'As Boris Johnson partied, I was grieving for both parents'


Across the country, countless thousands were unable to say farewell to their loved ones as funerals were restricted to just 10 mourners - Credit: Chris Bishop

Boris Johnson's admission that he attended a party in the Downing Street garden during lockdown has led to widespread anger. EDP reporter CHRIS BISHOP explains the deeply personal reasons he feels such fury at the revelation

Two weeks before Boris Johnson joined a socially-distanced work-related gathering with wine which he realises in hindsight could have been construed as being a party, I said my final farewell to my parents.

Just three of us were there to see them off. The service was cut down from 45 to 30 minutes. 

Another grieving family was waiting outside, looking at their watches, as my mum and dad, who died within days of each other, were committed.

Then the music stopped. A funeral director walked in and asked us to leave. My son turned around and said: "This sucks."

When the latest guidelines came on the radio news on the long drive home from the West Country, I turned it off and let the miles flash by in silence.

I was on autopilot from the Vale of the White Horse to the Cotswolds, through the Nene Valley to the Fens, lost in regrets as the night closed in.

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We'd planned the send-off each of my parents wanted before they went, from those who'd be there to the flowers, from the crematorium to the wake.

My old man's fishing mates, Mum's friends and neighbours along with far-flung family, including my side of the clan.

But their last wishes went out of the window.

We weren't alone. There were tight rules on gatherings of any kind back in May 2020. Untold thousands tore up plans for funerals, weddings and other occasions, preventing loved-ones from attending.

Numbers were restricted to just 10. How on earth do you choose that 10? As Covid tore through our family, we could not even be together in our grief. 

Funeral picture

Many were denied the opportunity to mourn their family and friends during lockdown - Credit: Chris Bishop

That was the very least my parents might have expected, instead of coffins marooned in an almost-empty chapel - a picture I'll never forget.

I was struggling to hold the camera steady as I captured the moment for all those who couldn't be there. My son was right: It sucked.

But life would soon be dancing to a very different, bring-your-own-booze kind of tune in the back garden of a select London side-street.

“We thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening,” the leaked e-mail that sparked the row over so-called Partygate says.

As corks popped in the grounds of 10 Downing Street on May 20, people elsewhere were being fined for having parties.

Prime minister Boris Johnson

Prime minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. - Credit: PA

The guidance is clear, we were told at the time. Do not meet more than one person from outside your household outdoors and observe social distancing. 

We were in the middle of a pandemic and a newly-declared lockdown with simple messages: Protect the NHS. Save lives. Hands, face, space.

Fancy a top-up? Glass of something technically within the guidance?

What sticks in my throat the most about all of this is that while just about everyone else was making sacrifices on a daily basis, those close to the upper echelons of government were acting like the guidelines did not apply to them.

One rule for us, another for them has become an uncomfortable refrain amid the sound-bites and warnings.

Lockdown was clearly for the hoi polloi. Our betters knew better.

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint i

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on the subject of Coronavirus: lessons learnt. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021. - Credit: PA

From Dominic Cummings's trip to Durham to Matt Hancock's infamous snog, the steady drip of revelations which have emerged have left me wondering why the rest of us ever bothered sticking to the rules when those in charge clearly didn't see the need to.

There will doubtless be many things that government, our health service and the rest of us might wish had been done differently when the way that Covid was handled finally comes under the spotlight at a public inquiry.

Why were elderly people thrown en masse out of hospitals into homes without being tested?

The intention was to clear enough beds to prepare for the expected tidal wave of infections.

But many would now say this approach was wrong and led to a spike in care home deaths.

They got it wrong, in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe of which my father was an early casualty, dying of Covid within weeks of the first lockdown.

We all make mistakes, I get that. But if we're ever going to steer our way out of this mess, we need people we can trust and believe in at the helm.

Why should we follow rules put in place to protect us all if it turns out the so-called great and good can break them with impunity?

There are growing calls for Boris Johnson to hand over the tiller and let someone who's fit for purpose steer the ship despite his grovelling apology.

It filled me with anger as I thought back to two coffins side-by-side in an almost empty chapel.

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