This article first appeared on Reaction.
Finding Derek, ITV1 & ITV Hub
I’m going to be honest, I have put off writing this column because it’s not easy writing about two people, one of whom I regard as a new friend. The other is a former political enemy, who once tried to ruin my reputation. Luckily, we kissed and made up not too long ago, but more of that later.
Kate Garraway is the new friend and Derek Draper the former enemy. Derek has spent the last year in an intensive care unit suffering with the terrible after effects of Covid. No one in this country has been in hospital as long as Derek. His body has been ravaged, with most of his vital organs being severely affected. On many occasions, it was thought he wouldn’t survive the night. He’s lost eight stone in weight. Kate Garraway, a presenter on Good Morning Britain and a colleague of mine at Global Radio (she presents the mid morning show on Smooth Radio), is his wife.
This documentary, made by Kate, is a warts and all fly on the wall look at the trials and tribulations that her family has gone through over the last year. It features footage of Derek in his ICU bed, including moments when he can speak again. Perhaps the most heart rending moment was when he utters one word: “Pain”. Twice. The nurse asks him where the pain is but he cannot respond. Like the rest of the nation, I was in bits.
It must have been a big decision for Kate to do this documentary as it lays bare the pain and upset that have dominated her family’s last twelve months. Some will criticise her for doing it, but they are wrong. Sometimes private traumas can lead to others feeling they are not alone and help us gain further understanding about the terrible effects of a disease. I know from my radio show that every time someone rings in talking about their own mental health, for example, it leads to others feeling less alone.
I first met Derek Draper in the late 1990s when he was Peter Mandelson’s special adviser. He cut quite a dash. New Labour were at the height of their powers and so was Derek. Some time later he was involved in a minor lobbying scandal, where he professed to know personally the only 17 people who mattered in the Labour government. He then went off into the sunset to train as a psychotherapist, a profession in which he scored notable successes.
In the autumn of 2008 he invited me to lunch. He had seen the success I and Guido Fawkes had had with our respective blogs, and wanted to know how the left could compete. He said he wanted to launch an equivalent of ConservativeHome. I was only too happy to give him some free advice; “Don’t make it all about you,” “attempt to keep some semblance of distance between the site and the official party,” and “don’t feel you always needs to take down the opposition.” I might as well have whistled in the wind. To cut a long story short, he linked up with Gordon Brown’s formidable henchman, Damian McBride, and they hatched a plan not only to launch Labour List but also a Guido Fawkes equivalent, The Red Rag. The site never actually got off the ground, but after a Freedom of Information request, Guido Fawkes and I revealed emails between Derek and Damian that showed how they intended to smear various Tory politicians, and how they had intended to ruin my own reputation by smearing me as a racist. Derek tried to pretend to me that it was only a bit of fun. I remember replying by email saying I couldn’t deal with someone who was willing to indulge in that kind of chicanery.
Both he and Damian were forced to quit. A year later Damian wrote me an email of abject apology. I also ran into Derek not long after and he admitted how wrong he had been. Since then, we’ve met on a few occasions and I did an hour long interview with him in 2019 for my Book Club podcast.
I’ve only got to know Kate since appearing regularly on Good Morning Britain on Fridays. She’s a great host and has a wicked sense of humour. Her onscreen partnership with Ben Shephard is rather wonderful. She’s got a good political brain and we enjoy some good banter, even at 7.15am.
She was very brave to go back on screen after a gap of a few months. In the end, however awful her domestic situation became, life had to go on with some semblance of normality for Kate and her two children. One of the joys of the documentary was to see how normal the Garraway/Draper household actually is. One of them tidy, one not so much; the children playing like any other children would, the Volvo Estate in the street. Kate remaining strong for the kids, and for the cameras, but one can only imagine the tears and the heartache she has been through. She doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her, but of course we all do.
I haven’t seen Kate in the flesh for a year now. Our TV encounters are all over Zoom. I just pray that the next time I see her, Derek will be home and embarking on what will inevitably be a long road to a full recovery. And one day, perhaps I can even give him a big man hug.
Finding Derek is a difficult watch at times. But watch it you should.