KATE'S DARKEST DAYS
Saturday January 5,2008
By Anna Pukas
Those who are close to her wonder how much longer she can go on. They have watched her shrink to the point where one friend described her as a “living skeleton”. Her emotional equilibrium – ironically, something for which she was both praised and disparaged – is now all but shot to pieces.
As a close friend puts it: “She is up and down like a yo-yo. One moment she is upbeat and strong and is so focused on finding her daughter that she sees and almost feels Madeleine. Then there’ll be times when she gets some bad press in Portugal and instead of focusing on the search all her efforts are spent trying to defend herself.”
If so, then these are very dark days indeed for Kate McCann – lowest point yet. her to plunge to and she is possibly about
According to leaked Portuguese documents, Kate and Gerry McCann are now considered the prime suspects in the disappearance of their four-year-old daughter Madeleine.
A report by detectives which was handed to a judge two days ago concludes that the McCanns must have killed their daughter accidentally and then disposed of the body.
Gerry McCann is 'rebuilding an exterior life'
So this is where they are after eight months probing and digging by the Portuguese police and theorising and speculation by just about everyone else: no nearer to getting Madeleine back and finding themselves accused, in effect, of her manslaughter.
How does a mother cope with such unrelenting pressure? Someone recently said that Kate McCann has been physically transformed by grief and that her back, shoulders, hands and mouth are now “reshaped into the angular manifestation of a silent scream”. A florid description but no exaggeration. Always a slender woman, Kate is now emaciated, her clothes flapping around fleshless arms and thighs.
Kate and Gerry McCann, both 39, left Portugal last September because they wanted to bring some normality back to the lives of their twins, Sean and Amelie.
But since coming home to the Leicestershire village of Rothley, things have not worked out that way. For Kate especially, leaving Portugal was painful because it felt like leaving Madeleine again.
Since their return, Kate’s life – like her physique – has diminished. She used to be a part-time GP, working two days a week at Latham House Medical Practice in Melton Mowbray. But unlike Gerry she has shown no inclination to return to work.
“For the time being she just wants to stay at home with the twins and look after them,” says Kate’s mother Susan Healey. “The need to care for the twins has helped her get through each painful day.”
According to Gerry’s sister, Tricia Cameron, Kate has been contacted by a children’s charity to do some work for them. The approach came after Kate attended a lunch for the organisation Missing Children International while still in Portugal.
“She hasn’t made up her mind yet,” Tricia added. It appears to be understood within the family that whatever she decides, it is highly unlikely that Kate will return to her old job.
She used to be a keen runner and she kept up her jogging in Portugal as it relieved the stress. For a brief while after they came home to Rothley, Kate and Gerry would drive to a local beauty spot and go for a long run together. But it didn’t last and Kate has not been seen out running for almost three months.
She used to go to Dawn Newcombe’s hair salon in Rothley to have her hair cut and highlighted. Now she can’t face it. “She finds it really difficult and doesn’t want to be the focus of everyone’s attention,” says one of the stylists.
“She did bring the twins in before Christmas to have their hair trimmed but it was very hard for her. She was almost in tears as she watched them and my heart went out to her. In the past, Madeleine would have been running around or the twins would have been running about while she had her hair cut. The constant strain on poor Kate is unbearable.”
She used to enjoy taking Madeleine to Templars coffee shop for hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and cream. She has not set foot in the place since returning to Rothley. These days when she leaves the house it’s invariably for one of just two reasons: to take the twins to nursery on Wednesdays and Thursdays in neighbouring Queniborough – where the McCanns lived until 2006 and where they still have many friends – or to attend mass.
Both devout Catholics, the McCanns attend a Sunday morning service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a short walk from their £500,000 detached house. Kate usually takes the twins to mass on Tuesday mornings, too.
The rest of the time she is at home, tucked away in a cul-de-sac with other similar, new-build “executive” homes.
There she looks after Sean and Amelie, preparing their meals, reading to them or watching TV or their favourite DVDs together; the twins, who will be three on February 1, are especially fond of Wallace And Gromit and Postman Pat.
If they are busy playing outside in the garden, or making dens in their bedroom, Kate might pick up a book or a women’s magazine; she rarely reads newspapers these days, preferring to be kept abreast of developments by the family’s spokesman, ex-BBC reporter Clarence Mitchell, who drives up for the day from his home in Bath about twice a week.
At 6.30pm, Kate runs a bath for Sean and Amelie and they all sing together. It is both a loving, bonding ritual and a bitter reminder of the missing component: Madeleine.
“It is heart-breaking,” says Gerry’s mother Eileen. “The three children were bathed together every night and always had lots of fun. The twins ask for Madeleine and Kate reminds them that she’s still missing. Then they get back to splashing each other and they forget about Madeleine.”
But Madeleine remains very much a part of her family. There are photographs of her all over the house and the twins refer to her often. Before Christmas, which the McCanns spent with Kate’s cousin in Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales, they would ask if Santa was bringing Madeleine home. Kate’s mother Susan recalls a recent visit to a farm. “The twins said: ‘Mummy’s going, Daddy’s going, Sean and Amelie going but Madeleine not going, Madeleine looking’. It’s heartbreaking but it shows they are aware everyone is still looking for Madeleine and that, wherever she is, she can look at them, too.”
Meanwhile, little Amelie has abandoned her own Snuggles cat toy and taken to carrying around Cuddle Cat, her sister’s favourite soft toy.
After their bath the twins have “quiet time”, when they’re allowed to watch a favourite film before choosing a story book as they are put to bed at 7.30pm. Then, once they are asleep, Kate has her own quiet time when she goes into Madeleine’s bedroom, which has been left untouched. There, sitting among the toy boxes and pink furnishings (Madeleine’s favourite colour), she weeps for her missing daughter and says a prayer for her safe return.
By contrast, Gerry McCann is rebuilding an exterior life. On Monday he will resume working full-time at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, where he is a £75,000-a-year consultant cardiologist. He has been working three days a week since early November. Colleagues there hold a vigil for Madeleine in the hospital chapel every Friday and have raised thousands for the Madeleine fund, which has topped £1million.
Eileen McCann says: “Gerry feels it is the right time to focus full-time on his job. But it doesn’t mean he is giving up on his search for Madeleine. Kate supports his decision.”
At least once a week, usually on a Monday, Gerry plays golf at Rothley Park Golf Club and then pops in for a pint at the Woodman’s Stroke pub in the village. He also takes the twins to the park. Occasionally on Sundays the whole family goes off to visit friends David and Fiona Payne eight miles away in Leicester. However, apart from their weekly walk to church, it has become very rare to see Gerry and his wife out together – not that anyone should read anything into that. Kate insists: “We are stronger than ever.”
The only disagreements are over publicity. Kate would rather keep the lowest of profiles while Gerry believes the media can help them. A family source said: “It’s the only time there’s any friction between them. Kate gets upset by what’s written and she lets it be known. She may come across as weak and weepy but she’s strong inside. Even Gerry’s mum says he’s not as strong as everyone thinks.”
The couple have always said they are ready to return to Portugal but their continuing arguido status makes this less likely. So for now – and perhaps as far into the future as she can see – the only meagre solace Kate McCann can find is to sit in Madeleine’s room and weep and pray for her lost daughter.
Additional reporting by