Actor Jason Watkins on losing his daughter Maude, battling depression and shining a light on grief
February 2, 2024. Series 7. Episode 81
In this episode I am joined by the award-winning actor and campaigner Jason Watkins. One of Britain’s leading performers whose roles across drama and comedy – on TV, film and stage – have got us thinking, made us laugh and even cry.
Jason has won a best actor Bafta for his role in the Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, played Prime Minister Harold Wilson brilliantly in The Crown and stars in the hit series Macdonald and Dodds. On the big screen he appeared in Bridget Jones and of course the hilarious Nativity films.
But it’s as a result of personal tragedy that Jason has taken on the role of campaigner. Following the sudden death of his two-and-a-half year old daughter Maude on New Year’s Day 2011 (ck this!) Jason and his wife Clara have worked tirelessly as Ambassadors for the UK Sepsis Trust. In the ITV documentary ‘In Memory of Maudie’ they shone a powerful light on the process of their own terrible grief in the hope that it will help others.
I also talk to Jason about his earlier struggles with mental health, his recently diagnosed ADHD and how through resilience, humour and the support of his family he remains, in my view, destined to become a national treasure.
My thanks to Jason for this moving and brave conversation. And if you take away one thing from this powerful episode, please make it this; if you’re worried about someone’s medical condition just ask the doctor “could it be sepsis?”
This episode includes a discussion about the loss of a child.
Jason’s Just Giving Page in memory of Maude for UK Sepsis Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/Jason-watkins4maude/
Surviving the Loss of your World – https://slowgroup.co.uk
Child Bereavement UK – https://www.childbereavementuk.org/patrons-jason-watkins
Stream/buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682
Host – Andy Coulson
CWC team: Jane Sankey, Louise Difford, Zach Ellis and Mabel Pickering
With special thanks to Ioana Barbu and the brilliant people at Global
For all PR and guest approaches please contact – [email protected]
Jason Watkins: [0:00:00] I woke up and Bessie came in and sort of- she was four at the time, and she said, “I can’t wake Maude.” This really weird feeling that something was very wrong. I walked into the bedroom and I could see the cot ahead of me, and I could see that she was, you know, I knew she was dead. You just- you can’t believe it’s happening, and you want time to go backwards. You think, “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening.”
Andy Coulson: [0:00:32] Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.
Joining me today, I am delighted to say, is the award-winning actor and campaigner Jason Watkins. One of Britain’s leading performers whose roles across drama and comedy on TV, film and stage have got us thinking, made us laugh, made us cry.
He won a Best Actor BAFTA for his role in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, played Prime Minister Harold Wilson brilliantly in The Crown, and stars in the series McDonald and Dodds. On the big screen he was in The Golden Compass, Bridget Jones, and of course those hilarious Nativity films, along with many others.
It’s a result though of personal tragedy that Jason has taken on that role of campaigner. Following the sudden death of his two-and-a-half year old daughter Maude on New Year’s Day 2011, Jason and his wife Clara have worked to raise awareness around sepsis, the illness that took their daughter from them.
In March, the documentary Jason and Clara: In Memory of Maudie, shone a very powerful light, not just on the tragedy of sepsis but also the process of grief. We’ve talked a lot on this podcast about our failure, particularly in this country I think, to avoid the subject of grief. Or at least, when we talk about it, to put some sort of brake on it. Jason and Clara’s documentary doesn’t do that, not at all. And if you haven’t seen it already, please do seek it out on ITVX.
Jason is now on our screens in the ITV drama Archie about the life of Cary Grant, and his latest film, The One Note Man, has been shortlisted for an Oscar. The latest step in Jason’s inevitable journey towards National Treasure.
Jason Watkins, welcome to Crisis What Crisis. How are you doing?
Jason Watkins: [0:02:31] I’m really well, thank you so much for having me on.
Andy Coulson: [0:02:34] It’s great to have you here. Jason, I’ve been enjoying Archie, I mentioned a second ago, an astonishing early life of Cary Grant from poverty in Bristol to world’s most famous actor. In a very different way, I know, but your own early family story, your dad’s family story, is also quite astonishing.
Jason Watkins: [0:02:59] Yes, and I suppose that’s one of the things that I’ve kind of- the things that influence your life, you kind of get used to them don’t you? And then someone says, “Do you know, that’s actually quite remarkable?”
And you’re talking about my father, but Cary Grant, you know, there he was, probably the most handsome man ever to walk in front of a camera, and you’d think, “Well, he’d have no problems having relationships,” you know, finding meaningful relationships as well as not meaningful ones. But he obviously had a very complicated upbringing full of rejection and confusion, but with a will of iron as well.
And I think the impression that we see of him on screen is very different from his life, and I think that’s a very interesting thing that we all do in many ways. Sometimes we put on a show when we’re at work and we’re different at home, and all those things. Complex.
And my father yes, he had a very complicated upbringing. He was born in Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire but his mother, my grandmother- which I still find strange that it was actually my grandmother, I identify the story with him, actually it’s still to do with me and my family and my kids, you know?
But yes, she was a librarian in Eltham and she had a fling in 1930 with a married librarian there in the library, in Eltham, and I’ve been back and looked at photographs of it, you know. So she then went to a local doctor and said, “I’m pregnant,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you just go on holiday?” And he knew somebody in Lincolnshire, in Cleethorpes, who I think he trained with, and she was able to go on holiday, have my father, give birth, and come back and carry on her life.
Andy Coulson: [0:04:49] Right.
Jason Watkins: [0:04:51] And I’d always thought that she’d gone up there, given birth, and just run back to London. But we’ve done a bit of- we actually made a documentary about my life, and it’s all to do with the Tower of London. Sorry, I’ll come back to the rest. I voiced a documentary called Inside the Tower of London and I’m not going to tell you the punchline, but I’m very connected to the Tower of London unbelievably, historically.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:17] Right. So he was adopted?
Jason Watkins: [0:05:19] He was adopted by a couple who lived and worked above a doctor’s surgery. And I’d always thought that my grandmother had just gone back to London but she didn’t, she stayed for about six months and became friendly with the daughter of that family, who I knew as my Auntie Muriel.
And I think my dad sort of had a talent and was bright, and the doctors befriended him and he was just the kind of kid upstairs who comes down and-
Anyway, he got to Cambridge. He went to Cambridge, and I think-
Andy Coulson: [0:05:56] And was a scientist of sorts?
Jason Watkins: [0:06:00] Yes, he was a metallurgist, he did Natural Sciences at Selwyn College. So you know, you say your dad went to Cambridge, there’s not- I’m very proud of that but we’re not a kind of typical Cambridge- you know, from a sort of lower middle class background. I don’t know what class you’d call my dad, but you know, his adopted dad was a chauffeur and his mother was a cleaner. So you know.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:23] And yet he found his way to Cambridge.
Jason Watkins: [0:06:25] He found his way, and I think it’s a lot to do with the friendship and attention that those doctors gave him, which I find very moving. I know that there’s a Doctor Lavin, Doctor Lavin Senior, who I knew when I was a kid because went up to Cleethorpes and hung out and met them ourselves. Lavin Senior I found out delivered my father.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:47] Wow.
