Nick Bailey on being poisoned, losing everything and finding peace
June 25, 2021. Series 4. Episode 25
Former Detective Nick Bailey’s life changed forever with the simple opening of a door. In March 2018, whilst searching the property of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who’d earlier that day been found collapsed on a Salisbury park bench, Nick came into contact with the deadly nerve agent Novichok. The Salisbury Poisonings, as they came to be known, set off a chain of events which not only put Nick’s life in grave danger but also saw him and his family become collateral damage in an international incident.
In this episode Nick talks us through those days of incredible drama and how, as he recovered physically, he faced the new challenge of losing his home, possessions and later the job he loved. This is a very human story of a life impacted by truly extraordinary events. Nick is open, candid and thoughtful about the poisonings and his battle to recover.
Nick’s Crisis Cures:
1 – Music – When I was in hospital, I couldn’t deal with anything. I was completely shut off. A friend of mine recommended that I listened to I Giorni’ by Ludovico Einaudi – It freed my mind. It made me smile, it made me cry. It was the most beautiful moment I had there. It means a huge amount to me.
2 – Acts of Kindness. The support from the public was overwhelming. The generosity and gifts from people who didn’t want anything in return. We kept everything and still go through it now. We had an old lady offer us her TV after she heard we lost everything. For every negative, there were a thousand positives.
3 – Running – it was a big thing for me. It didn’t fix anything, but I didn’t expect it to. Like I Giorni, it just freed up my mind. Then with the marathon I had the focus of raising money for Stars Appeal Charity at Salisbury District hospital (link below).
Charity – https://starsappeal.org/
Public speaking – https://www.chartwellspeakers.com/speaker/nick-bailey/?event=eyJldmVudE5hbWUiOiJDbGlja2VkIiwiaW5kZXgiOiJ3cF9wb3N0c19zcGVha2VyX25hbWUiLCJvYmplY3RJRHMiOlsiMzUxNjgtMCJdLCJwb3NpdGlvbnMiOlsxXSwicXVlcnlJRCI6IjJmOWFkNDg3Yjk5YzNjYjAwYWFjYjQ1MTY5MjUwNzVlIn0=
When I spoke to Nick about how he felt in those early days in hospital when doctors thought he might not survive, he chose the words of Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption activist, also poisoned earlier that year who said, “It doesn’t hurt – it just feels like your life is slowly being taken away from you.”
Although Nick thankfully survived the poisoning the slow removal of important parts of his life had only just begun. His home, possessions, even the kid’s toys were all taken away for fear that they might have become contaminated. Later, of course, the poisoning would effectively claim the job the loved.
Nick is incredibly open about the struggles he’s been through, but also quick to point out how lucky he was – so you won’t hear much self-pity in this interview. Although his story is unique, there are useful lessons to be found throughout this conversation – not least how to cope when your life is suddenly redefined by events out of your control. Accepting what you do and don’t have control of when in crisis, is so very important. Nick’s ability to focus on what was in front of him and refuse to become overwhelmed by the bigger picture – a picture being played out on the news across the world – allowed him to normalise what was happening to him and his family. And this was a crucial factor in his survival and thankfully, eventual recovery.
That Nick is now putting his story to work in the hope that it will help others facing crisis is testament to his resilience and positivity. As Nick says: “If I can let my crisis define me in a positive way, with all the things I’ve learnt about myself – then I have to. Otherwise, there’s just resentment, bitterness, and sorrow.
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.04 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to Crisis What Crisis? I’m Andy Coulson, former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. Over the last six years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success but there far fewer where you can benefit from the experiences of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:00:47.18 Andy Coulson:
So, on this podcast you’ll hear from the embattled and stoic, the shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. All talking in the hope that they might serve as a useful guide to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing and improving human performance. Just search for Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify and you’ll find some great playlists.
00:01:19.09 Andy Coulson:
I’m delighted that my guest today is former Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, a man whose life changed forever with the simple opening of a door. In March 2018, as he entered a house in Salisbury, Nick unwittingly came into contact with the deadly nerve agent Novichok. This set off a chain of events that would see him become collateral damage, really, in an international incident putting his life in grave danger. His and his young family’s life sort of changed forever. The house, as we now know, belonged to the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who themselves had been poisoned and found collapsed on a park bench in the centre of Salisbury. You might have seen Nick played by Safe Spall in the brilliant BBC drama, The Salisbury Poisonings.
00:02:05.11 Andy Coulson:
When I asked Nick how he felt in those first days in hospital, when doctors believed that Novichok might well claim his life, he chose the words of Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption activist who was also poisoned and who said, ‘It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like your life is slowly being taken away from you.’ Thankfully Nick did survive but as a result of what happened he lost his home, all his belongings, right down to the kids’ toys and eventually it caused him to give up the job that he loved as a detective. He medically retired from the force last year.
00:02:38.16 Andy Coulson:
Nick’s incredibly open about the struggles that he’s been through but also quick to point out just how lucky he was, and is. So you won’t hear much self-pity here. And although Nick’s experience is extraordinary, to put it mildly, there are a number of useful lessons, I think, to come from our conversation. Perhaps most importantly how to cope when an inexplicable chain of events leads to your life being redefined, that accepting that fact when in crisis is just so important. Also, Nick’s ability once his life was no longer in danger to focus on the specific problems in front of him and his family instead of being overwhelmed by such a dramatic bigger picture that was almost out of some awful political thriller. In other words to survive by normalising what was happening to them.
00:03:27.15 Andy Coulson:
So I hope you find this episode useful and if you do please subscribe and give us a rating and a review, it really helps make sure these stories reach a wider audience and in the end that’s what it’s all about. You can also follow us on Instagram or Facebook, our handle is @crisiswhatcrisispodcast. Nick, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been, what, five months or so since you left the police force after eighteen years in the job? Obviously somewhat impacted by a crisis of a different kind. But how is the new life, can I ask?
00:04:00.12 Nick Bailey:
The new life is looking positive. It wasn’t looking very positive for a very long time and it took me a good few months to almost grieve for the fact that I wasn’t going to be in the police anymore. Because I did it for eighteen years and as a kid that was the job that I was going to do and I saw myself retiring naturally at the age of sixty, sixty-five, whatever it was going to be. And that was always set in stone for me and then to have that kind of taken out, taken from you, it was a very difficult thing to come to terms with and it took me a while to get my head around not being a police officer. And I needed that time to kind of grieve for it and get my head around that. And yeah, things are starting to look better now, I’ve got some plans that I’m exploring to kind of get my sense of self-worth back which is nice.
00:04:59.14 Andy Coulson:
Great, well I’m looking forward to talking about some of that. When you left, you said in a tweet, I think, ‘Although I’ve tried so hard to make it work I know that I won’t find peace whilst remaining in the environment that I’m in, for me it’s time for a change.’ I mean, it was clearly, as you’ve touched on already, a very difficult decision for you. Are you beginning, do you feel like you’re beginning to find that peace now then?
