being in the same house as them and not being able to give them a cuddle would be too weird. So I was adamant – though it was really horrible telling your mum and dad you don’t want to see them.’
Rosie was happy to be holed up in the flat for two weeks, as she says she is used to having her own space, but was overjoyed to return home. ‘Being able to finally hug Mum was lovely but a bit surreal.’ Now, having been home for nearly four weeks, daughter and mother have been doing an online yoga class together every morning. ‘I thought yoga was just lying down and breathing, but it’s not. It’s really hard!’ Lorraine yelps. Often the pair also complete a hard-core Barry’s Bootcamp workout online. ‘That’s quite funny because neither of us can do it very well,’ Rosie laughs.
A keen cook, Rosie’s also been trying to teach her mother her skills, but with little success. Lorraine says, ‘She’s cooking and I’m looking; I’m just not very good. Rosie’s really raised the bar. There are no more trays on your knee watching the telly. It’s all proper, three-course meals at the table now.’ And together the pair watch Rosie’s favourite TV series, Game of Thrones, which Lorraine had never seen.
‘Every night we sit down to at least two episodes and I’m totally obsessed,’ Lorraine says. ‘I drive her mad because I keep saying, “Just give me a clue – is there any point in me liking this person or are they about to have their head cut off?” Rosie’s like, “I’m not telling, just be quiet and watch!” Then in the next episode we’ll never see them again.’
Lorraine is treasuring this unexpected togetherness. ‘When your kids have flown the nest, they don’t usually come back, except for big occasions. But now we can really get to know each other properly. Rosie will go again eventually but we have this time and it’s really precious.’ Rosie adds, ‘Maybe in a couple more weeks I’ll be like, “Oh God, get me out of here!” But we’re doing all right.’
However, Lorraine is still agonising about her elderly parents in Scotland. Her father suffers from diabetes along with heart and lung conditions, so is in the high-risk category for the virus. ‘Dad’s been watching telly and reading books trying to keep his spirits up. I phone them all the time and they say, “We’re great, absolutely fine.” But they’re that generation that just doesn’t want to worry you. I desperately want to see them and make sure they really are fine, but for now I can’t. It’s very difficult.’
Like all of us at this time, Lorraine has endured a rollercoaster of emotions. ‘Gosh, I’ve had moments when I’m completely overwhelmed by it all,’ she says. ‘At the start, especially, I’d wake up, look at the headlines and feel that horrible anxiety like a tight band around your chest.’ To help, she’s using strategies learned when she struggled with the menopause, such as chatting regularly with friends and daily outings with her beloved border terrier Angus (‘Angus is the better child – they love him more than me. I can’t compete,’ Rosie jokes.)
‘On walks, we tend to see the same people and it’s weird – we’ve never been further apart but at the same time we’re so much closer. Before we’d have just nodded in that very British way. Now people say hello and chat,’ Lorraine says. By the same token, she has enjoyed getting to know her neighbours better. ‘We can only wave to them from far away, but we’ve got a WhatsApp group and everybody helps each other out. Last week one neighbour said, “I’m going to the chippy,” and he came back with millions of chips for everyone.’
The main thing that has helped Lorraine stay strong is work. She cancelled all holidays to host the show every day – and has seen a 54 per cent audience rise since lockdown. ‘It’s really important to have some sort of structure, so I’m glad I’ve had work to go to; it’s been keeping me sane,’ she says. Viewers contact her daily to say how reassuring her presence is. ‘They say, “I switch on and there you are and I feel better” – and that makes me feel a hell of a lot better as well.’
Work, of course, is very different now with ITV’s normally bustling studios deserted. Lack of staff means Lorraine is now using the Good Morning Britain studio where Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid host their show. ‘I sit in Piers’s chair, but first it’s fully hosed down and sterilised!’
With no hairdressers or make-up artists allowed, Lorraine been ‘glamming’ herself. ‘It’s been a wee learning curve but Helen, who normally does my make-up, has been giving me masterclasses, talking me through everything. I tend just to do my hair on Mondays, then use tons of hairspray as the week goes on to keep it in place.’ Lorraine had been fortunate enough to have her hair coloured just before lockdown, ‘so I’ve been quite lucky; it’s only in the past week that the grey patches have started to come.’
Her stylist has been helping her choose clothes online. ‘God bless M&S and Zara – they’ve been lifesavers. And I’ve been wearing a lot of things from last year, things that don’t need ironing that I can just shove in the washing machine and bring back out.’
With COVID-19 dominating the agenda, she’s recently interviewed several politicians including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who Lorraine thinks has steered her native country through the crisis ‘incredibly well’. Generally, though, Lorraine is ‘unimpressed’ by our leadership. ‘They’ve not covered themselves in glory. I know they’re all trying to do their best. Nobody is getting up and saying, “How can I screw this up today?” But the lack of clarity has made people more anxious. You need a message and you need it to be very clear. We deserve better.
‘Interestingly,’ Lorraine continues, ‘a lot of the countries that are performing the best are led by women – the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has played a blinder, the leader of Taiwan, the Scandinavian countries – apart from Sweden and their leader’s a chap.’
Lorraine has loved interviewing so many key workers. ‘These are the people who are really important – the fantastic woman looking after old people or that brilliant guy coming off a shift with PPE on and covered in bruises because it’s so uncomfortable. It’s been so heartening to give those people their place. Priorities have changed towards the people who really matter. Kim Kardashian and that clan seem irrelevant now. They’ve gone from being fascinating – not to me, but to a lot of people – to “meh”.’
By that token, Lorraine says, ‘I’m not missing putting on posh frocks for glitzy dos. I miss my pals at my exercise class, going for a cup of tea with a friend, those normal things we all took for granted. But we will get through this. We may come out in a different place that we have to adjust to, but we’ll come out stronger.’
Good Morning Britain with Lorraine Kelly is on ITV, weekdays from 9am