A week after the UK first locked down in March 2020, Derek Draper was admitted to hospital with Covid-19. And it is there that the psychologist, former lobbyist and Labour campaign adviser remains. He has spent months in intensive care, including time in an induced coma, after his liver, kidneys and heart failed and were agonisingly restored to function by the tireless work of the ICU team.
Kate Garraway: Finding Derek (ITV) is a film fronted by his wife, the Good Morning Britain presenter, about a year of coping with this astonishing rupture to their lives, and to those of their two children Bill and Darcey. It is hard to capture how magnificent – wholly unshowily so – she is. Garraway is a strong communicator, which you might expect from someone in her line of work. But here she is stripped of studio artifice, as she chats to the director, to us, the viewers, to people online and outdoors. She gathers information about the impact of long Covid on sufferers and their families, and you are reminded that being able to hold and diffuse attention on camera, in the right proportions, is a gift. Honed by experience, for sure – but still something not everyone can do. (She even manages to survive a fantastically literal soundtrack that insists on making itself heard between her pieces to camera in case we can’t be trusted to maintain our emotional pitch. At one point, during a pocket of improvement for Draper, I would not have been surprised if D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better had suddenly been inflicted on us all.)
Soundtrack aside, it is a documentary that knows what it is doing and does it well. It knows what a natural asset it has in Garraway and puts her to good use. In essence, it is the simple sight of her coping. She whizzes around, picks up Lego, hangs up children’s coats and supervises the builders making adaptations to the house in preparation for Draper’s hoped-for return. Not to mention her return to work after five months’ absence (“Extra concealer today!”), talking with doctors on the phone and absorbing rather than collapsing under verdicts that must land like body blows (“We think there’s very significant [cognitive] damage”).
As the year goes on, his situation becomes less perilous – which is to say the periods between medical crises become longer, the regressions become smaller and further apart and there is evidence that the essence of the man has not been damaged beyond repair. “He’s definitely present,” says Garraway, by now a scholar of microexpressions, and she is right. But her husband remains entirely dependent on 24-hour care from the staff and unable to speak much beyond a few words. The first one he mouths – his voice doesn’t return until late on – is “pain”. When his voice does come back, a faint and desperately weak thing, one of their early conversations is about how he doesn’t feel able to cope, and “I’m at the point where I think ‘Fuck it’”. Does he mean “die”, Garraway asks. Yes, he does. “No, darling,” she says firmly. “You are coming back … I will find a way to make it better. You just have to hang in there.”
Garraway’s love for Draper is clear and uncomplicated. It has a strangely old-fashioned feel to it. The phrase that kept popping into my mind was “wifely devotion”. She just – loves him. Will she be OK, someone asks her, if he comes out of hospital and he is no longer “her” Derek? Garraway’s response is not immediate but considered. “He is still him,” she replies. “That person that you love. He might behave differently and look different – that will be difficult for us both. I’m trying to look on it as a rather beautiful thing. We’ll have to fall in love again.” Perhaps it looks emetic written down, but her simplicity and sincerity make it impossibly moving.
It isn’t a documentary designed to give us much information or insight into the whys, wherefores or statistics surrounding long (or indeed any other form of) Covid, or to delve into the successes or failures of public policy or any of the sprawling rest of it. Its purpose is to tell a single story and bring comfort to those similarly afflicted and who, as Garraway says, aren’t able to tell their stories and have them heard like she is.
It seems likely that Draper will need another year in hospital. May her stoic spirit give them both the strength they need.