00:05:26.19 Nick Bailey:
Yes I am. It was a very difficult decision. To a certain extent the decision was taken from me. So I was medically retired. I requested that that process be started. And then once you start going down that route it’s kind of taken out of your hands. So then I was assessed by a medical practitioner who said, ‘yes you are no longer capable of being a police officer’. And that was a quite a difficult thing to hear as well because it was just kind of… it was good in a way because it was reaffirming how I felt at the time about my capabilities to…
00:06:03.11 Andy Coulson:
Confirmation that, yeah…
00:06:04.15 Nick Bailey:
Confirmation of how I felt about being a police officer and my capabilities of being able to be a police officer. But it was still a very difficult thing to take. And yeah, and I knew, I mean, I went back to, I tried to work three to… well, I went back to work three times and each time just got shorter and shorter. I just knew I couldn’t be in that environment anymore. I couldn’t do it, I was a different person to how I was and something in… well, I say something but what I went through changed me drastically. If that doesn’t happen, if that didn’t happen I would have left. I would have resigned because it wasn’t working for me.
00:06:43.13 Andy Coulson:
Give us an example, Nick, I mean, how was this manifesting itself? Was it that a day job case was coming across your desk and you were just feeling like, oh I just can’t imagine now immersing myself into this? Or was it something more specific. Was it…? Just give us an idea what was causing you to be so certain about it?
00:07:09.08 Nick Bailey:
It was a number of things; I think in particular that example you’ve given was one thing. I couldn’t, I felt like I couldn’t look at policing and the day to day, the bread and butter stuff that I would usually do, I couldn’t look at that in the same way. I was very anxious about my abilities and my confidence had hit rock bottom as well. Like literally rock bottom, my confidence of being a police officer had got to that level. And I just couldn’t negotiate my way around these, what seems to be fairly straightforward and like I say your bread and butter policing. But it was also the environment as well. I struggled, this sounds, this may sound silly, it may sound overly dramatic but I couldn’t be in the environment that had caused so much trauma for me and my family.
00:08:07.13 Andy Coulson:
Let’s go back to before the poisoning. Tell us a bit about those, almost two decades as a policeman, both in uniform and in CID. As you say it was the job that you wanted to do as a teenager. You were working properly at the sharp end. One of your roles, I think, during your career was focused on gang-related drug crime. And you said, with some understatement, dealing with some reasonably unpleasant people. I think it was probably a bit worse than how you describe. You’ve been around a fair amount of crisis, right, during the course of your working life?
00:08:48.10 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, as all emergency workers are around crisis, that is the job. You are there dealing with other people’s trauma. Other people’s, the worst possible day that somebody could have. That’s where you step in. And so yeah, you take that as well as you can take it but you know that you, you know, you invest the time with that victim or that person that’s in that crisis and in that trauma, knowing that when you step away from that person you’re going to be going to another one which would be similar or completely different, a completely different situation. You just get through that role; you get through that job.
00:09:28.20 Nick Bailey:
And I had an opportunity then to and work in a plain clothes tasking team it was, which was predominately dealing with drug dealers. There was a spate of, as there is in a lot of areas, certainly rural towns and cities, a spate of county lines drug dealing and people going in from inner city areas and cuckooing in vulnerable people’s houses and using those as bases to deal drugs. And I did that for a couple of years and again, a completely different, almost a completely different experience to what I’d done before because we had a lot more, in a way we had a lot more freedom to go out and be very, very proactive and use the intelligence systems and gather evidence and gather intelligence and really kind of focus on certain areas, certain people to eradicate as much as we could, that level of drug dealing.
00:10:25.03 Andy Coulson:
Was being around that kind of crisis, I mean you were, in a way were you thriving professionally in terms of being in and around very difficult moments in people’s lives?
00:10:46.03 Nick Bailey:
You get a huge amount of satisfaction from helping somebody to the best of your ability. And yeah, when somebody’s going through something horrific and they call upon the police you’re there to help them through that. Sometimes it’s a quick fix, sometimes it’s a longer fix, certainly if you’re in CID which I did, where you’re dealing with some kind of fairly horrific and complex cases which take a long time, you invest heavily in the people that you’re dealing with. Never did I ever feel like, oh my god I’m in serious danger here. But what I have learned since what happened in 2018 is that it can be the simplest and most straightforward of enquiries, the most straightforward of actions that you do that can turn very ugly very quickly. And that was a real eyeopener for me, yeah, definitely.
00:11:45.23 Andy Coulson:
Let’s go to that day, if that’s okay. What I’d like you to do, Nick, if you’re happy to, is talk us through it. You know, you were on a shift, as I understand it, Sunday evening at your desk, you’d heard that there’d been an incident in town and it was partly kind of boredom that you thought… because it wasn’t kind of beholden on you to get down there, you thought, actually I’ll just go down and help out.
00:12:08.01 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, it was literally that.
00:12:09.23 Andy Coulson:
Pick it up from there, if you don’t mind.
00:12:12.17 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, so it was a normal evening shift. I think it was a Sunday evening shift, I was just sat at my desk doing some normal work, as a detective sergeant and I heard this call on the radio about two people being unconscious or semi-conscious on a park bench in the city centre. That wasn’t necessarily something that CID would be involved in straight away but I am a bit of a nosey bugger and thought well that could be a whole number of things but I will at least go down and offer my support. You know, my uniformed colleagues were down there dealing with it and doing a brilliant job and I was never, my intention was never to go down and take over the scene because there might not have been anything to take over. It was just to go down and have a nosey around and just see if could help in any way. And it kind of went from there.
00:12:59.17 Nick Bailey:
So yeah, went down to the scene, the two patients who we now know to be Sergei and Yulia Skripal had already gone. They’d been taken off by paramedics and there was certainly nothing at that point that kind of pointed at it to being a crime or a crime scene. So we kind of went back and we did some research back at the police station and started talking. And obviously by that point we were starting to get a little bit of information back from the hospital about how they were. And as I recall they were unconscious and they certainly weren’t very well at all. And the evening kind of just progressed.
00:13:38.23 Nick Bailey:
There was a moment that I will never forget when we were talking to the Duty Inspector who came down, the force Duty Inspector came down to kind of oversee what was going on and we were talking to him about the different scenes. By this point we’d found Sergei’s car which was in a nearby carpark. So we had his car there, we had the bench which was the scene and we also had his address which we’d asked police officers to go and secure, or certainly just be there just in case we needed somebody to do anything at the scene. And we were talking about how we needed, really, to go into the house to see if there was anybody else in the house, there were any other medical emergencies, any other patients there and if there was any evidence there. If we could establish what had happened to these two people maybe it had happened at the house, we were just none the wiser. And I remember vividly deciding between us, you know as a collective decision that the best thing to do was to ask the neighbour who had a key, she had a spare key because she used to go in and help out or let the cat out…
00:14:47.04 Andy Coulson:
Look after the cat, yeah.
00:14:48.22 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, look after the cat, I think it was. And I remember vividly saying, ‘Right, well what we’ll do is we’ll ask the neighbour to go into the house and we will accompany the neighbour on the pretence that we’re…’ Make sure the house is secure because we didn’t know how long they were going to be in hospital for. ‘…And whilst we’re there we can just make sure there’s nothing untoward there.’ And that was the plan and we even radioed the police officer who was at the scene to say ‘This is the plan, go to the neighbour, let the neighbour go in, unlock the door and go into house.’ And literally two minutes later my colleague, who was sat at her computer, she called me over and said, ‘Serg, you’re gonna need to see this.’ And I just walked over and looked over her shoulder and she googled Sergei’s name and brought up newspaper articles. I can’t remember what the newspaper was but it was a picture of Sergei behind bars and it was basically saying that he was an ex-Russian spy why had been released as part of some kind of spy swap. And obviously at that point it became incredibly significant.