Jason Watkins: [0:06:48] So yes, and so I find that all very moving.
Andy Coulson: [0:06:53] It strikes me as an actor you’re very interested in what sits beneath. The kind of true character of someone. Did that story, which I don’t think you discovered until you were a teenager, right?
Jason Watkins: [0:07:05] Yes, I think I was about 15 or 16. And I don’t know, isn’t it funny what undercurrents inspire us and change us and make us behave in certain ways, and what cultivates our interest? Particularly as teenagers, the people that we meet or the ideas that we get, because we’re still sponges really at that age and those things really go very deep.
I was always really interested, we used to- our house, you could look out the kitchen and look down onto the street, and we’d see these people walking up and down. I always used to think what were they thinking, you know, that was my- what was going on in their heads.
And I think at that time I knew a friend from school who was training to be an artist, he’s now an art teacher, and I improvised him, this character, and he drew me, and then we did a load of those. So I’d go to RADA and I’d be doing a character, I was something in a Greek play, and I’d come back and improvise that character and he would draw me.
So isn’t it funny, the things you do when you’re 18? You know, the Nativity films are all improvised, it’s all part of this thing. So you know, if there’s any lesson to any of this it’s to dive in, be interested in people in your life, you know?
Andy Coulson: [0:08:16] Be interested yes, be interested.
Jason Watkins: [0:08:18] And just embarrass yourself. Don’t be so cool that you don’t ask the questions that you need to ask.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:25 Yes. Jason, you had dyslexia as a child. Again, the impact on you. You were a talented sportsman as well, I think you said a couple of chromosomes away from being a professional footballer, I think was the way you described it.
Jason Watkins: [0:08:40] Yes, me and Mark Hughes are the same age, so you know.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:46] You played semi-pro, right? And you trained with Wrexham.
Jason Watkins: [0:08:48] Briefly, yes. I was in the Wrexham Youth setup for a couple of summers, which I greatly inflate the importance of.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:58] Quite rightly.
Jason Watkins: [0:09:02] But what was I, 16, 17? I went for the two summers and trained with the youth team.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:06] So you had these two things. You had the sporting talent but you also were carrying the difficult- and obviously dyslexia when you were at school was handled and treated and viewed very differently to how it is now, thankfully.
How did you find the- in terms of the decision then to kind of direct your life towards acting, how do you pick that apart now, those two things?
Jason Watkins: [0:09:32] Well, I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 17 I think, or even 18. So I’d gone through the whole of my school life. And you know, even now I love books, I love reading. But I go to bookshops and I’m, “I’ve got to get that book,” and I don’t read them all because I find it difficult.
And so at that time, my father is clever obviously, my mother is a teacher; they were frustrated, I know particularly my father was frustrated. You know, “You’re lazy.” They didn’t understand what was going on. And so I did sport and acting and everything but reading and writing, you know? My eyes would jump around and I couldn’t concentrate.
It’s probably ADHD, almost definitely I think. I have talked to someone about that, and it’s probably a lot to do with that. And I know that’s a diagnosis which is sort of banded around quite a lot at the moment, but I think it’s something that- there’s a discussion that needs to be had about it.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:45] How did you feel when you were told that?
Jason Watkins: [0:10:47] That I had dyslexia? Well, it made-
Andy Coulson: [0:10:48] No, the ADHD bit.
Jason Watkins: [0:10:49] Well, it was a revelation to me.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:50] Because that was much more recently, yes?
Jason Watkins: [0:10:52] Yes, that was a revelation to me. Because I actually thought-
Andy Coulson: [0:10:54] How recently was that?
Jason Watkins: [0:10:55] That was like, eighteen months ago. My children are clever and wonderful, and my youngest, you know, he’s bright and he’s academically bright. He was giving me this- said, “Do you want to read this book?” And I’m not saying that my son is in anyway ADHD or anything, but I thought that it might be him because he’s so clever and freakishly could read when he was two and things like that. And I thought that book was for me to read about him, possibly. But it was me. And he said, “Of course it’s you. I’ve given you the book, you read it.”
Andy Coulson: [0:11:31] You were a very talented mimic, impersonator. When you look back at that skill do you think that was a sort of natural skill that you developed or do you think that was a sort of coping mechanism?
Jason Watkins: [0:11:42] That’s a good question. Yes, I think it was a natural skill that I had. I impersonated the whole of the cricket team. Because I used to play in the men’s teams as a teenager, then one night in the bar or whatever it was, not that I drank at all you understand, at the age of 16.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:01] Of course, of course.
Jason Watkins: [0:12:04] But I went through the whole team, I impersonated the whole team one after another, as they batted and all their little idiosyncrasies and stuff. So I enjoyed all that.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:18] It was obviously a natural skill, but was it one that you felt, “Right, that’s it then. That’s great, that’s really useful as well,” because it diverts a bit from the other difficulties that you were managing, right?
Jason Watkins: [0:12:29] Yes, exactly. When you’re 14 it gives you a space to be able to be effective, you know, when inside you’re probably feeling quite vulnerable and shy and all those sorts of things. And you know, you mix that in with the dyslexia, and my self-esteem and all that was not- I’m a sort of classic extrovert, introvert, I think.
I’m trying not to be sort of convenient with you Andy, because you can wrap these things up in a ribbon and it’s always good to go in deeper, as you’re saying, when you ask these questions about how I felt then. And I could say, you know, “I was insecure,” or whatever, but actually I was. I always sort of struggled with that, and acting did become this place where you could stand on stage and- I wouldn’t say it’s about control, it’s about structure. There was a structure that had a beginning, a middle and an end, and you could sort of breathe in it. And people laughed or, you know, they were affected or moved by what you did. So you were effective.
So in a way yes, you dive off- you know, I’m a character actor. I don’t necessarily use myself as much as other actors do.
Andy Coulson: [0:13:35] But of course, there’s this other side to the acting coin because it is also the most insecure profession arguably on Earth. It opens you up to vulnerabilities that most other careers and professions don’t do, particularly when you’re on stage. That whole bit is- it’s interesting that so many people in your profession have a story of vulnerability that sits behind the drive to-
Jason Watkins: [0:14:08] Yes, and I think they’re all true. Sometimes you probably think, “Oh, you’re not really, because look at you standing up there. You can control, you know, you can make 2,000 people laugh. You know, you’ve got to be super confident.” The same with stand-ups, probably. And of course I think that is the thing, that susceptibility to vulnerability, or that acknowledgement of it, or that trying to solve it, gives you the thing that is interesting when you’re a performer I think. And I think if you can show a bit of it when you work, that’s the thing that audiences connect with.
Andy Coulson: [0:14:456 If I can just quickly touch on RADA, you were part of a golden generation, really. Actually your getting into RADA, two questions there. One, what did your dad think about your decision to be an actor, given that he’s a scientist? And then two, the story of you actually getting into RADA on the day is sort of edged with tragi-comedy which if you can just quickly tell us that story, it’s worth hearing.
