How accurate is Partygate? True story behind Channel 4 drama
The new drama is based on "meticulous research of real events inside Downing Street".
Like any drama based on the events that made headlines at the time, viewers will naturally be wondering whether or not Channel 4's Partygate is a feat of fiction or is entirely based on the truth.
Described as a factual drama, the new one-off feature dives into what went on behind the doors of Downing Street during the Covid-19 pandemic - when social distancing, face masks and no household mixing were the norm.
According to the synopsis, Partygate "will tell the inside story in dramatic re-enactments interwoven with news archive footage and documentary interviews, showing the horrors of Covid unfold across the nation, while staff at Number 10 kicked back at a string of parties lubricated by quantities of alcohol".
Well, how accurate is the new drama and is it all based on real events? Read on for everything you need to know.
How accurate is Partygate? True story behind Channel 4 drama
The new Channel 4 drama treads the line between laugh-out-loud moments and incredibly heartfelt real-life testimonies told by those who were impacted by the government's lockdown rules at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Some of the stories include a woman talking about being unable to visit her ill grandmother in her care home as she died alone, while another shows the footage of how family members were ordered to move away from their grieving grandmother after the loss of their grandfather.
Similarly, a 20-year-old man discusses how his Facebook group organisation of a Leeds snowball fight turned into him receiving a £10,000 fine for breaking lockdown rules, while Partygate also features footage of police raiding a house of teenagers for an unlawful meeting.
All of the real-world testimonies and people interviewed included in the new drama are genuine, and provide some of the more thought-provoking parts of the show.
As for what went on in Downing Street, many of the lines used and events depicted by the fictionalised dramatisation are taken from the Sue Gray report and House of Commons investigation.
While the special advisors included in Partygate are all fictional, they do represent what the team behind the show researched and were led to believe would be the general manner, educational background and class of Johnson's team.
That means that Grace Greenwood (Georgie Henley), Annabel D’Acre (Ophelia Lovibond) and their cohort - which includes Josh Fitzmaurice (Hugh Skinner), Rory Baskerville (Tom Durant-Pritchard) and Alice Lyons (Alice Orr-Ewing) - were all made up for the drama.
When asked about whether aspects of their backgrounds (like their elite educations) were an exaggeration, director Joseph Bullman told RadioTimes.com and other press at a Partygate screening: "[We] tried to do as much research as we could and we spent a fair bit of time on that, looking at the Johnson cohort.
"We were able to speak to people who had been SpAds [special advisors] from other parties who had had contact with this group of Johnsonian SpAds. I'm going to be honest, overwhelmingly, that's their background."
As for who's a fictionalised character and who is real in Partygate, politicians like Boris Johnson, Lee Caine, Shelley Williams-Walker, Helen MacNamara, Martin Reynolds, Sir Mark Sidwell, Cleo Watson, Carrie Johnson and Kate Josephs are real people.
As depicted in the drama, it has been reported that MacNamara (played by Charlotte Ritchie), who was the government's ethics chief at the time, provided a karaoke machine for a leaving party of a former unnamed Number 10 individual from 18th June 2020 to the early hours of the next morning.
According to the Sue Gray report, the party saw "excessive alcohol consumption", one individual was sick, there was a 'minor altercation' and staff stayed beyond 3am.
As similarly depicted in the Channel 4 drama, red wine was spilled at a Christmas party in December 2020 - but Sue Gray's report claims it was "on a wall and on stationery supplies".
In the email chain scenes showing Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s former principal private secretary, sending out emails, it claims that Reynolds was a keen organiser of events, and Sue Gray's report found that Reynolds sent a message saying those in Downing Street "seem to have got away with" holding a Number 10 garden event on 20th May 2020.
In one of two parties occurring on 17th December 2020, there was a gathering held in the Cabinet office for former head of the Covid taskforce Kate Josephs. Pizzas were ordered, as shown in the drama, as well as alcohol drunk.
Things like WTF (Wine Time Fridays), as depicted in the series, were also mentioned in Gray's report, as she wrote: "The investigation was told that members of the Press Office have, for some time (including before the pandemic), brought in wine on Fridays to mark the end of the week.
"This was known as Wine Time Friday, where bottles of wine were placed on a table in a small room adjacent to the main Press Office and people could help themselves."
She also noted, in reference to reports of a wine fridge being bought to store alcohol in Downing Street: "On 12th December 2020, a number of messages were sent on a third WhatsApp group, discussing the purchase of a fridge for the office (through individual contributions)."
As reported by the BBC in 2022, Johnson was criticised over the treatment of those working at Downing Street. In the drama, cleaners like Fanny and Giselle, as well as security guard Mickey Port (Phil Daniels), were continuously put in difficult situations.
Gray's report stated that on the morning after an end-of-year cheese-and-wine party on 18th December 2020, "a cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper".
Similarly, a BBC Panorama special included one Downing Street insider describing how a security guard had been mocked when they tried to stop one party in full flow.
Gray's report found "multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment" of staff by officials when these gatherings took place.
As for elements that remain unconfirmed by official sources - Sue Gray's report refused to name individuals - but are chronicled in the new drama, it has been reported that Shelley Williams-Walker, Johnson's former head of operations, was supposedly one of the DJs at a gathering held on the night before Prince Philip's funeral and allegedly nicknamed "DJ SWW".
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