00:15:58.03 Andy Coulson:
This is one of the kind of remarkable, the smaller points in a truly remarkable story. This guy was, as you say, a google search away will tell you of an extraordinary life. As you say he’s a former spy, now here living in the UK in plain sight. There was no protection, he’s not living under some kind of programme like you see in the movies. This guy was living in Salisbury and everybody knew who he was and he was still using the same name. And the google search revealed that. So in your mind you were quite quickly you realised, hang on there could be, it could clearly be something much darker at play here. But you still went to the house?
00:16:47.10 Nick Bailey:
We did, well, we did eventually. What we did immediately without even talking about it, and I remember this so vividly because I reflect on it quite a lot about what might have been, is without even talking about it we got on the radio and said to the police officer at the scene, ‘Do not go into the house, do not let that neighbour go into that house.’ And I think about that a lot because I think about what could have been. That neighbour would have unknowingly done exactly what I did by going into the house without gloves on, unlocking the door, opening the door, going in. And I just think about how lucky we were and if those events of googling had happened a few minutes later it would be a very different story and we would have potentially had a very sick, seriously ill person being the neighbour. So it’s one of those invisible bullets that you dodge unknowingly.
00:17:43.15 Andy Coulson:
Lucky for them. As you’ll now explain, less so for you. So you had the presence of mind to get some protective clothing organised. Again, not a straightforward process as I understand it. You know, one assumes that there’s a cupboard that gets opened and you’ve got all the gear that you need. You had to borrow it, I think, didn’t you?
00:18:07.08 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, we did, yeah. The closest…
00:18:09.16 Andy Coulson:
Not that you gave it back, I’m sure.
00:18:11.02 Nick Bailey:
…equipment… no, funnily enough they didn’t want it back. No, the closest police equipment for that kind of forensic PPE that we wanted, the closest was in Melksham. There were three of us and this was much later on into the night. So by this time the circumstances were a lot more sinister than when we first started. We still didn’t know what had happened to them. We still couldn’t confirm that a crime had taken place but our thought processes were of who he was and possibilities of what could have happened to him were a lot more significant and as I say, a lot more sinister. And by this time we’d been joined by the on-call Senior Investigating Officer who’d come down and decided we had to go into the house.
00:18:58.19 Nick Bailey:
And this was much later into the night. This was almost kind of midnight time by the time we went into the house. But we knew we had to go in, we had to check the house to make sure there were no other casualties and start to try and get an idea of what was going on. So yeah, so we kitted up in forensic suits and made our way to the address and that’s the…
00:19:21.09 Andy Coulson:
And you’re the first in?
00:19:22.20 Nick Bailey:
I’m the first in, yeah.
00:19:23.24 Andy Coulson:
And in a way this whole extraordinary situation comes down to you being the person who puts your hand on the doorknob to get into the house. And that’s the doorknob that’s been sprayed with Novichok. And although you had protective clothing on it clearly wasn’t of a sufficient grade to give you the protection.
00:19:51.22 Nick Bailey:
00:19:52.06 Andy Coulson:
You must think about that specific moment, the moment you put your hand on that door to get inside? Or don’t you?
00:20:00.21 Nick Bailey:
Do you know what? I don’t really. That was the start of the trauma but it was a very normal enquiry. There was no trauma that came from that specific moment. So me unlocking a door and opening a door handle and walking in, it’s a very, very normal thing for everybody to do and in particular for us. That enquiry was a very straight forward enquiry of checking the address. And yes, that was the moment that I got Novichok on my glove and then subsequently onto my skin or however it got into me. And I don’t really, I don’t really think about that that much. I think that was…
00:20:46.06 Andy Coulson:
Other than, as you say, to be grateful that it was not someone else which in itself says something about you obviously, but in itself is interesting.
00:21:00.06 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, there were three of us that went into the house and if I could turn back time it would be me every time to go through that door. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, what we went through. And I know that the two people that I was with they dealt with, to a certain extent, survival guilt.
00:21:21.04 Andy Coulson:
Right, you’ve talked about it amongst the three of you, obviously?
00:21:22.21 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, yeah. They kind of came out unscathed physically, physically unscathed but they had their own kind of demons because, you know, it wasn’t like, Nick, you’re the one going in, it just kind of came about. I think I might have even said, ‘Oh, give me the key, I’ll go and unlock the door.’ It wasn’t even something that we needed to discuss; it was such a normal, routine thing to do we didn’t need to kind of plan.
00:21:43.24 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, but this isn’t a subject for guilt or blame, it’s a subject of fate, no more, isn’t?
00:21:50.15 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, yeah, I think it probably is, yeah.
00:21:53.09 Andy Coulson:
Do you look at it in those terms? I mean, we’ll get into it in a bit more detail as the story unravels but when you think about that specific moment now do you…? How do you sort of categorise it? Is it fate? Is it luck? Is it kind of, just this incredible chain of events, all the things that had to kind of align for that moment to happen for you? I mean, it’s just… it must be such an impossible thing to fathom? You know people often talk in crisis about the need to find an explanation or some logic or just some sort of… justification is the wrong word but to try and understand it. You know, it must be an incredibly difficult thing for you to have got to the point where you can understand what happened, if you know what I mean.
00:22:42.07 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, I mean, what’s difficult to kind of get my head round and what’s difficult to understand for so long was the sheer magnitude of the whole situation as it started to unravel. So the, like I said before, the part of going into the house which is where I got poisoned, is not necessarily traumatic albeit that’s where the trauma came from. And it’s just one of those things. It sounds really silly, I don’t think there’s any explanation behind that, it just happened and if it wasn’t me it would have been somebody else. And I don’t dwell on it too much because I think you could become so engrossed in the why me, what ifs, how did this happen? It happened.
00:23:39.08 Andy Coulson:
Let’s get into that in a little bit more detail in a moment. We should obviously just sort of make clear that this Novichok is a weapons-grade nerve agent developed by the Russians in the seventies. It’s a military weapon, you know, designed to be deadly in even the sort of smallest doses. And although its impact on you was not immediate, as I understand it you went home that evening, you did feel a bit rough, you kind of had yourself checked out and clean bill of health initially. And then much later the following day, if I’m correct, please correct me if I’m wrong, Nick, then you started to feel, you know, you realise that something was quite wrong. Let’s get to that point in the story. Tell me how that sort of manifested itself. Even at this stage, as I understand it, we still don’t have clarity about what was going on with the Skripals, right? I mean, there’s still a world of mystery around what all this is about. So you’ve got no frame of reference. You just start to feel seriously ill.
00:24:38.07 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, so I finish work Sunday, well, the Monday morning after that shift. And I had some effects which I know to be, I obviously now know to be as a result of being poisoned which I didn’t think about at the time because I didn’t know I’d been poisoned. And my pupils were like pinpricks and I was a little bit sweaty and I was very tired. But I put all those things down to just being stressed and exhausted from a very long and abnormal shift at work. And I went home, got home seven o’clock, Monday morning, went to bed for a few hours. I was up because I had a phone call from the oncoming team that were in asking me some questions about it. And I still felt, I didn’t feel right but I didn’t feel horrific.
