Sir Ed Davey opens up on juggling Lib Dem leadership and caring for teenage son

ITV News' Correspondent Rachel Younger sits down with Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, ahead of next month's General Election.

We're only a week into the election campaign and Sir Ed Davey is already becoming something of a social media sensation.

His determination to get the Libs Dems noticed has seen him falling off paddle boards on Lake Windermere, freewheeling down a hill in Wales and plummeting along a 95-metre waterslide in Somerset.

As his critics have observed, it all risks undermining his seriousness as a leader. But if any politician deserves a bit of fun, it might well be the man onboard the battle bus nicknamed Yellow Hammer One.

In a frank conversation, recorded as part of The Leader Interviews on ITV's Tonight programme, to be shown at 8.30pm on Thursday June 6, Sir Ed revealed just how at odds his clowning is with the reality of his usual daily routine.

The Lib Dem leader juggles his job with his responsibilities as a carer. Sir Ed's 16-year-old son John can't walk and has only limited speech; disabilities that mean he will probably need care for the rest of his life.

For a long time, Sir Ed chose not to talk about it, nor his wife Emily's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. But recently, he's shared more, in recognition of the millions of carers in the UK who deal with something similar every day.

"My wife has MS so she can do quite a bit but she can’t do some things” Sir Ed told me.

“My day tends to start with getting him out of bed, taking him to the toilet, taking his nappy off to give him a shower and cleaning his teeth. We massage him every day keep his limbs supple.

"He’ll wake up between 5.30 and 6 o’clock and shout for his daddy, so his daddy has to get up and start that routine."

Sir Ed explains what his daily routine looks like as a carer for his teenage son

His role as a carer didn't start with John. The youngest of three, Sir Ed's father died when he was five-years-old.

His mother, Nina, was diagnosed with breast cancer which spread to her bones when Sir Ed was in his teens.

He and his brother helped to care for her and administer her medication, before she died.

He was 15-years-old.

Normally a buttoned-up character, Sir Ed's stoicism suddenly falls away when asked what his mum must have gone through, knowing she was leaving her boys behind.

His thoughts turn immediately to his son and he finds himself in tears.

"One of my biggest fears in life is what happens to him when I’m gone," he said.

“I reflect on what my mother thought. I remember I’d been on a school trip to Germany when she was ill and I took a picture of me and this German girl - we’d spoken for about 5 minutes, it wasn’t anything more than that.

"I showed my trip photos to my mum, and she said to me, 'I wonder who you are going to end up with?'”

He continued: “It's slightly different with John - because he’s going to need 24/7 care for the rest of his life, I worry about who is going to look after him.

"No one is going to love him or hold him like I or my wife hold him, so we think about that. I’m sure all parents think about that, in some way, but when you’ve got a child that's so vulnerable with special needs, it’s particularly pertinent.

"I think caring and carers is something that I almost have a duty to stand up for and talk about.”

'One of my biggest fears in life is what happens to him when I'm gone'

Sir Ed's wife, Emily Gasson, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012; she balances her job in local housing with being John's main carer.

But there are inevitably things she can't do and that can be quite a weight for her husband to shoulder.

Sir Ed is at pains to point out others have it far worse because with two salaries, his family can afford to pay carers to help. But it doesn't sound like there's much respite.

The daily battles - and the moments of joy he describes - are a rare glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of political theatre.

Despite Sir Ed's mad-cap stunts, this election campaign has often felt both pedestrian and lacking in emotion.

His interview perhaps a much needed reminder, that for all their failings and their flaws, our politicians are still people too.

You can watch Sir Ed Davey's interview in full on The Leader Interviews, on ITV's Tonight programme on Thursday June 6 at 8.30pm and available on ITVX.

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