In the fallout from the No. 10 Christmas parties, people talk about the devastating effect the lockdown had on their families
ByEleanor Steafel;Helen Chandler-WildeandLuke Mintz8 December 2021 • 7:25pm
In her resignation speech, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Allegra Stratton acknowledged those people who were following Covid restrictions – separated from their loved ones or cut off from their source of income – while Downing Street held parties last December. “I understand the anger and frustration that people feel. To all of you who lost loved ones, endured intolerable loneliness and struggled with your business – I am sorry,” she said.
Here we tell the stories of some of those people affected…
‘I saw my dying father for the last time in the rain on his doorstep’
Ron Peck, 60, a retired teacher from Sussex
Standing in the rain on his doorstep, I said cheerio to my dear old dad for the last time. Dad had rung me up when it became clear that restrictions would be tightening again and Christmas would be cancelled. “I hope you still can come up to see us,” he said. “It’s just that I’m deteriorating rather quickly, it seems.” He had cancer of the liver and a heart complaint; he had been receiving treatment for both and coping as best he could, all while looking after my mum who has late stage dementia. But things had taken a turn for the worse and he knew was going downhill fast.
My wife and I live on the south coast while my parents, Ron and Margaret, lived in Bedfordshire. We drove up the week before Christmas and exchanged presents from a distance in the drizzle. Mum came to the door and couldn’t understand what was going on, why we couldn’t come in. Dad was putting on a brave face – ever the proud army infantry man, he wanted us to see that he was coping. We stayed for a little while, then said our goodbyes and wished each other a happy Christmas. Dad died a few weeks later. They had muddled on for a while, but eventually he had a fall and was rushed to hospital while Mum was put straight into residential care as Dad had been her full-time carer. He was 83. The winter lockdown meant we hadn’t been able to get back to see them.
Looking back, it’s heartbreaking to think that on that rainy day on the doorstep we couldn’t share a hug, that I couldn’t shake his hand or even just go inside and linger a while. My father was dying and I couldn’t sit with him and talk. Why? Because I was following the rules.
When the story broke revealing that Downing Street had been hosting parties – including one just the night before I said goodbye to my father – while we stuck to the guidelines they created, I felt sick to my stomach. For months we did as we were told and didn’t begrudge it – we wanted to keep our vulnerable loved ones safe as much as the next person. To see the level of disdain the people in charge seemed to have for us while we were trying to do the right thing… well, it’s deeply upsetting. It was such a difficult time; watching that video of Allegra Stratton brought all the emotion from this time last year flooding back.
We had a socially distanced funeral for Dad on a crisp morning in April. He had three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, but only 10 people could attend his funeral, not nearly as many as there should have been. He was so well liked that even his window cleaner wanted to come, but of course he couldn’t. At the end of the service we said goodbye to each other and went our separate ways. I wasn’t bitter about it at the time, but it’s hard not to feel angry now.
As told to Eleanor Steafel
‘My husband was gravely ill with Covid in hospital while I isolated with our two children’
Jenny Burton, 39, from Buckinghamshire
On the day Downing Street hosted their party, I was worried sick about my husband, JJ, who had been blue-lighted to hospital with Covid. He was only 39, but both of us fell badly ill with the virus in the first week of December.
I was so ill that I could barely get out of bed to make dinner for our two children, and moved myself to the spare room. My husband was even worse: he became delirious and couldn’t respond to simple questions because he was so confused and breathless. A few days in, we video-called our GP, who took one look at him and ordered an ambulance.
I will never forget my 12 and 13-year-old crying as he was taken away. They were so frightened and it took everything in me to try to keep them calm.
The ambulance took JJ to hospital, where the doctors found out that Covid had severely battered his body. He had blood clots in his lungs, as well as failing kidneys. It was absolutely terrifying, and for the first days he was in there I had no idea if he would even survive. His lungs were too weak to summon the breath to speak on the phone. A few days in, a man in his 40s two beds down from him in the ward died.
On top of that, I was so cautious about not giving Covid to others that I stopped orders for my candle company Scent and Seed in what is usually the busiest week of the year, missing out on about £2,500 of sales.
And while all this was happening, staff in Downing Street were having a Christmas party. After everything my family has been through, it feels like a slap in the face.
As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde
‘My brother died in hospital on the day of the No. 10 party’
By Pam Jarvis, 62
On December 18 last year, while staff in Downing Street seemingly partied, my brother lay dying in hospital. I wanted desperately to visit him, but lockdown rules meant I had to keep away.
John* was diagnosed with cancer in July last year, and his condition gradually worsened. He was a kind, quiet brother, with a public-spirited nature. We shared a fascination with the human mind; as adults, we both completed psychology degrees.
When he was admitted to hospital in November, I considered driving the 200 miles from my home in Leeds to Bristol, so I could see him. But at that point, with Tier restrictions in place, the thought of getting in my car and travelling across the country just seemed impossible. Once I arrived, would I even be allowed in to see him? Nobody was vaccinated at that point – what if I infected him with Covid? Or what if I caught Covid from a patient, then brought it back to Leeds?
I made the terribly tough decision to stay away. There was a lockdown: we accepted the distance as part of our public duty.
It was a cold Friday morning on December 18. I received a phone call from John’s wife, one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to take. She shared the awful news that he had passed away that morning. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock. My older brother was gone, and I couldn’t even say a final goodbye. Now, I often find myself trying to remember something that happened in our childhood. My instinct is to ask John – then I remember he’s not here any more.
I spent the few days after his death at home, trying to process the loss. Only a handful of mourners were allowed at his funeral. It was miserable not to be there – but again, I accepted it as a necessary feature of lockdown. We’re all in this together, I believed at the time.
My first thought upon hearing about the alleged No. 10 party was, “Same old, same old”. After months of negative headlines about the Government, it didn’t seem surprising. But the more I read, the angrier I grew.
This week, I saw the now-infamous video of former No. 10 aide Allegra Stratton joking around. I felt deeply betrayed. While I was agonising over whether or not to see my dying brother, staff inside the most powerful office in the country were apparently in direct contravention of their own guidelines.
*Name has been changed
As told to Luke Mintz