Jason Watkins: [0:15:14] Yes. Well my dad, when I got in my dad said, “Ah, now you’re joining the beautiful people,” he said. Which was like a really weird-
Andy Coulson: [0:15:25] With a smile or not?
Jason Watkins: [0:15:26] No, I don’t know. I mean, he wasn’t very communicative. He wasn’t an emotional man, my dad, although he said he wanted to be a dancer. If he had his choice-
Andy Coulson: [0:15:34] If he lived his life again, that’s what- right, okay.
Jason Watkins: [0:15:37] Yes. And he was a scientist. So he was quite straight, quite Victorian in a way, and so that’s what he kind of- and I still can’t work that out. I think he had this idea of glamour. I mean, look at me. But it was like the sort of glamour and, you know, spotlights outside of cinemas on Broadway and all that sort of stuff, a bit like Cary Grant.
But yes, we talked about the fact that I played a lot of football at the time, and so what happened on the day has probably got a little bit to do with that. I got my letter to get into RADA, my acceptance letter, and I jumped in the air with delight because I’d got in, and landed on our cat and killed our cat.
I’m hearing people screaming there.
Andy Coulson: [0:16:32] And I shouldn’t be laughing either, now.
Jason Watkins: [0:16:33] I know, but the thing is- I know, it is a sort of joke. But some people you tell- I mean, I can tell the whole story, there’s a whole routine to the story, and it becomes a story. It’s a terrible thing to happen but yes. My mum came down the stairs and said, “What’s going on?” because I was saying, “Stop it, stop it,” you know, I’d lost it.
Andy Coulson: [0:16:56] “I’ve got into RADA and the cat’s dead.”
Jason Watkins: [0:16:58] Yes, “I’ve got into RADA and I’ve killed the cat.”
Andy Coulson: [0:17:01] Jason. So many roles, and I’m sorry to speed through all this, but can I ask you since we’re almost certainly in an election year, just give us a- your performance a few years ago as Harold Wilson in The Crown was just fantastic.
Jason Watkins: [0:17:15] Thank you .
Andy Coulson: [0:17:16] Just give us a little mini-masterclass, will you? How did you prepare for that role? How did you approach it? I just want to take that one example so that we can get an idea of how you work.
Jason Watkins: [0:17:27] Well, it’s quite a good example in that it was- you’d probably think you just turn up and they give you a part, or they said, “Would you play Harold Wilson for us?” There were seven of us up for that part, so I knew that there would be an amount of work that I had to do to get the part. And I really wanted to play it, obviously, I had an appetite to play it.
So I did loads of research on him, I read books and I watched- when I say, “Read books,” I got information about him, and I read a very good biography by Ben Pimlott which took a while to read, but- I started reading that, but essentially a lot of it was just mimicry from watching on video.
But learning a little bit about his life, and-
Andy Coulson: [0:18:11] When you’re watching that video what are you looking for? It’s the mannerisms, obviously.
Jason Watkins: [0:18:16] Yes, it’s like when I impersonated the cricket team.
Andy Coulson: [0:18:18] But that bit about trying to find the bit that lies underneath, that perhaps you are looking for but it isn’t obvious to the rest of us. What is it?
Jason Watkins: [0:18:25] There were sort of two halves to it, really. I did what I thought was good enough to get the part, which was, in terms of my work. And then when we started with Netflix and Left Bank, then there was people to help as well to sort of fine tune it. But I’d done so much work to get the part.
I think you’re just looking at simple impersonation, you know, body language. I’m looking at you and you know, you can find things that just sort of go in. And as I get older I actually have less process, I let things happen, I’ve learned to leave things alone a bit. I think there’s a certain amount of wisdom to that; let whatever is going on happen, and don’t overthink it.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:06] You played Winston Churchill as well.
Jason Watkins: [0:19:08] Yes, I did.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:09] Are you the only person do you think, who has played both Harold Wilson and Winston Churchill?
Jason Watkins: [0:19:12] I try and think-
Andy Coulson: [0:19:13] You played Churchill in SAS Rogue Heroes.
Jason Watkins: [0:19:15] Rogue Heroes, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:17] I enjoyed that, that was a great series.
Jason Watkins: [0:19:19] Wasn’t it a great series, yes. No, I couldn’t resist doing that. There was a version of doing The Audience which is the Peter Morgan play about the Queen, and there was an idea once that I would do all of them. Which didn’t- I think it was around the Pandemic, it didn’t quite work out. But yes, he was an extraordinary character.
I mean, just one thing to finish about Harold Wilson is that once I actually got on the set and doing the scenes with Olivia, what was interesting also was that his vulnerability and that he would- and I spoke to Lord Montague who was- Bernard Montague who was in the Kitchen Cabinet, within the close circle of advisors that Harold had at the time, and he was a young man then. He told me a lot about him, and I think he said that once he’d got into- the last time he had become Prime Minister he sort of confided in Bernard and said, “I’m tired. I’m just tired.” And you think, “Gosh, for someone to say that.”
So that helped latterly in those scenes where he had got dementia and was starting to slide, which was such a shame, with this incredible brain, to see that slip away was really tragic and I felt I had to embrace that.
But I felt in a little way once we started filming that I’d done too much work, actually. That I-
Andy Coulson: [0:20:48] Well, it was brilliant work.
Jason Watkins: [0:20:50] Thank you.
Andy Coulson: [0:20:51] You gave a great interview Jason, on another podcast, Bandwidth Conversations with Katie Brewer, in which you said that it hasn’t always been plain sailing as an actor. There have been difficult moments where you’ve struggled. You talked about the play Bingo, for example. Just tell us a little bit about that, and how you reacted- it was anxiety really, wasn’t it?
Jason Watkins: [0:21:17] It was. It’s great looking at this, you know, Crisis What Crisis, because here I am talking about my career now, how fortunate I’ve been. But yes, that was really-
Andy Coulson: [0:21:30] You would categorise that as a crisis?
Jason Watkins: [0:21:32] Yes. I mean, I’ve had- my first marriage, when Caroline who- we are still very close friends, and Clara my current wife is as well, so we do well. I had a bit of a breakdown I think when Caroline was pregnant for the first time and we lost that child sadly, late on in pregnancy.
Andy Coulson: [0:21:58] I’m sorry.
Jason Watkins: [0:22:01] But I wasn’t ready really to have- I was younger than I perhaps thought I was and I had a breakdown actually over a weekend. It was really hard. I didn’t know what was going on, I was terribly anxious and they gave me some sort of- I went on medication which I hated, and I pulled out of it eventually. And I had another wobble, I can’t remember when, but where I did-
And I think it’s all out of anxiety and not being able to cope and being overwhelmed. I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed and I think that can lead to problems.
Andy Coulson: [0:22:43] The trigger for it in that first instance was yourself and Caroline losing your-
Jason Watkins: [0:22:48] Well no, it was actually the prospect of having a family and being a father. I think that was what it was. Was I ready for that? And I wasn’t a particularly good husband, put it that way. I’ve spoken to Caroline about that, and she knows, you know, not a brilliant husband.