00:25:24.05 Nick Bailey:
But it got to the afternoon and I was just like, you know what, something’s not right and I need to get checked up. So I phoned the hospital and just said, ‘This is me, this is how I’m feeling, this is what I dealt with yesterday.’ And they asked me to come into the hospital and I was seen almost immediately. Literally, I actually was seen immediately, I’ve never spent such little time in A&E, it was incredible. And they checked my vitals and they said everything’s absolutely fine. They couldn’t account, they couldn’t explain that my pupils being so small. But they basically gave me, at that point, kind of a clean bill of health. It was overnight Monday into Tuesday which was into the 6th March where it kind of took a real turn for me. I didn’t really sleep, I was sweating profusely, I mean, just dripping with sweat, I was having, how I would describe as hallucinations or very, very vivid dreams and nightmares.
00:26:21.04 Nick Bailey:
One of them being like this tsunami of fire kind of collapsing over me. And I describe it as being if you could so close to the Sun is how I imagined the Sun would look like. Like these waves of pure heat. And that’s how it felt. And it was quite scary, it was terrifying. I remember getting up early Tuesday morning and needing a drink and my vision had gone very strange. My vision was juddering, like in still frames, just moving around instead of being kind of like flowing and looking around normally. It was like it was in still frames, just juddering across. And my eyes were, my vision was crystal clear which was also weird because I wear glasses and I wore contact lenses at the time, I didn’t have them in by my vision was crystal clear.
00:27:13.09 Nick Bailey:
And I managed to get downstairs, I kind of stumbled downstairs, got myself a drink. I had to sit down because I was feeling pretty ghastly, I went back upstairs. By this point my wife was getting up ready to go to work and I just said, ‘Look I’m feeling really, really rough.’ And then I threw up and wasn’t able to take my youngest daughter to school. I just couldn’t even consider driving, I couldn’t do it I felt so poorly and ended up going, being taken into hospital, we phoned them to say I’m coming in. So they were already aware of who I was and the circumstances of the Sunday night. So they knew that I’d been in contact with the house and so I went in and I was seen pretty quickly. I vaguely remember just there being lots and lots of consultants and doctors just kind of milling around and I had a number of blood tests.
00:28:08.10 Andy Coulson:
Has anyone mentioned the P-word at this stage? If I can put it that way. Has anyone said, because their level of knowledge in terms of the Skripals, you’re in the same hospital, in the same intensive care unit, the level of knowledge still isn’t especially high is it, or certain, is probably a better way of describing it at this stage?
00:28:29.01 Nick Bailey:
I don’t, I’m not 100% sure, I don’t remember being told about potential poisoning whilst I was in A&E. I remember being taken up to intensive care and I vaguely remember them saying, I think I vaguely remember them saying something about, there’s a possibility you’ve got something in your blood system. And we’re going to give you this drug and we’ll keep you here for twenty-four, to forty-eight hours just to monitor your health and hopefully you’ll be able to go home. And that two days then turned into twenty-two days. But I do vividly remember being told by one of the consultants, who is now a good friend of mine through all of this, him sitting down with me and my wife saying ‘You have got Novichok’ and he said those words which were obviously new to us. It was certainly new to him as well. Certainly new to everybody, it’s a very unheard of thing. And he said ‘it is in your blood system, it’s in your bloodstream and we’re gonna give you various things, we’re gonna make you better’. And that was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying because you just don’t know how it’s going to go.
00:29:44.15 Andy Coulson:
So in essence as I understand it, what was happening to you is that your organs were in overdrive? That what you needed was this cocktail of drugs. I mean, it’s an unprecedented situation for all those treating you as well as you. And they’re trying to find the right cocktail of drugs to be able to stabilise you. So proper, I mean, an extraordinary scene of crisis for you, obviously most importantly, but for all those around you as well. As I understand it, with the poisoning there was no sort of pain as such but just this feeling that your life is being drained from you. Is that the way to describe it? Is that how it felt?
00:30:31.19 Nick Bailey:
Yes, it is. People have asked me this, how does it feel to be poisoned? And it’s a very difficult thing to explain for a couple of… well, primarily because I find it difficult to distinguish, at the time, between the physical feeling and mentally what I was going through. Because that suddenly went into overload. I think it was Alexei Navalny, when he was allegedly poisoned, he described it brilliantly, he did say ‘it doesn’t hurt, you don’t necessarily feel anything, it just feels like you are dying, it feels like your life is being taken from you’. And I couldn’t describe it any better than the way he did. I mean, I just felt like that.
00:31:16.00 Andy Coulson:
Terrifying, just terrifying.
00:31:17.17 Nick Bailey:
It was terrifying, yeah, it was. You just don’t know how it’s going to play out, you know, it’s not one of those typical injuries where you know that there’s a blueprint for remedy, you know that there’s a blueprint for rehabilitation. You just didn’t know how it was going to play out. And I certainly didn’t know how this was going to end.
00:31:36.05 Andy Coulson:
Nick, do you think, we touched on it earlier, right at the start, that someone who’d professionally spent so much time around crisis, with people who were in, nothing like what you were experiencing at that moment. But you know, still life threatening moments in a very sort of acute way, do you think the fact that you’d spent so long around those kinds of moments of crisis, was it at all helpful to you at that stage? Was there a sort of muscle memory aspect to it when you suddenly found yourself as the victim?
00:32:12.06 Nick Bailey:
That’s a good question, no. I don’t think it did help. I was in absolute crisis and I’ve dealt with lots of crisis, lots of trauma but it wasn’t mine. I was able to step away from that trauma, I was able to step away from other people’s trauma, I was being a police officer. And this, suddenly this was my trauma, this was my crisis and I wasn’t expecting or didn’t know how it was going play out. So there were so many different kind of emotional feelings about it, about how, what was going to happen. So no, having dealt with, having had experience with other people’s trauma, it didn’t set me up or get me ready for experiencing my own. And certainly not of this kind of magnitude.
00:33:03.09 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, how could it, I suppose? Really, you know, in any way. Your wife, Sarah, obviously is terrified and thinks that she may well lose you. She brings your daughters in to intensive care, I think, to show you. Very sensibly showing them a picture of you in advance so they don’t get too scared. I mean, do you have any sort of memory of those moments now? Or is it now as you look back at it, frankly, an understandable blur?
00:33:34.11 Nick Bailey:
No, I do vividly remember seeing my kids. I didn’t see them… so I was in hospital on the Tuesday, I didn’t see them until, I think it was the following Saturday. So my wife was incredible. Yes, she had her own significant fears about me and stuff but she was incredible. Her resilience was phenomenal in holding it all together for the sake of me and for the sake of the kids. And the wider family as well and trying to make it as normal as possible for the kids, even though it was very, it was far from normal.
00:34:06.05 Andy Coulson:
Whilst trying to make sense of it. Must have been entirely impossible for her as well?
00:34:09.17 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, exactly, yeah. Because it wasn’t just dealing with the fact that I was in hospital having been poisoned. By this point, after only a couple of days, my name and my picture were then released to the public and so then press descended significantly on the village where we were living in and my parents’ house, my sister’s house, Sarah’s parents were visited by them. So it was a huge, encompassing thing to kind of manage for her. And I was in a bubble not having to deal with all of those practical things whereas she was outside of that bubble and dealing with life outside of that as well.
00:34:52.06 Nick Bailey:
But I remember, yeah, certainly I remember seeing my children on that first Saturday and I was very nervous about seeing them and Sarah, quite rightly, had taken some photos of me to show them before, the day before, to show them how I was looking so it wasn’t kind of a horrible, too horrible experience for them to see me for the first time like that. And yeah, I do remember seeing them. And then I remember, I can’t remember how long ago after that was, seeing them again, or Sarah planning to bring them in again. I think it was the following, it was the following day. So I saw them on the Saturday and then Sarah was going to bring them in again on the Sunday. And the Sunday, which was actually Mother’s Day, goes down for us as one of the hardest days for both of us just in slightly varying ways.
