Jeremy Vine meets Kay Gilderdale again

This week is ME Awareness Week ([1], [2]), and a number of media appearances and articles have been scheduled, including two appearances from Kay Gilderdale (on Radio 2 today and, allegedly, on GMTV tomorrow morning) as well as from Criona Wilson, the mother of Sophia Mirza who died from complications of ME in 2005, in the Mail on Sunday’s “You” magazine this coming Sunday. I listened to Kay Gilderdale’s interview on Jeremy Vine’s afternoon news programme this afternoon. Jeremy Vine never fails to annoy me and this piece was no exception.

If you’re in the UK, you can hear the show here; it starts about 40 minutes in.

The appearance was announced by Vine as one by a mother who had helped her sick daughter to die. Indeed, this aspect of Lynn and Kay’s story was the first thing that was discussed in the interview, and the fact that it was ME Awareness Week, the whole reason she was on there, was not mentioned until about 7 minutes into the piece, and even then it was Kay, not Jeremy Vine, who mentioned it. The details of Lynn’s illness were only mentioned after the suicide (and at a certain point, Kay declined to go into any more details about it) and Kay’s own trial were raked over all over again. No mention was made of anybody else with severe ME, despite the fact that Lynn was in contact with them from 2004 onwards, and spent much of her time (when she was not having her cares done by Kay, or sleeping or just lying there in pain) writing about her situation or “talking” to others over the Internet (most of them severely ill, some with ME but some with other illnesses including muscular dystrophy) and giving whatever support she could to them.

It’s ME Awareness Week. Did Jeremy Vine not do any research about this? If so, he might have found out that a book for severe ME sufferers, written by a severe ME sufferer named Emily Collingridge, was published last month (more here, and a longer interview with the author here). He might also have found out that Emily Collingridge had a dramatic relapse in the past couple of weeks. She has been ill since she was six years old, in 1987. As with Lynn, it seems that her health was dealt a significant blow by being admitted to hospital (as I discovered by talking to one of Lynn’s friends, the worst escalations in her illness took place in hospital, and she suffered dreadful abuse there also). Others are still suffering, and how people suffer when they have ME, other than from physical pain, was not mentioned (Lynn’s particular complications were mentioned, but other aspects of severe ME, such as intolerance of light and sound to the extent that one has to cover one’s eyes and ears and have no company for extended periods, weren’t).

It’s ME Awareness Week, not assisted dying awareness week. People with many diseases take their own lives, and that aspect of Lynn’s story could have resulted from a whole range of illnesses, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. There is a whole story which is not being investigated, which is how and why Lynn got so ill in the first place. That it started from her BCG vaccination was mentioned (and Kay did say that it was not due to the vaccination itself but to Lynn’s immune reaction to it, and that there is a genetic aspect to this) and that it got worse as she got infection after infection were mentioned, but the abuse that she suffered in hospital in 1992 (including a sexual assault) was entirely left out. Others besides Lynn have had their condition worsened by bad medical advice and inappropriate exercise “therapy”, or failure to diagnose until someone has run themselves into the ground (or been run into the ground) as a result of ignorance. The essential reason was a culture of disbelief on both sides of the Atlantic; psychiatrists in the UK who insisted that ME was simply a psychological problem, and government health officials in the USA who dismissed it as hypochondria among the wealthy classes.

And while I’m sure many people are uncomfortable about what Kay Gilderdale did that night, I have no doubt that it was the most traumatic thirty hours of her life. The emotion in her voice was unmistakeable. I don’t understand why Jeremy Vine had to get her to rake over it yet again, when she did that for him when making that Panorama programme, other than to raise the “drama” element of Kay’s appearance. Vine is a sensationalist, someone who wants his “news” stories to be full of drama, and is short on investigation which is what any story involving ME requires (his Panorama didn’t have any either, and his 30-minute format cannot do any complex story justice and that was certainly the case with that one). The previous half-hour of that programme, for example, had been full of Vine barking at various politicians, demanding that they accept that Labour “lost” and the Tories “won”, when the reality was not that simple as the Tories only actually got 36% of the popular vote and much less than a majority of the seats in Parliament. There is a long record of him doing this; a few years ago, when the then Home Secretary, John Reid, had been heckled by a member of al-Muhajiroun in east London, he set up Saira Khan (a very secular “moderate” Muslim who had been on “The Apprentice”) with Anjum Choudhary, clearly intending to see the sparks fly and, sure enough, it ended up with Choudhary issuing personal insults against Khan.

I don’t know if Kay Gilderdale knew what Vine would expect to talk about before she appeared. I am not convinced that it would make things any different, because she was only on the show because it’s ME Awareness Week. After all, the discussion after the end of the trial promptly got diverted from talking about ME to talking about assisted dying, to the extent that the BBC was accused of issuing a barrage of pro-euthanasia propaganda. A feature on a woman severely affected by ME for seventeen years and the mother who cared for her all that time during ME Awareness Week shouldn’t be focussed on the last day and a bit of her life. It should tell as much as it could of her story, otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity.

They could have got in a bit more if Kay had started at 12:30 rather than 12:40 — as it had to be cut short to allow “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles to be played just before the news. It seemed a strange and incongruously jolly tune, and it wasn’t indicated that it was Kay’s choice, but it certainly doesn’t seem well-matched with a story about a woman who had to live in the dark for most of her life. This is not just a problem with Jeremy Vine — I always wonder why Robert Elms’s interviews with musicians on BBC London don’t take up the full half-hour, with the guest being allowed to play two songs rather than just one and pick any other records played, so it’s their half-hour. But it’s not usually as blatantly inappropriate as that song after that feature — surely they could have found a record more fitting than that.

By the way, it’s ME Awareness Week. Look out for a piece in the G2 part of the Guardian probably tomorrow or Thursday which was postponed last week, even if you don’t have time to wait on an uncertain appearance from Kay Gilderdale on tomorrow’s GMTV. Apart from the Mail on Sunday article, I’m not sure what else is in the rest of the week’s papers; a Google news search returns a couple of articles from local papers ([1], [2]) but that’s it. I don’t expect Jeremy Vine to be bothering with it for at least another year (I hope).

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