So it was challenging and hard, and it’s vulnerable because you know, there’s no guarantee of money or doing a job in fringe, or you get a little part in a TV thing. We were living in squat I think when we first got together, so it was difficult, you know?
But then when we got to Bingo–
Andy Coulson: [0:23:33] Just give a sense of the sort of chronology. So between those two incidents, how-?
Jason Watkins: [0:23:39] That was 1995, ’96 I suppose. And then I had another kind of wobble at one point, and again it’s- I think sometimes when you’re rehearsing a play, and you find this a lot. I think a lot of actors, when you get to the end of the rehearsal process you think, “Oh my goodness, we’re going to get on stage now, I’m going to have to share this and I don’t feel I’ve got- I haven’t achieved what I need to feel comfortable on stage,” which actually only comes once you’ve done it. So you know, and then you go, “Okay, it’s fine.”
Sometimes you get it in filming. Your first day’s filming is difficult. “How the hell do I do this?” Then you do it, you have a great day, and the next day, “Here we are, I know this,” off you go.
But when you’re doing a play and when you’re young, it’s like, “Oh my goodness, this is insane.” And I think that can contribute to feeling overwhelmed.
I remember we did Are You Being Served which is a tribute kind of thing, and I played John Inman in that, and I absolutely loved it. Maybe this was about eight years ago, and I remember there was a live audience there, it was packed. When you record those kinds of shows, like a live sort of sitcom as it were, they pump the music from Are You Being Served into the studio. So you can hear this music, and I had to come on and arrange this sort of glove thing with the sort of grapes, you know? I could see my heart, I could see my shirt, I could literally see my heart moving.
Andy Coulson: [0:25:23] And you’d been on stage how many times, by this time?
Jason Watkins: [0:25:23] Hundreds, thousands of times. And you think-
Andy Coulson: [0:25:27] But it can just come.
Jason Watkins: [0:25:28] Oh yes. And first nights are really- they say it’s like having a car crash.
Andy Coulson: [0:25:35] And that’s what happened with Bingo, right? But it was pretty severe.
Jason Watkins: [0:25:39] Yes, that was leading up to- I can’t talk too much about- it’s unfair to talk about individuals or anything, but I felt I was in a- I really was in a crisis. I’d accepted the part, I wasn’t working very much, we’re now talking about thirteen years ago. I wasn’t doing much work and I thought, “I’m going to do a bit of writing. I want to write something. So I’ll go down, do this play in Chichester, have a bit of spare time to write.” But I’d kind of underestimated the play. My character had to come on in the first fifteen minutes and have a sort of ten minute monologue about medieval farming techniques.
Andy Coulson: [0:26:23] As you do.
Jason Watkins: [0:26:24] As you do. I mean, God, make that interesting. And I just didn’t get it, I wasn’t on top of it. We started rehearsing it and I wasn’t there, I couldn’t make it work. And I think people were frustrated, the director and one of the actors, and I was taken aside and said, you know, “It’s not good enough.” And it just absolutely demolished me, actually.
If actors are egotistical, which a lot of times they are, it’s because they’ve got to survive such really difficult, challenging things. And you’ve got your ego, you’ve got to be able to- I think I can do that in my work. I know when I get on set that I can plug into various things. And part of it is taking a deep breath and jumping off and not feeling afraid.
Andy Coulson: [0:27:20] How did you pull yourself out of that? Was that antidepressants again, counselling?
Jason Watkins: [0:27:23] No, it was counselling. And I’d had a bit of counselling about stuff leading up to that on and off, and it kind of went away. So I had a crisis in a weekend when I just couldn’t cope, and I just sort of- I think it’s amazing how people can cope and cover.
If you think about people like Gary Speed, for example.
Andy Coulson: [0:28:00] A terrible story.
Jason Watkins: [0:28:00] He’s one of many, many men. And nobody had an idea. And I think when I was feeling like that, I was good at acting that I was fine, but I really wasn’t.
Andy Coulson: [0:28:12] Did it get desperate?
Jason Watkins: [0:28:14] Yes, I had those thoughts yes. I had those thoughts. Because I think what you want is you want it to end. You want the feelings of anxiety and stress to end, and I think that-
Andy Coulson: [0:28:26] Did you voice those thoughts?
Jason Watkins: [0:28:27] No I didn’t, and I don’t think I was working anything out as to how I might do it or anything, but I think for me understanding why men- and people, but I don’t know, maybe I can just sort of know what it is anyway, in me, that if you are overwhelmed, you can’t cope, you can’t see the future with a sense of ease or comfort, or you are worried about the future, is that that can slip into depression and anxiety.
And I am much better at dealing with it now than I was then. So yes, it was really tough. And then I went back and we started doing the play, and then I felt more comfortable performing it. But yes, it really- I loved the theatre before then. And I’ve worked since, obviously, but that was my life really, the theatre, and then that really did sting me a bit.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:32] By this stage, I think I’m right in saying Jason that you have four children. Two sons, Freddie and Pip from your first marriage to Caroline, and Bessie and Maude from your second to Clara.
If you can tell us Jason, tell us about Maude. Tell us about those two and a half years that you and Clara and Bessie and the rest of your family had with her.
Jason Watkins: [0:30:05] There’s a kind of order to it in a way, isn’t there, that I had two sons with Caroline and I had two daughters with Clara. So there was a sort of symmetry in a way. And yes, we all- it just feels a very different time. And I- Clara says you don’t remember much. Sometimes I do blank things out that I find difficult.
But I do remember those two years which were pretty wonderful, with Maude. As we do now, we were sort of two families that do mix, there’s no issue, and that was great. The fact that Bessie had a sister that would play and have fun, you know? And I think I got into this- I had a lot of time with them, together.
Clara was working at weekends a lot, so I would walk them down the canal, go to Regent’s Park, one in the pram, one in the little skateboard on the back. We did a lot of that, and talk and play games and be silly, stop at certain points, look at the trains going by. So there was this unit. My unit with the three and then obviously the unit with Clara. But I did feel that the three of us was a thing in itself.
And she was just full of life, sang a lot and laughed and was silly, and wise as well. Clara talks about this, she had a sort of wisdom to her. She would sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow perfectly at two, sing on the bus. Yes, so we had this little life together.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:04] She was a performer, she was her father’s daughter.
Jason Watkins: [0:32:07] Yes I think so, definitely.
So yes, that was lost.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:17] It was just after Christmas I think, in 2010, that Maude fell ill with what you both thought at first- it started as a heavy cold, but you were led to believe was croup, right?
Jason Watkins: [0:32:35] Mm.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:35] Tell us what happened after she initially fell ill.
Jason Watkins: [0:32:41] She sort of had a croaky cough. We were joking that she had quite a sort of sexy voice, it was a sort of freakish voice. And almost when she was speaking it was quite funny, you know? Which in normal circumstances you wouldn’t feel bad about, but maybe I do now.
