Who is Rachel Clarke? The real doctor behind TV drama Breathtaking

19 February 2024, 13:51 | Updated: 19 February 2024, 13:53

Dr Rachel Clarke
Dr Rachel Clarke. Picture: LBC/ITV

By Emma Soteriou

Breathtaking is a new Covid drama that tells the story of frontline workers in the NHS during the pandemic - but who inspired the series?

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The series follows acute medicine consultant Dr Abbey Henderson weeks before the first lockdown in the UK.

The doctor is forced to make difficult healthcare decisions as the NHS faces a lack of PPE, staff and beds.

But who is she based on? Here's everything you need to know.

Read more: 'We need to have accountability': Dr Rachel Clarke says 'we can't move on' from Partygate

Who is Dr Rachel Clarke?

Dr Rachel Clarke worked on the frontline during Covid, caring for patients in their final hours.

She released a book named Breathtaking in 2021 telling "the UK's human story of Covid" - the inspiration for the drama series.

Reflecting on her experience during the unpredictable period, she told LBC's James O'Brien: "I look back now and can hardly believe that all of a sudden we were working in a hospital and the air we were breathing was filled with a virus that could kill us.

"I had colleagues coming up to me asking me to witness signing their wills because they were so frightened of dying.

"Sure enough, we soon had members of staff in intensive care, dying, and all of that, to some extent has been forgotten. We like to move on from traumatic experiences."

She has since written and executive produced the mini-series based off her book.

Dr Rachel Clarke discusses 'Breathtaking', the new pandemic TV drama based on her experiences

What is 'Breathtaking'?

Breathtaking is a three-part series adaptation of Dr Rachel Clarke's story, with Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt playing Dr Abbey Henderson.

Dr Clarke told James why she had decided to share her story from the frontline.

"It was really simple, we wanted to show the public what really unfolded behind the closed doors of our NHS hospitals during the pandemic," she said.

"The reason we wanted to do that is because it's almost four years down the line since the pandemic began and it is so hard to remember what it was like then let alone imagine what it was like for NHS staff when you really had no idea what those experiences were like."

She said archive footage from the pandemic was also included in the show, with briefings from Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock among those used to bridge the gap between what the public were hearing and what NHS staff were experiencing.

What does Dr Rachel Clarke want people to take from the show?

"We need to remember this – we cannot forget it," she said.

"It would do our NHS a disservice and all the people who died as well."

Despite her contempt for many people involved in the decision making at the time, Dr Clarke said only two things mattered.

"1. How do we do things better and more safely next time? It’s the patients who count.

"And 2. how do we refuse to allow our politicians to tell us these debased narratives that play fast and loose with the truth at a time of global pandemic?

"[It's] the one time when the truth matters more than everything. And we have to trust our leaders."

Episode one of Breathtaking will air at 9pm on ITV1 on Monday.

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