00:35:41.24 Nick Bailey:
Because Sarah brought the kids in to see me. There’d been a change of events in terms of how people were allowed to come and visit me which Sarah wasn’t told about. So she arrived at the hospital with our two daughters and wasn’t allowed to see me. And nobody was telling her why. She had no idea whether I was alive or dead or if I was in some kind of more critical state. So she was panicking and in the event, after about an hour, she had to send the children home with a police car which turned up and took our children back to Sarah’s parents’ house. And Sarah was panicking. I wasn’t, I didn’t know what was going on either because they were meant to come and see me. Luckily I had my phone so I was able to text Sarah and say I’m okay, what’s going on?
00:36:30.05 Nick Bailey:
And the police had to arrive, they had to turn up to speak to Sarah and told her there’d been a potential change in the way that she could have contact with me because of possible contamination. But at the same time she was also told you have to leave your house with the children. And that was really difficult because she was eventually allowed to come and see me and she had to break that news to me and then I was completely broken and destroyed because I couldn’t physically help them practically do that. And you know, they’d been in the house for five days and then they were suddenly being told you can’t be there anymore and they were…
00:37:10.11 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, and terrifying, terrifying on a number of levels for your family. And as you say you can’t do anything to help.
00:37:20.11 Nick Bailey:
No, no it was very difficult.
00:37:21.23 Andy Coulson:
Let’s talk about that a little bit more, Nick, because of course that turns into… you know on one level you can say, well, look, of course your health is the single most important thing and thank god, you know, you came through. But there was a sort of permanence about the impact of what happened because it wasn’t just your family being told they need to leave their home on a temporary basis, you lost your home. You were never able to go back there, the family were never able to go back there. More than that, you lost everything in that home. You lost your car; you lost your possessions. And although, you know, this isn’t a discussion about the kind of financial impact of that, although I’m sure that was very difficult to navigate. But just the fact of having your physical life removed from you, for your kids and for Sarah, let alone you, must have been incredibly difficult. We’ll jump forward a bit in the story here, but let’s just talk about it.
00:38:17.06 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, no, it was, it was incredibly difficult and yes, they are just things but they were our things and they were my kids’ things and so yeah, when we told the kids that we weren’t going back home and said to them ‘…but we will find a new house which we’ll make our home and we will fill our new home with all of your belongings, so it will feel different walls but it will feel like home’. And then not that long after that discussion we then had to tell them ‘…we can’t do that because we can’t have any of our belongings back, so everything that you have in your room, everything that we have in our house has to be destroyed, we’re not getting that back’. So we now have to literally start again. And yes, it was just things but it’s the impact that what had happened in my job had on the family. You know they knew there was always a level of risk of me being a police officer, of me getting injured in some way but they didn’t, nobody foresaw the knock on effect of what was going on, how that could then impact on the family. They certainly didn’t sign up for that level of trauma.
00:39:27.00 Andy Coulson:
How old were the girls at this stage, you’ve got two daughters, haven’t you?
00:39:30.16 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, hang on I need to figure that out, they’re fifteen and eleven now. So eight and nine-ish.
00:39:41.07 Andy Coulson:
So of an age where you could absolutely and had to explain in fairly plain terms what… there was no nuancing it really.
00:39:52.17 Nick Bailey:
No, no and we always said, you know, Sarah and I both said, we will be honest with the kids because they’re going through some horrible stuff because of this as well. But if we provide them with honesty and as much stability and normality as we can, hopefully that will counter the trauma that they’re going through, that they’re seeing. So yeah, we were very honest with them, we didn’t go into the finer detail around finances and how things were going to happen but they needed to know, they needed to know the truth. And Sarah obviously did a very good job with them as well when she had to tell them that I’d been poisoned. And she didn’t kind of fluff it any other way, she said, ‘This is what’s happened to Dad’. So they knew and I think that helped because they were never kind of second guessing, they always knew what the score was. But we then kept all of the finer detail and the finer stresses that we, as adults, had to deal with away from them.
00:40:50.23 Andy Coulson:
Of course, of course.
00:40:51.14 Nick Bailey:
Because they didn’t need that, they didn’t need that.
00:40:53.24 Andy Coulson:
So there you are in the hospital bed. When it became clear that or when did it really become clear that the effects of this extraordinary situation, I keep using the word extraordinary but I can’t really think of another, were so seismic that the incident, you know, as we now know, sparked global, political outrage and the biggest internationally coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats, probably since the Cold War? You know we had Mark Sedwill, Lord Sedwill on the podcast not long ago who was involved in this situation right at the other end, if you like, as the national security advisor. And he described it, well you would have heard it, he described it as one of the most sort of complex and worrying moments in his career. Did you have any, when did you have that sort of sense of the broader scale and the kind of, the fact that this was a global story with huge political ramifications? Or did you, I suppose is the question, or did you just say, do you know what, I’m not even going to go there. I’m not, I’ve got too much to get through already. Or were you involving yourself in the detail of that?
00:42:14.12 Nick Bailey:
No, it was exactly that. I was dealing with so much emotion about being poisoned, about what was going on with my family. And then when my name was released to the public and I started to get an idea then of how huge this story had become. I remember my brother in law lives in and works in Hong Kong and he remembers walking through Hong Kong and seeing my picture on one of those electronic billboards. You know, and this was just too overwhelming. And the moment that that kind of story really started to break properly and pick up I shut down from it. I couldn’t take that on as well. I literally went into survival mode. I couldn’t focus on anything that was going on outside politically, or the story, or the investigation. I couldn’t even focus, necessarily, on what I was going through physically. The only thing that I was able to focus on was my wife and kids. That was the only thing that I chose to focus on. Those two things because I can focus on that and that’s enough for me, that’s as much as I could cope with.
00:43:25.17 Andy Coulson:
We talk about this a lot on the podcast, that when you’re in the, in the midst of a crisis, yours again, unlike any other, but when you’re in the midst of a crisis the number one sort of lesson that seems to sort of shine out from the conversations that we’ve had is focus on the things that you can have some kind of impact on. Focus on the things that can. And although you were struggling with trying to help your family you prioritised that you were actually strategising. Albeit in the most acute way, you were stripping things back to the things that mattered most to you. And you, and looking back on it now from this distance, that was the, are you pleased you took that approach? That was the right approach, wasn’t it?
00:44:08.12 Nick Bailey:
It was, it was not necessarily something that I consciously decided to do, it just happened. I couldn’t cope with anything else. And so my immediate kind of subconscious fallback was what’s the most important thing? And that was my wife and kids. And that became my sole focus, that was the one thing that I could concentrate on. And that got me through, I think, a lot of it. I couldn’t take on anything else. I remember I have described this before in other things about every day or it felt like four or five times a day people were coming in, various people were coming in with a new bit of information or a new stress. And it was like breeze-blocks and they were being put in front of me to the point where they were so high and so wide I couldn’t see around it, I couldn’t see over it, I certainly couldn’t break through it. And there was just this wall of stress and stuff going on and so I had to stop looking at it. I had to just focus on something that I could focus on.