We’d taken her to the GP, and I was worried, we were both worried that the cold, the throat infection was going to her chest, which I thought would be dangerous. So I took her to the GP and she referred us to the- after me prompting, after me saying, “Are you sure?” She said, “Go home, take some antibiotics,” and I said I was worried so she said go to the A&E. So we went to the drop-in paediatric A&E at the local hospital and were given some steroids for the throat inflammation, which loosens the back of the neck, makes it more able to breathe. So she was discharged from the hospital, and then they said you know, “Just be aware, in 24 hours when those steroids wear off, that’s the time to look again.”
So that following afternoon that’s kind of what happened, in that Maude had problems breathing. I went to sleep in the afternoon, which is very rare for me, and I think that was partly to do with the stress or the uncertainty of it, or the trauma that was starting to happen. So she started to breathe really badly, her chest was rising and falling exaggeratedly which I now know is called a stridor, and the symptoms were getting worse.
Clara woke me up and said that she was not well. We got into the car, I was driving and Clara was in the front seat trying to keep Maude awake, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. There was this sort of hellish drive down to the hospital, and then I sort of ran in, Clara I think went back to look after Bessie. And then I was seen by various doctors, into triage, and then a nurse, then a doctor on call who was saying, “I think it’s croup,” and then the paediatrician who said, “I think it’s croup,” or something that’s going to be okay, basically.
But we were monitored and given gas and air, and she calmed down, was given antibiotics, and her temperature started to fall but she was still quite sort of subdued and floppy.
That was New Year’s Day, so it was all in the lead-up- it was New Year’s Eve, sorry, New Year’s Eve. We were due to go out to a friend’s house, and I’ve still got the text messages; “Sorry, we can’t make it, Maude’s-” you know.
And then the doctor said, “I think we can discharge her.” I was thinking, “Are you sure? Because you know, we were driving in a car at 60 miles an hour with our child drifting in and out of consciousness, now you’re telling me everything is fine.” But you trust people and you respect their decisions.
And he made a decision that he thought was right at the time, that she should be discharged. And often it’s said that a child feels better at home, more comfortable at home, rather than being in a hospital which is alien and difficult.
So we took her home and she was slightly better. He said just put her down, not too hot, not too cold, keep an eye on her. Which is what we did. And then we went to sleep and she was okay, you know? She seemed better, calmer, and we made our goodnights. Clara would always kiss her and then rub noses.
We were very concerned and obviously stressed and anxious, but we managed to get to sleep. We were living in a flat at the time, like a maisonette, the bedrooms are on the lower floor, our bedrooms are next to each other so Bessie and Maude are in the same bedroom.
On New Year’s Day 2011 I woke up and Bessie came in and sort of- she was four at the time. And she said, “I can’t wake Maude.” I had this really weird feeling that something was very wrong, and maybe sort of slow motion started then. Getting up and- there was a feeling of dread anyway, I remember this feeling of dread, but that everything is going to be alright. It’s fine, you know, it’s fine.
I walked into the bedroom and I could see the cot ahead of me, and I could see that she was- I knew she was dead.
Andy Coulson: [0:38:43] Immediately?
Jason Watkins: [0:38:44] Yes, she had blood coming out of her nose and her mouth. So, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:02] Just a- a cataclysm.
Jason Watkins: [0:39:04] Yes, cataclysmic. And then it all- everyone was crying, wailing, it was horrendous. You can’t believe it’s happening, you want time to go backwards, you think, “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening.”
Andy Coulson: [0:39:18] And you do what any parent would do in those circumstances, you try to resuscitate her.
Jason Watkins: [0:39:22] Yes, we tried to. I took her upstairs. I thought that- I took her upstairs and I tried to revive her. I gave her CPR, I did all that I could remember, I got on the phone to the doctor, and I thought that was just me doing that. I took her upstairs because I wanted to take it away from Bessie, this whatever was going to happen. And to a certain extent, Clara. And in my mind I thought Clara had stayed downstairs, but it’s only very recently that she was there watching me and talking to me, trying to revive Maude which I did on the living room floor.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:59] Because you’d moved into a situation that is just beyond comprehension.
Jason Watkins: [0:40:04] Yes, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:40:09] Utter, utter disbelief as well from both of you.
Jason Watkins: [0:40:09] Yes, and you can’t believe- you just want time to go back. You think, “No, this isn’t right. This hasn’t happened, this is wrong.” No, you know. But then the ambulance arrived and they tried to revive her, and then we were told by one of the doctors that that was it, that they couldn’t revive her and she had died.
Andy Coulson: [0:40:38] The first thing to say is just how very sorry I am, and I’m sure anyone listening to this is, is the first and most important thing to say.
But the brilliant documentary that you and Clara made that tells the story, then also tells the story of what comes after a cataclysmic event like that; the horrible practicalities, the admin if I can put it that way, of tragedy.
I want to talk to you about that, but before we do, can I just ask how did you even begin? Because I’m moving forward now through that phase, but I do want to go back there. How did you even begin to emerge from that, I suppose is the question?
Let’s talk perhaps a little bit about having got through that phase that you bring to life in the documentary. How were you, I suppose? Unable to work, I think is right.
Jason Watkins: [0:41:43] Yes, I was-
Andy Coulson: [0:41:44] Unable really to function.
Jason Watkins: [0:41:46] Yes. I tried. I tried. I was doing a play, I was cast in a play. And again you know, I wasn’t earning much money really, and so I took this play and I- I can’t remember whether I actually started it. I went into rehearse within a few days, I thought you know, “We need some money, I haven’t got any money. How are we going to do this?” So I thought it might be good and give me a bit of structure.
I was trying, I was sort of acting on acting, I was being a character, there was me, there was the thing I was trying to portray, and there was this other character I was supposed to be playing. I thought I was doing well, but what happened was that-
Andy Coulson: [0:42:36] You had to turn yourself into someone else to be able to be someone else.
Jason Watkins: [0:42:38] Yes that’s right, yes. I thought it was going really well, and I was becoming friends with the actors just over a few days. Dominic Cooke, he is a wonderful director and a very sensitive, gentle and brilliant guy. He said, “Just come in on the Saturday to have a little chat,” and obviously I wasn’t giving them anything. He was saying it’s unfair on the other actors because they’d just done that show in the Royal Court-
Andy Coulson: [0:43:12] How soon after Maude’s passing is this?
Jason Watkins: [0:43:13] It’s about five days.
Andy Coulson: [0:43:15] Goodness.
Jason Watkins: [0:43:15] I mean, it’s insane. The thing was, I thought, “That will give us a bit of structure, bring in some money,” but there would be the autopsy report or something, and there’s no way that I’m going to ring up Clara- I’d get a phone call saying, “This is what the autopsy report is,” I couldn’t go back to ring up Clara and tell her. I would need to tell her immediately so I’d say, “Can I go out of rehearsal and go and-?” You know, I should have been at home. But we’d decided that-
Andy Coulson: [0:43:45] It’s actually though a protective instinct in a way that led you down that pathway, because you’re worrying about the practicalities of life. But it is also taking you down entirely the wrong path in terms of your ability to grieve.
