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Boozy party in Downing Street garden 'feels like a punch in the gut for our family'


By Alan Hendry

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Helen Mackay and her sisters Susan Mackay (left) and Sharon Mackay (right) with their Nanna Rose Alexander.
Helen Mackay and her sisters Susan Mackay (left) and Sharon Mackay (right) with their Nanna Rose Alexander.

Revelations about a boozy party in the Prime Minister's garden feel like a "punch in the gut" for a Thurso woman and her two sisters who missed their grandmother's funeral because of Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time.

Helen Mackay told yesterday how they felt they were doing the right thing by not travelling north to say a final farewell to their Nanna Rose Alexander – only for it to emerge that "a select few were above those rules".

Mrs Alexander was cremated on May 21, 2020. The previous day, about 100 people had been invited to a "bring-your-own-booze" party in the garden of 10 Downing Street.

Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign over the matter. The Prime Minister apologised in parliament on Wednesday, saying he had joined colleagues for drinks in the Downing Street garden for around 25 minutes and that he had believed it to be "a work event".

Lockdown rules at that time meant people were limited to an outdoor meeting of just one person outside of their household.

Mrs Alexander was 92 when she passed away. Her death was not Covid-related. A few family members travelled from Thurso for the cremation, keeping to the guidance on numbers.

Helen (36), who lives in Glasgow, said: “Looking back on it, it was a time that we all wanted to forget. What everyone was going through at that time, you wanted to put to the back of your mind.

“Over the last couple of weeks it has brought it all up again and there are different emotions this time coming forward.

Rose Alexander with Helen's daughter Nell, who is now two-and-a-half.
Rose Alexander with Helen's daughter Nell, who is now two-and-a-half.

“When you look back to that time, we were living under such strict restrictions. You weren't even allowed to sit on a park bench without the police moving you on – that was the level of restrictions.

“And there were so many families going through bereavement. It was such a difficult decision not to go to the funeral, not to be around family, but you thought 'these are the rules that the government are putting in place to keep everyone safe'."

Helen and her sisters Susan (32), who lives in Aberdeen, and Sharon (25), who lives in Glasgow, made the difficult decision not to attend the funeral.

“We were being told that if you did travel it was putting other people at risk," Helen said.

“One of my sisters lives in Glasgow and the other lives in Aberdeen. Cases were much higher here than they were up north.

"At that point the Highlands weren't hit badly at all, so there was a sense of responsibility. We had to make a sacrifice but we thought everyone was making the same sacrifices.

"We thought 'there are families all over the place having to do this so we kind of have to go with that'.

“Now, we hear that 100 people were invited to a bring-your-own-bottle party in a garden on the 20th when we were sitting at home filled with sadness and regret and guilt.

“My Nanna was such a wonderful grandparent. We are filled with so many memories of her, and to feel that you weren't going to be there to say goodbye, and that you weren't going to give her the goodbye that she deserved – that was the real weight that we felt.

A hundred people were invited to a bring-your-own-bottle party in a garden on the 20th when we were sitting at home filled with sadness and regret and guilt.

“Me and my sisters felt, coming from the big cities, the right thing to do was not to travel. As hard as that was, the right thing for everyone was to make that sacrifice.

“Looking back on it now, not being able to grieve together, not being able to comfort each other in person – nobody should have to go through that, but so many people did. That's the main thing that gets me. It makes me think of everyone that went through that.

“We thought we were all in it together but there was a select few who were above those rules.

“Had we known that then... We could have got in the car, driven there, not touched anyone.

"We could have done that safely but we decided not to because those were the rules that those people put out, and then you hear that they're all having a lovely time. It is so disrespectful.

“To think of someone who lived that long life, right back to World War II, and then to go under those circumstances and not be able to have all the family around her...

"There is that level of respect when someone passes away. These people are the ones that are in charge so we should follow them, and then to hear how they have been so disrespectful is like a punch in the gut.

"We are simply one family who around that date were making sacrifices. But our heart goes out to the fact that there are so many families across the country who were making sacrifices – whether it be bereavement, whether it be giving birth alone, or not being able to hold your grandchild for the first time, or hearing bad news on your own.

"We were all in it together, it feels like, and now there's a certain group of people who you just feel completely let down by."

Helen's mum is Christine Urquhart and her brother is David Alexander. His children are David, Sarah and James Alexander.

Boris Johnson has faced growing pressure over a 'bring-your-own-booze' garden party in May 2020. Picture: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson has faced growing pressure over a 'bring-your-own-booze' garden party in May 2020. Picture: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street

Local MP Jamie Stone is among those to have called for Mr Johnson to resign.

Mr Stone said this week: “Since March 2020, my constituents have made unimaginable sacrifices to keep each other safe and reduce pressure on key workers within the NHS.

“Boris Johnson’s flagrant lawbreaking is an insult to every person in the far north who worked so hard to obey the rules.

“The Conservatives know that the jig is up – and they are right. The Prime Minister must resign.”


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