One of the main characters in BBC One’s new factual drama The Salisbury Poisonings is Tracy Daszkiewicz – and you probably haven’t heard of her. But in case the drama leaves you curious to find out more, here’s what you need to know.
Who is Tracy Daszkiewicz?
The Director of Public Health at Wiltshire Council. When the Skripals were attacked with a nerve agent in the small Wiltshire city of Salisbury, Tracy was right at the centre of efforts to contain the crisis and prevent any further casualties.
Tracy is played in The Salisbury Poisonings by Anne-Marie Duff, whose previous credits include Sex Education, His Dark Materials, and Shameless.
Anne-Marie says: “Even when you google this subject, she’s hardly there and it seems such an irony because she was very much there and very much in the middle of it all, orchestrating and negotiating and circumnavigating things… She is the kind of person who doesn’t let go of the truth and will hunt it down. She is not interested in bureaucracy or people pleasing. She’s just absolutely interested in taking care of people in a very true way, that’s her innate personality.”
Why is Tracy the main character in The Salisbury Poisonings?
Meeting Tracy Daszkiewicz, as screenwriter Declan Lawn put it, was “the first thing that really made us sit up and go, okay there probably is a drama in this.”
You won’t find much about Tracy online, but when Declan and his co-writer Adam Patterson started researching the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent poisonings they began to realise that the story would be best-told from the perspective of a public servant desperately trying to save her city from an unprecedented, invisible attack.
Executive producer Lawrence Bowen said: “When we met her and spoke to her, we felt that we’d sort of found a core point of view that sort of made sense of all these multiple points of view that we’d discovered in the research.”
Up until this point, “her job as Director of Public Health for Wiltshire Council essentially would have been outbreaks of flu, nits in hair, unhygienic school kitchens – really just the day-to-day health stuff of keeping a city and a county on the right track.” But in March 2018, just after she’d finished a hard stint at work dealing with “the Beast from the East” (remember that?), she was suddenly told to report to the police station and informed about the Skripals.
“And so within a couple of hours went from being an ordinary public servant doing a straightforward but difficult job, to finding herself right at the heart of the counterterrorism and police and health operation to try and deal with a nerve agent attack on a city,” Bowen said. “So her story as a professional but as a mother, and also as an individual – how emotionally you deal with suddenly realising you are partly responsible for the lives of 60,000 people – is a pretty enormous one.
“So when you look at all those different angles, you begin to understand how the personal emotional subjective story of Salisbury is slightly different to the political one.”
Anne-Marie Duff added: “I know that the writers were really keen to tell the story of somebody who was so, such a compass point in this story, in what actually happened, and in the solving of it all, but didn’t really get the recognition she deserved. And there could be lots of reasons for that. The obvious one being gender, but also just perhaps because she comes from this other world. She’s not a bureaucrat, she’s not part of that club, and so I just thought it was sort of extraordinary really. And that we needed to hear about her.”
Was the real Tracy involved in the BBC drama?
Tracy was interviewed extensively for The Salisbury Poisonings, and was on hand to answer questions.
Adam Patterson said: “She wasn’t self-aggrandising, she’s so humble. And we had to kind of force all of this stuff out of her. About how sleeping in her office, and doing the things – it’s just a whole side of the response that we had no clue about. And it was the human cost for her, that we learned about over time as we got to know her, even the impact on her own family.”
Tracy also met with Anne-Marie Duff before the shoot began – and then went on set during filming.
“I was blown away by her,” said Anne-Marie. “By her story, and by her as a woman when I got to meet her, and her level of commitment. I always find commitment completely fascinating and very attractive in people… and she was fantastically trusting, actually. I think that’s kind of her nature. She was really trusting and she knew me and she’d seen my work before, which helped I think a wee bit.
“We sat down and had such an in-depth – we really talked about lots of stuff, and I assured her that I wasn’t interested in anything other than telling her story. Which you kind of have to do. Because people’s lives aren’t just anecdotes, you have to make sure you serve them well – so it’s important.”
Anne-Marie also found herself unexpectedly nervous on the day Tracy came to see her on set.
“Because we’d had some time together before, I thought it would be fine!” she said. “But then when she turned up I was completely terrified. I felt really self-conscious. And she has this coat, and we managed to get the exact same coat that Tracy wears, because it’s from a shop that still sells the same coat, and it’s her, and it’s her thing, and she loves her coat, and she wears it all the time. And she turned up and I was wearing the coat and she was wearing the coat and it was all very strange! But yes she did come, and of course her energy was totally positive and wanting people’s stories to be told.”
The Salisbury Poisonings aired on 14th-16th June at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.
The Salisbury Poisonings arrives on AMC’s new subscription service AMC+ on Thursday 1 October 2020.