Jason Watkins: [0:43:57] Yes. And you don’t know what you’re doing. Why would you know what you’re doing? When my child dies, make sure you do this. You know, even advice that we give, it’s tempered with everyone is completely different and there are no steps- I don’t subscribe to this seven stages of grief, it doesn’t apply. Those seven stages individually might all happen at different points and over different timescales, but I don’t think you can wrap it all up into a narrative of this, this, this and this.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:28] There’s no process.
Jason Watkins: [0:44:31] At that time, certain things that people said to us helped us, certain things happened that were dreadful. Practicalities were difficult.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:40] But there was also the aspect of the inquest. Because having heard the story now this will all make sense, but her cause of death, Maude’s cause of death I think was given as strep or influenza initially, and you pushed for the full inquest, I think I’m right in saying?
Jason Watkins: [0:44:58] Yes. Because-
Andy Coulson: [0:45:00] Did you feel that there was a sort of sense of cover-up, or is that too strong a way of describing it?
Jason Watkins: [0:45:07] I don’t know actually, if I’m honest Andy, I don’t know. An inquest- I’m dealing with this at the moment with another family that Clara and I- we talk to other families, we’re in various organisations, and also reach out personal- there’s a particular family who have been through something very similar very recently, and we had them over at the weekend and we were talking to them, trying to help them get through. So I know there have been real issues with that.
But when I think back to Maude, an inquest is designed to give parents some sort of peace to the questions that they may be feeling, may want to ask. But an inquest doesn’t point the finger at anyone, it just gives a reason why- or scenarios, what happened and who and when. It doesn’t say why necessarily, doesn’t give you all the answers.
Clara couldn’t go, she just couldn’t face the court, it was too much. So I went, I was allowed to give my account of what happened. Strep A, I wasn’t there for the results of the post-mortem, I walked out, that would be too distressing to hear. But it was streptococcus and influenza B.
And the hospital trust had an expert who came down who spoke, and he said that whatever was going on, it was too late, I think I’m right in saying, by the time that she was- it was already too late, that the hospital couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. So okay, so there’s something unresolved in me about that, and maybe when I have time I’d like to revisit that whole thing.
And you want it to be resolved. You want to go, “Okay, somebody tell me what happened, because then I can feel okay. I can know what happened, I can move on.” But sepsis was not mentioned at all at any time during the visit either time to the hospital and not mentioned in the court case. So it was only after that that I, you know, when I reached- that I realised after a bit more research that it was sepsis, and that sepsis had taken hold and that-
Andy Coulson: [0:47:56] It was about six months later, right? That you’re finally told that-
Jason Watkins: [0:47:58] It was six months later, yes. So this now knowing how your child has died is really difficult, because then you end up blaming yourself. You think, “Was there something that I should have done?”
Andy Coulson: [0:48:09] It leaves a gap that you will just fill with guilt and anxiety and uncertainty at its lowest.
Jason Watkins: [0:48:17] Yes. And the peace that I have in that respect, that we have, is that it was sepsis and that there wasn’t anything that we could have done as parents. If we had said, “Could it be sepsis?” to any of the medical professionals at the hospital that might have been something, and so that’s what we always say to parents.
Andy Coulson: [0:48:41] And the anger in and around that. Because we talk a lot about anger on this podcast. Can I ask you, how did you manage that element? And I suppose the anger that then tips over time into something akin to bitterness and those other emotions that are so dangerous?
Jason Watkins: [0:48:59] Yes. I smashed up the shower, I remember that, in about week three.
Andy Coulson: [0:49:04] Out of nowhere, that was just?
Jason Watkins: [0:49:05] Yes, I got in the shower and- and it was about- it wasn’t anger at any individual, it was anger at fate and you know, how dare you do this? What the fuck have we done? Why should we deserve this? And it wasn’t rational. I mean, I’m saying those things, that I was thinking those things, but there was some sort of out of body experience of smashing the shower up.
It was about fate. Clara was just brilliant, because she- her anger at that, at fate dealing this, obviously you are mourning for your child and their missed opportunities and their life that’s gone, and you are thinking that it shouldn’t have happened. Is there a reason that it- you know, how has this happened? It shouldn’t have happened. You are incredibly upset and vulnerable, and you feel bullied by the world. You feel bullied by the world, you feel knocked around like being put through a washing machine, kicked at and spat on, kicked in the head, don’t know- because you’ve gone through this.
So you feel really vulnerable, and there’s a sort of rage against that. I think that’s what it is, and that’s not a bad thing. And there are all these different ways of resolving and wrestling out of this horrible dark pit that you’re in. Sometimes you feel like a complete victim and there’s no way out and you’re desperate, and other times you start smashing the shower up because you’ve got to break out and get on with your life.
Clara was brilliant because she didn’t want to be one of those people who wears black and is on the other side of the street, and you know, people say, “That’s her, she’s lost a child.” She would come over and say, “Yes, this has happened.” And she would always pre-empt. I did that to some extent but I found it difficult, particularly at work, because you’d think, “Do they know? If they don’t, I’ve got to tell them, and we’re working and they’re going to go oh my God, they’re not going to be able to work.” So you know, it was difficult around that.
But the anger, yes. I was never angry at any individual. My anger was fuelled into trying to work out better ways of dealing with sepsis, or even more than that, the way that we look at infants in A&E. Because you know, it’s a funding issue, it’s an organisational issue. It’s another conversation.
But because I had identified that there wasn’t an individual at fault in the hospital, if it’s not the individual it has to be the system. So we’ve got to improve the system. So that’s carried on, and my anger is fuelled into that.
The bitterness; there’s no bitterness. It’s just, you know, I think of the people, the memories of those days, and I could never blame any of them. Nobody wilfully wants to- nobody made a technical mistake, it’s just nobody really thought of the possibilities of what could be happening. That’s what it’s about.
So my anger is channelled in that way. What happened over time is that I probably forgot to grieve. I was busy, and I still probably am a little bit still there, really.
Andy Coulson: [0:52:36] Because you threw yourself into- you described that early failure to work, totally understandable, but it wasn’t that long, I think three of four months after Maude’s death, that you are then throwing yourself back all in, and this time you are able to function, more than function, as an actor again.
Jason Watkins: [0:53:00] Yes, you feel-
Andy Coulson: [0:53:01] And really threw yourself in.
Jason Watkins: [0:53:02] I did.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:03] And when you look at that period now, that also had an element of kind of denial about it.
Jason Watkins: [0:53:10] Yes, possibly. You’ve got to sort of- I remember being in the car going, “Right, I’m going to get my family through this.” I was like born again, you get sort of born again and you have to sort of- two days of that and then bang, you know, you’re just lying on the bed again and you can’t cope.
The two things that I think are really important to say before I just talk about working again, was that in that period when something awful like that has happened, something cataclysmic in your life, we felt as though we were in this dark pit, I’ve probably talked about this before, and if anyone has heard me say this before then please just re-think it again. You feel as though you can’t get out of a pit. It’s quite visual and it’s quite sort of sensual. You are so deep, you can see the lip of the pit with the sky above, and you just can’t get out.