00:45:15.08 Andy Coulson:
The Prime Minister came and visited you, I think, at one point, am I right?
00:45:19.23 Nick Bailey:
00:45:21.02 Andy Coulson:
I mean, there’s a moment where the broader drama are being brought straight to your… understandably she wanted to give you her best wishes I’m sure. But that’s an extraordinary situation to find yourself in, isn’t it?
00:45:37.03 Nick Bailey:
It was very strange yeah. Yeah, and she was lovely and she just came in on her own and just sat and listened to us. I don’t really remember the conversation but I do remember just thinking that’s a nice thing for her to do, to come in and just to listen and just be human with us. Just for those five or ten minutes, just be human with us and just listen to us as human beings, it was a nice thing to do.
00:46:06.19 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, and the Skripals are in exactly the same area of the hospital, they’re in intensive care too. They are there in the next room, they’re down the corridor.
00:46:15.07 Nick Bailey:
They’re literally, one of them was in the next room, I think they’re in their own rooms. I was next to, I think it was Yulia and there was a window between our private rooms. The blind is always shut from their side so I could never see through but I was literally that close to them as well. But I mean, obviously they were, I think, unconscious, they were in comas for the majority of the time, certainly the amount of time that I was there for. They remained in that induced state. And yeah, but all being that we were that close we were very separate as well, if that makes sense, we were separated in our own kind of little bubbles of stress.
00:46:56.23 Andy Coulson:
Have you ever had a conversation with them subsequently?
00:46:59.12 Nick Bailey:
00:47:01.03 Andy Coulson:
Do you feel that you want to having kind of found yourself in this shared experience? Do you feel that you’d want to or not?
00:47:11.15 Nick Bailey:
I would, I think I would yeah. Sarah and I talked about this a lot as to whether we’d want to speak to them and to meet them. And for a long time I was like, ‘no, I don’t’. Not for any other reason, I just couldn’t cope with that. And I look back now and obviously it’s been three years and I’ve had enough time and I think it would be very interesting to speak to them and to get their take on everything and see how they’re doing as well. Because obviously nobody knows how they are.
00:47:41.00 Andy Coulson:
They are now, quite rightly, somewhere where no one knows them and hopefully safe and well.
00:47:46.09 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, and I do wish them well and I hope that they can come out of it as unscathed as you possibly can.
00:47:56.05 Andy Coulson:
Three weeks in hospital, as I understand it.
00:47:59.08 Nick Bailey:
Two and a half, yeah.
00:48:00.19 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, the sort of physical recovery and the mental, of course, do not run at the same pace by some, you know, it would be an understatement. Tell us a little bit more about what’s in your head, Nick, if you can at this stage. You know, what’s the, you know you’ve explained the priorities. I think you’ve been very modest, if you don’t mind me saying so, about, well I just did it, that’s what happens. I think there’s a bit more to it than that. I think it sort of revels, to a degree, who you are. That you took that kind of attitude towards it, if you don’t mind me saying. But where are you really? What’s the voice in your head at this stage? Let’s go to when you, perhaps when you leave hospital. What are you saying to yourself at this stage?
00:48:45.15 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, so yeah, so you’re right, the two things do run at very different speeds. The physical symptoms, once that kind of toxin, or that poison is out of your system it is out of your system. And I felt very weak and I’d lost a lot of weight but other than that there were no kind of long lasting effects from it. But it was certainly the emotional and the mental state. I came out of hospital a different person. And you know, the phrase shadow of your former self is used frequently for various things and that’s how I felt. I felt I walked out of hospital and we were taken back to the rental home. That was the first point that I was able to properly be with my family but it wasn’t in our home, it was in a rental home that the police had kindly sorted out for us. And kind of like the weeks and months after that were very difficult.
00:49:44.23 Nick Bailey:
We were trying to have a, you know, trying to provide stability and normality for the children whilst Sarah and I were dealing with so many different aspects of what was going on in our life with no control over our life. Practicalities, but the control, for us, was, well certainly for me, was the biggest thing because we’d lost control over our future and we’d lost control over everything. It certainly felt like that. And so we were completely and heavily reliant on information and updates and stuff coming from other people who were having meetings about us, about what to do next and what was the right thing for us and we weren’t in control of any of that. And so there was a lot of frustration and sadness.
00:50:30.04 Andy Coulson:
In one sense you were in a, you know, you see it in the movies, in one sense you were in a protection programme but without the protection. You know there was no… I mean, I don’t think you’ve been critical and want to be critical about the sort of help that you were given and the kind of support that came in. But certainly in one regard you were pretty exposed. That’s not to apportion any blame there because the situation was so unprecedented. But there you were coming out of hospital with your home taken away from you, your possessions taken away from you and you’ve… there you are, you know, feeling I imagine, incredibly vulnerable.
00:51:16.24 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, incredibly vulnerable and no, there is no criticism from anybody because it was an ever changing environment for everybody involved. They were having to adapt to so many different things and there were things put in place to support us with any kind of media intrusion and that kind of thing. But yes, we weren’t locked away somewhere, we were there in a house for anybody to come to, to come to us and make contact with us. And we did feel incredibly vulnerable. And as time went on the vulnerability, that type of vulnerability started to fade because we were, you know, we were left to our own devices and we were looked after very well. But yeah, that vulnerability kind of, for me, that morphed into other types of vulnerability as well. Of kind of like having your armour, your self-protection, that resilience that you, I kind of prided myself on being in the police, being stripped from me and I suddenly was very raw and very vulnerable to a whole manner of things. And it’s a very strange thing to come to terms with and navigate.
00:52:25.08 Andy Coulson:
Yeah. It was such an incredible thing to happen. Did it cause you then, am I understanding this correctly, that that, aside from the obvious elements of anxiety that it created, it must have caused you to think, well if that can happen to me, if something so incredible as that can happen to me then god only knows what else might happen. Does it, is that what you mean by it kind of impacting or removing the armour that you normally had? You suddenly saw the world as, frankly, a more dangerous place and a more worrying place?
00:52:59.14 Nick Bailey:
To an extent I do know that as time went on all the little niggly kind of stresses around pain, let’s say, physical pain, all those kind of things seem so insignificant. And it sounds very silly but kind of putting myself in harm’s way, I never put myself in harm’s way but I was never worried about that as a result of what happened because what happened was so incredibly ridiculous to us. But that was our life at that point and I got myself, physically had got myself through that. I didn’t kind of like look around thinking, like picking up on potential hazards and worrying about what else could happen to me. I kind of almost the opposite in a way. Almost kind of like I’m not worried about physical pain. I remember being completely nonchalant about physical pain or any injury or like I say, I never put myself in scary or dangerous situations but I was never, I never kind of thought about them in the same way. It was very strange to kind of feel like that.