And you know, if you’re feeling that, all I would say is that one day you do get out. You do. And even though if you’re in a recent crisis you feel that it’s impossible. I’m not saying time heals, I’m not saying any of that, I don’t believe in those sorts of things. There’s a process that happens, it can take long or short, where you do arrive somewhere that you can be at peace.
The other thing is that Maude’s death was all-encompassing, and it’s like a big disc in front of you, a big red dot or black dot that’s right there, and then gradually over time it’s still in the centre but it gets smaller and you get to look out and see your family and find a way forward.
So I always kind of say that, even though you know, if there are people listening to this who have just been through a bereavement swearing at me and thinking- that’s fine, because that’s all part of it. But all I’m saying is that the physical feelings of desperation and- and also things like you know, you feel your child’s hand in yours when they’re not there, in those first few days and weeks, and it’s really awful. I remember going into a shop in Brent Cross trying to get clothes for Bessie, and I found myself staring at a two-year-old’s jumper because- and lost it there.
All those feelings are all part of this journey, and I would say that if you’re having those feelings, that things get less difficult. They do.
But when I started work, Roughcut television company, Ash Atalia, who I really thank. He cast me in Trollied which is a comedy, of course it was a comedy, in a supermarket in Bristol. It did take me away from home but it gave me money as well, that was the thing, and it was good money sort of for the first time really, actually proper money.
Andy Coulson: [0:56:32] So it ticked the ‘I’m looking after my family’ box.
Jason Watkins: [0:56:33] I could look after the family. I was back every weekend and Jane Horrocks who I trained with at RADA, part of this golden- which included Ralph Fiennes, Iain Glen, just lots of lovely people, who weirdly we’ve reconnected forty years later actually. We are all sort of at this- anyway, another story.
But Jane really looked out for me during that time, and I was able to feel I could provide and start work again. Because you think, “How the hell am I going to work?”
Andy Coulson: [0:57:05] You made that brilliant documentary that we touched on earlier in the conversation, last year. It’s very powerful television, but it’s also I think very important television, not just because it tells Maude’s story so beautifully, heartbreakingly, but also for the way that it sort of opens a window into your family’s grief and into the sort of process of grief.
You confront it all. We see you retrace your journey to the mortuary, we see you in a therapy session with Julia Samual, who we are lucky enough to have had her on this podcast, an amazing woman.
Jason Watkins: [0:57:49] A brilliant person, incredible person.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:51] You talk about your misplaced sense of guilt. You clearly felt strongly, you and Clara clearly felt very strongly that that’s the documentary that needed to be made.
Jason Watkins: [0:58:04] Yes. I’d always wanted to do something about it, and Clara had as well, and there was- I thought at one point that it would be more allegorical that we could do a drama about it. About grief, not about our story, because that would be the only way of actually exploring it, because it would be too difficult. I’ve not ruled that out actually at all as an idea.
But we had wanted to tell the story. It’s weird isn’t it, because you feel sort of guilty about, you know, I don’t know, perhaps I feel selfish that I’m able to tell the story, our story, because I know there are so many other families that can’t and don’t have the platform or don’t have the ability. Sharing is important.
Andy Coulson: [0:58:54] Critical.
Jason Watkins: [0:58:55] Yes. It’s really important, because- and for the person who is sharing, it’s as important for us as it is for the listener. We are trying to help people, but there is a selfishness about sharing. Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but there’s a privilege to being able to share, and it’s altruistic, and maybe it’s a privilege that you need to value and make well because not everyone has the ability.
Because I know that by sharing it’s helped us. Not completely, it’s been really hard, and I know some people don’t have that ability to share. All I would say is just talk to people; that is what sharing is. We’ve just done it on a different platform.
Andy Coulson: [0:59:36] It doesn’t have to be a documentary.
Jason Watkins: [0:59:38] No. Just talk. Talk, however difficult it is. We’ve done it on a bigger scale. And because we’re actors we do share our emotions when we work, and I think it’s a bit to do with that, that we’re able to be able to talk openly about it. There were a couple of times when I thought, “Do we want to share that with an audience?” but my feeling was that by sharing it, that it would help them, it would help people.
It might help us. I mean, some bits I thought, “Has that really helped, sharing that bit?”
Andy Coulson: [1:00:10] Where have you ended then, on that?
Jason Watkins: [1:00:12] Completely better that we’ve shared it, yes.
Andy Coulson: [1:00:15] There’s no question it’s been helpful for others, no question. In terms of your grieving process.
Jason Watkins: [1:00:21] Which has reminded me that I’ve made sure that I do touch those places that I’ve kind of maybe don’t want to open up because they’re too painful.
Andy Coulson: [1:00:31] That’s part of the story of the documentary, right? Is that it’s you confronting the bits that you feel actually-
Jason Watkins: [1:00:36] Yes, and in the session with Julia she made me think- we went back, as we’ve done today, going back to that day, and it was only when we did the documentary that I realised that Clara was in the room with me while we were- the awful resuscitation, while I was trying to resuscitate. And that yes, because you just want to run away.
Put it this way; if I’m an actor who likes to run away into different characters, sometimes if you’ve got a really big emotion and you want to run away from it, it’s better to face it. And you can do that gently, you don’t have to be Superman, you can just be, “Okay, today I’m going to go back to that moment. Today I’m going to really think about that. It’s going to be painful but it’s going to be good for me and good for us.”
Whenever Clara and I went to our early sessions with the SLOW group, which is a group of parents who meet-
Andy Coulson: [1:01:34] Have lost children.
Jason Watkins: [1:01:35] They’ve lost children, thank you yes. We’d come back on a Wednesday afternoon and we’d just be knackered, shattered, and just lie on the bed. But we felt very close. We do feel close when we talk about it, we shared the same experience. It binds us. And that doesn’t always happen with couples because sometimes it’s easier that the trauma of what’s happened, it’s better to have a new relationship, leave that behind, move on.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:06] That’s quite a familiar pattern isn’t it, post- the loss of a child.
Jason Watkins: [1:02:10] And yet the person who is with you has been through it, they are the person who can help the most. But I completely understand.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:16] The documentary also of course highlighted the truth about sepsis. The statistics alone are shocking; 50,000 sepsis deaths a year in the UK. So it shone that light on, as I described, that was obviously a big motivator for you as well. You’ve talked about it, that is now where you are channelling so much effort, work, energy.
Jason Watkins: [1:02:39] Yes, and we are patrons of Child Bereavement UK, we try and help people come to terms with losing their child.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:50] On sepsis, if there’s one message that you would want to share in this conversation around the awareness piece?
Jason Watkins: [1:02:59] For parents and for perhaps the elderly as well you know, if your parents are older and you are worried about your mother or father or elderly relative, or your child, just ask, “Could it be sepsis?” Even at the GP when you meet the GP, or even first responders. In certain instances, in certain trusts they are very on top of it. Ambulance people, basically what I’m saying is they can be au fait with the idea that sepsis may be happening at that point, or there’s the possibility of it.
But just ask, “Could it be sepsis?” at any time. And ask them to rule it out. Martha’s Rule, which was a recent case of- a girl called Martha died and her mother Merope pursued an idea of getting a second opinion in a scenario in hospital where you are worried about your child, that you can demand a second opinion from another individual, which is brilliant.
And tied in within that is just to say, “Could this be sepsis? I’m worried about this. Rule it out for me, put me at ease.”
Andy Coulson: [1:04:16] Use the word.
Jason Watkins: [1:04:17] Use the word, raise it. I’ve a very good friend who is a Professor of A&E, and he has explained to me many times, sepsis is part of a scenario of many things. When an infant arrives at A&E it’s difficult. Sepsis is an issue because it’s difficult to know when to act upon it. If you recognise there are certain signs, then it could be sepsis.
I’m not explaining this very well, but for me the whole of looking at infants arriving at A&E needs to be looked at again. Because if I say that Maude died twelve years ago, and that the ombudsman report about sepsis a couple of months ago said that nothing had changed about sepsis, now, that was like a body-blow, that makes me feel sick even thinking about it now, because we’ve worked so hard over that time.
There was one case a few years ago about one boy, Connor Horridge up in Wigan, who died in almost the same way that we lost Maude. And recently a boy called Daniel at the Royal Free Hospital died, it’s a catalogue of cataclysmic mistakes, and they are the parents that we’re talking to. And they are devastated by that. And it’s a similar scenario.
So why is sepsis this massive- why can’t we just treat it? Why can’t people be on top of it? Well, I think it’s because the whole of A&E needs to be subsidised, there needs to be a sort of revaluation of how we-
Andy Coulson: [1:06:14] It’s also about accountability and fear as well.
Jason Watkins: [1:06:17] Yes, I suppose it is. But yes. And also that there needs to be a national database of sepsis cases, but there can’t be a national database of sepsis cases because all the individual trusts work in different ways. So when the NHS was starting to be broken up and privatisation moved in, various trusts have different systems to communicate. So you do a deal with some company in one trust, you work up a communication system that actually can’t work with another trust.
Andy Coulson: [1:06:53] Exactly, it’s right hand left hand.
Jason Watkins: [1:06:55] So I’m not just saying, you know, state control good, privatisation bad, I’m not saying that. But what I’m saying is we have this fantastic goodwill about the NHS, we’ve got to subsidise it. We as individuals have to say, “Actually okay, I value this.” It means that we’re going to have to ringfence it in a tax situation or we’re going to have to pay for it. And part of that payment would be to really support infant A&E and give it what it needs to provide the services that- you know, some A&E departments have dedicated sepsis nurses, some don’t. What’s that about?
Andy Coulson: [1:07:31] Yes, you either need them or you don’t.
Jason Watkins: [1:07:33] Yes, you need them.
Andy Coulson: [1:07:34] Jason, what we’re going to do is include all the right links on this episode, so that people who- and I hope they will want to understand this a bit better and get behind the campaign that you have so brilliantly got yourself involved in. We’ll make sure that that is all available.
In 2015 you were rightly celebrated for your role in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries. An incredible portrayal of a man facing an existential and brutally unfair crisis. A key part of that story I think took place on the day you lost Maude. Something that was obviously right at the front of your mind I suspect in a very visceral way on the day that you were filming. Can you tell me about that day?
Jason Watkins: [1:08:25] Yes. This is where my dyslexia comes in, partly. Because when- I remember images of Christopher Jeffries in newspapers at the end of 2010, and then it just disappeared because Maude died. So you know.
Andy Coulson: [1:08:49] Of course.
Jason Watkins: [1:08:50] And then when we started filming I kind of realised that that day was- this is the day that Christopher was- Christopher was accused of murdering one of his tenants, Joanna Yeates, in Bristol. He was taken in for questioning and he had to stay overnight. They asked for an extension and he had to stay in overnight in a cell. I worked out that on that night, that was the night that Maude died. He was in overnight on New Year’s.
That scene, that was weird realising that. It was sort of strange, and brought it back. I was so determined in that job, that was a sort of grief project without knowing it, I was determined to be the best that I could be, I don’t know, something took over and it just had to be great for me, for Joanna and her family, and for Christopher. And for justice, I suppose. But there was this sort of- the planets aligned and I was just going to go for it, and I really enjoyed making it.
But something else was going on, and one of those things was on that night realising that this was the same night that- and of course we’re all linked.
Andy Coulson: [1:10:17] It could have tipped you either way.
Jason Watkins: [1:10:18] Yes. What happened was that then in another scene we go through the- Christopher comes out and says, “What’s been going on since I’ve been in?” and his friend shows him all the newspapers and how much he’d been demonised in the newspapers, and they’d prejudged him and so on. But sharing the headlines was the flu epidemic. So on every newspaper that we turned during the scene- so we start rehearsing it and the newspapers are in a pile, and Ben Caplan who played Clive Panto who was Christopher’s friend, puts the newspapers down and then I start looking at them.
My lovely late friend Roger Michelle said, “Oh,” you know, I sort of just slumped, and he said, “Bear it. You bear adversity. In a crisis you don’t always crumble, as we know. I think you do, but sometimes you have to bear it, and Christopher was a bearer of- he was strong enough to bear it.” But as we were doing it I’m looking at the other headlines, these were the real newspapers obviously of the time, they shared it with the flu epidemic that took Maude, really.
And so I did fall apart then. I went over to Roger and I hugged him, and I said, “Can we just cover the newspapers up?” and he went, “Oh God, yes.” So you know, we managed to do the scenes but we got rid of the newspapers because I didn’t want to see it any more, I found it really hard.
But I remember saying to him, “We’re writing our novel here, aren’t we? We’re writing a novel.” It sounds too conceited, but I just felt that this was my life’s work. This was part of my life, and all that happened to me, this was where I was showing it. And so for it to have worked, and to get a couple of awards out of it, is nice.
Andy Coulson: [1:12:38] It worked, you won Best Actor BAFTA that you dedicated to Maude.
Jason Watkins: [1:12:44] Yes, I dedicated it to Maude yes. Because it was all part of- you know.
Andy Coulson: [1:12:57] I’m sorry.
Jason Watkins: [1:12:57] Sorry
Andy Coulson: [1:12:59] No, I’m sorry. Jason, thank you.
Jason Watkins: [1:13:03] Sorry.
Andy Coulson: [1:13:03] No, look. I said it earlier, I do want to say it again. Thank you so much for telling us what I know is such a difficult, difficult story, but one that I know you also feel very strongly, that is why you’re here, right? That it’s going to be helpful for anyone who is dealing with the loss of a child or a loved one.
But on my behalf and their behalf I would like to say again how sorry we are for your and your family’s loss.
Jason Watkins: [1:13:29] Thank you.
Andy Coulson: [1:13:31] And thank you for joining us today. It’s been what we call a proper conversation.
Jason Watkins: [1:13:39] It’s great to have a proper conversation and I really hope it helps people.
Andy Coulson: [1:13:41] And thank you for it.
If you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Jason, please do give us a rating and a review, it really helps. And if you hit subscribe wherever you download your podcasts from you will find a lot more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode on our website, crisiswhatcrisis.com
Thanks again for listening.
End of Recording [1:14:20]