00:54:16.15 Nick Bailey:
The armour that I was talking about, like that kind of resilience, the resilience that I was able to do my job and take on other people’s trauma and stress and deal with it professionally and then move on to the next thing as well as dealing with all the other responsibilities that I had within the police. And I had quite a lot of responsibility and my career kind of felt like it was moving in a very positive direction. And that part of my resilience was stripped away from me, that armour that I had was stripped away from me. And I spent a long time kind of grieving for how I used to be. And then I had this moment, this mirror moment which we may talk about later, where I kind of changed my view on that and embraced the new me and realised it was okay to be the way I am now. But yeah, I had many different emotions and mental states certainly throughout the first few months. But we were also very much being kept busy with trying to deal with practicalities of getting ourselves set up again as well so that kept us…
00:55:19.08 Andy Coulson:
So just keep taking steps forward was also a fundamental part of the recovery? I mean, Sarah’s clearly…
00:55:25.20 Nick Bailey:
…had to because
00:55:26.14 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I mean Sarah’s clearly been an incredible support to you and not least in dealing with her own crisis as we’ve touched on. This was hers and the kids as much as it was yours. Well, what’s been the most useful for you, you know, if we’re looking for lessons for others, you know, no one’s going to find themselves in the same set of circumstances as you, please god. But you know, there are people in crisis and as we’ve said on this podcast it’s not a competition in that sense. What’s been the most useful sort of devices, techniques, I mean I assume counselling has been important to you?
00:56:02.05 Nick Bailey:
I had some counselling and yes it was of use, to a certain extent, and the people I spoke to were very, very good and helped me navigate it. The problem, part of the problem I had was that I didn’t know what I needed. So if I didn’t know what I needed how could somebody else kind of help me? It was very much I got to a moment where I realised I needed to figure this out myself, I need to understand and acknowledge where I’m at and to put everything else that had happened to one side, just focus on the here and now as to how I am now and embrace that feeling. And that was the biggest, one of the biggest things for me. When I was at my lowest with depression and a number of mental health issues that I was dealing with.
00:56:54.01 Nick Bailey:
I knew that work was failing, I had no control, I felt that I had no control over that and I tried to cling on to my job for as long as I could because I felt I could have control over that one part of it. Everything else seemed to be kind of failing. it put a lot of strain on my marriage because of the way I was. And I was at my lowest point and I kind of had this moment and I don’t really remember how I came to this point, I had this moment where I stopped focusing on grieving for my former self and literally just gave myself a break and said, it’s suddenly I kind of thought, it’s alright to feel like this, I’m feeling rubbish mentally, I’m feeling awful but it won’t last, it’s not going to last, I won’t let that last. And yes, I’m a different person now and I feel a lot more vulnerable and a lot more emotional and my mental well-being has been damaged but that’s alright. That’s okay because why wouldn’t those things be the case with something like this?
00:58:11.10 Nick Bailey:
And I kind of embraced the new me and I started being a lot more honest with myself about how I was feeling. And because I was more honest with myself I was then able to be more honest with my wife and with my loved ones. And suddenly something kind of started to become a little bit clearer for me about where I was going. And you know, I didn’t have a path that I was going down necessarily, I didn’t know where I was going with it but I just didn’t give myself a hard time about it anymore. It’s like, it’s okay, you know we have that phrase it’s okay not to be okay and I stuck by that. And I said, stop giving yourself such a hard time, this is now you, you have lived through this, you’re coming out, you’ve come this far. Embrace the new you and use it.
00:58:57.10 Andy Coulson:
How did you deal with the anger? I mean, I assume there was anger, it’s complicated obviously, you know, towards those who were responsible for what happened to you. It’s not straightforward, you know, you were collateral damage effectively in a much bigger game in a much bigger picture. But how have you dealt with that aspect?
00:59:18.22 Nick Bailey:
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt anger. I felt a lot of things but anger has never really played a big part in it. For so long it was a faceless crime. When the two suspects were, the pictures of the two suspects were released into the press and I think there was a moment where a lot of people certainly around me were waiting for me to react to that and I didn’t. Because it still felt quite faceless in a way.
00:59:53.18 Andy Coulson:
To your great credit. You know, you described yourself as being lucky because, you know, as people who know this story will remember, it took a terrible turn in the July after, immediately after you were in hospital, when Dawn Sturgess tragically died. She’d been poisoned along with her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley. He’d found a perfume bottle that had been thrown away by those responsible but which contained the Novichok. You’ve, you know, it sounds as though you have focused on obviously with great sympathy for them, you’ve focused on the idea of your good fortune rather than the anger. That seems to be a very powerful lesson, potentially, I would say.
01:00:44.19 Nick Bailey:
Yeah and I’ve come to that point, that wasn’t a… you know I didn’t feel lucky at the time. I never met Dawn and I didn’t know who she was and I think about her nearly every day. How desperately sad it is. And I wonder, I think about how difficult it is for her family about getting answers and getting justice and what they must be going through. They must be incredibly resilient to kind of get yourself through that kind of thing. And yeah, it was desperately sad for her. And yeah, I am at that point where I feel very lucky. Yes, we lost a lot of tangible things. And yes, I lost anonymity around being able to be little bit more private than I was, just going about my day job and going about my life and then suddenly there’s this great big finger pointing down at our house and where we used to live and you’re suddenly known. So that loss of anonymity, the loss of my career because of it but I still feel very lucky because I’m still here and sadly Dawn isn’t and I, yeah, I do think about that a lot.
01:01:56.06 Andy Coulson:
You talked about the sort of once you went back to work, which you did quite quickly, you know, physically your recovery was, I’m sure very difficult, but you got there. In fact you were running a marathon a year or so after, remarkably. When was the moment when you were back in the job and you just decided, okay, I really can’t do this anymore? And was it, had the experience of being a victim, had it changed your perception of policing in any way?
01:02:36.16 Nick Bailey:
Yes it has changed my perception of policing. The biggest point for me with that was being a victim of crime. Yes, I was collateral damage but I was still technically a victim of crime and understanding that feeling of frustration and the upset of this massive, this huge thing had happened and you’re heavily reliant, solely reliant on other people looking into it and providing you with information updates about what’s going on. And you feel like your life is on hold. It made me realise about all the victims who go through horrific things that the police end up being involved with because of it and how their lives are put on hold.
01:03:24.16 Nick Bailey:
And you know, I will quite happily say, I used to go into work and get told by whoever and just say, ‘Oh yeah, Mr and Mrs Smith or whoever have phoned for the sixth time this week wanting an update on their case’ and I was just like, ‘Oh, for god’s sake! I have only got one pair of hands.’ But I feel that because I know what it’s like. Physically in the rental house I would spend days sometimes pacing up and down the house waiting for information, waiting for updates and I can see victims of crime doing that same thing.
01:04:01.04 Nick Bailey:
And the times that they didn’t phone, they went to pick up the phone for the fourth or fifth time or sixth time and thought no, I can’t do that because I’m just being a nuisance now if I just keep phoning. But that level of frustration that your life is on hold and you’re reliant on other people to help you fix it. That was a massive thing for me. It made me… and I always tried my very best to deal with victims of crime, the people I dealt with, I always tried my very best. But I look back at that now and I can empathise so much more with that kind of thing. About that level of frustration.
01:04:41.12 Andy Coulson:
And a lot of people that listen to this will remember the TV drama that was made quite quickly after the events themselves. Did you watch it?
01:04:55.14 Nick Bailey:
I didn’t watch it when it was aired. We were heavily involved with the making of it because we wanted it to be accurate. We knew that they were going to do it and we said, ‘Well if you’re going to do it please make it as accurate as you possibly can’ within the restrictions of a three on hour long drama episode. And so I saw kind of like raw cuts of the edited versions of it. But I didn’t watch the final thing, I didn’t want to be involved in that.
01:05:24.02 Andy Coulson:
But that, just being involved in that way then, did it bring some closure for you? Was it a positive for you or not?
01:05:33.14 Nick Bailey:
I think it was done very sensitively and very well and I think that it did, to a certain extent, bring me a little bit of closure on that part because it was going on for a long time. Did it help? No, it didn’t help because I was still living, very much living through problems that I was facing. Did it cause more problems? Not really. I mean, I didn’t watch it but I was, suddenly felt, both Sarah and I felt very compelled to justify and defend ourselves on social media because people were watching it and then understandably airing their views and their opinions on social media about it.
01:06:18.10 Andy Coulson:
As is the nature of social media.
01:06:21.10 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, exactly and so we then felt like we had to defend ourselves and explain that this is a drama based on real events but that you are not watching the people that were involved or watching the true reflections of how we dealt with it. This is a drama.
01:06:38.04 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, but if we’re looking for a demonstration of why social media, in some regards, not entirely but in some regards, is so ridiculous, the idea that you felt the need to have to apologise for what you went through. Or to not apologise, I’ve got it completely wrong, to explain or defend, actually, is the word isn’t it?
01:06:57.03 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, I mean, yeah…
01:06:58.17 Andy Coulson:
It’s just madness isn’t it? I suppose one of the dangers for you with this, or do you not see it as a danger is this idea of being sort of defined by your crisis? That you’re, you know, how do you approach that aspect?
01:07:14.04 Nick Bailey:
Well yeah, that is a key thing for me is how do I move on and how do I let this define me? And for so long everything about it was negative for me. And I got to a point where I was like if this is going to define me, this has happened, I can’t change what’s happened but I can change how I deal with it. And if can let it define me in a positive way. So taking all the things that I learned about myself and taking all the things, how I kind of remoulded myself because of it, if I can do that in a positive way and that can define me in that way then I have to do that because otherwise there’s just resentment and bitterness and sorrow and all the negative things that you can do.
01:08:14.00 Nick Bailey:
And I understand, you know, I’m not saying my way is the best way, I can understand why people end up dealing with the negative things for a lot longer time because there’s no blueprint for how long it takes to get over something. And every trauma is different but I had to make it define me in a positive way. And that’s where I’m starting to get to now. I’m a lot more open to talking about it purely because, not because I necessarily think that the story, my backstory is fascinating, I think it’s because it’s my emotional journey. For me that’s what’s fascinating. I can look back at it now and just kind of look at it and think that’s really interesting how I dealt with that or how I didn’t deal with that, how I could have dealt with that. And there are a lot of life lessons for me and that’s what I like to talk about because I kind of feel like if I can explain it in a way that other people understand it and if it resonates with other people then that’s a positive, that can only be a positive.
01:09:15.21 Andy Coulson:
Well that’s a great thing, it’s a great thing. And I know that you’re talking about this now in exactly the way that you’ve just described, you know, for the benefit of others. And I think that’s just a huge positive. And one of the challenges that you have, I think, that’s, I hesitate to use the word unique, but how do you take ownership of something that was, in which you were collateral damage? I think that is, that’s an element of your challenge that I think is incredibly difficult around which you’re doing an amazing job.
01:09:55.15 Andy Coulson:
Look, Nick, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. Thanks so much for your time.
01:09:59.10 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, thank you, absolute pleasure.
01:10:01.01 Andy Coulson:
We really appreciate it. We end all our podcasts by asking for your crisis cures. So three things that you have leaned on, that have helped you get through.
01:10:14.00 Nick Bailey:
And I’m not allowed to use people am I?
01:10:15.06 Andy Coulson:
You’re not allowed to use people. I’m sure that Sarah would be top of that list…
01:10:20.04 Nick Bailey:
Yeah, well, obviously she would have been. So I think the first thing for me is a piece of music. And just to give you a background around this piece of music. During my time in hospital I couldn’t deal with anything. I couldn’t listen to music, I couldn’t read anything, I couldn’t watch anything. I was literally shut off. And I remember having a conversation with a very good friend of mine whose in the police. And we were text messaging and he was just talking about music and he said, ‘I’ve just got into this chap Ludovico Einaudi’. And he said, ‘if you can bring yourself to listen to this piece of music’. And I did and it was the first piece of music I’d listened to since all this had happed and it’s called I Giorni, I think that’s how you pronounce it, and it’s a piece of classical music.
01:11:06.14 Nick Bailey:
And just for those seven minutes I had my headphones on in hospital and it freed, it’s very difficult to explain, it freed my mind, it made me smile, it made me cry, it was just the most beautiful piece of music, the most beautiful moment that I had there. And it now means a huge amount to me, that piece of music. It was just an incredible moment for me, it was the first thing I listened to properly. And it was just stunning and I listen to that bit of music a lot and like I say it means a lot to me. And my daughter, my fifteen year old daughter has it on a playlist as well, it means a lot to her as well because of our situation.
01:11:48.10 Andy Coulson:
Yes, yes, wonderful.
01:11:49.00 Nick Bailey:
So yeah, so that was, the piece of music.
01:11:54.03 Andy Coulson:
Give me another.
01:11:54.24 Nick Bailey:
I’m not allowed to use people but can I say the support from the public and I’ll use some specific examples. The support from the public during our crisis was literally overwhelming to the point where I couldn’t even deal with it. It was just so incredible, the letters, the cards, the emails, the gifts, the generosity of people that didn’t know me that reached out without any kind of, they didn’t want anything in return they just wanted to reach out. I had… we’ve got a box now full of all these cards and letters and things which we do occasionally look through because it just brings me… well, happiness.
01:12:36.19 Andy Coulson:
Wonderful. I mean we talked in negative terms about social media and I’m sure there’s been some positive as well.
01:12:44.06 Nick Bailey:
Oh for every one negative there’s a thousand positives. And sometimes when you’re in a bad place it’s difficult to focus on the positives. You do heavily focus on the negatives when you’re in a certain place. Very difficult to be told well just don’t read it, don’t look at it, don’t concentrate on it. You know just step away from it.
01:13:02.22 Andy Coulson:
Your third and last cure?
01:13:04.04 Nick Bailey:
A cop out, this one is, this is running. So I did the marathon, yeah, I came out of hospital and I’d lost a lot of weight and I wasn’t particularly very fit and I needed something to focus on. So I decided, it was quite a while after I came out of hospital, I thought I’m going to start running. Because I was a bit of a runner before, not very, you know, not brilliant runner but I did enjoy it. I knew what I got from running which was just freeing up your mind and that sense of achievement and just being out and running. And once you got past that fitness level of blowing out your arse and you can put your head up and actually enjoy where you are, that, I can always remember how nice that was. And so yeah, so exercise and running was a big thing for me, it did help a lot. It didn’t fix anything, I didn’t expect it to fix anything but just for those moments where I was out running it had a big impact on me and then I did that marathon which I raised money for Stars Appeal which was something to focus on, I needed that focus which was fantastic. So that was a big thing for me, that helped.
01:14:05.19 Andy Coulson:
Fantastic. Nick, listen, just thanks again for telling us your story, we really appreciate it. I think there’s some great lessons in there for people. As I say, no one’s going to go through what you went through, please god. But I think there are some great lessons there and that you’re now turning your mind to that I think is, I’m sure, going to be appreciated by a lot of people listening to this podcast.
01:14:28.08 Nick Bailey:
Thank you, thank you for listening.
01:14:29.24 Andy Coulson:
And good luck to you and the family going forward.
01:14:33.09 Nick Bailey:
Thank you, absolute pleasure to talk to you, thank you very much.
01:14:59.10 End of transcription