Olympics games presenter Charlie Webster has revealed how she made a remarkable recovery after contracting malaria in Rio de Janeiro – and added it is ‘miracle’ that she is still alive.
The 33-year-old had just finished a charity bike ride 3,000 miles to the Rio Olympics when she became seriously ill. Soon you will be fighting for his life and was placed on dialysis before being put into a coma when his lungs collapsed.
The presenter of Sky Sports was informed by doctors to “get your family here now ‘because they feared it was just minutes from death. But surprisingly, has made a remarkable recovery that has resulted in renal function until it reaches 50 percent – compared to only 13 percent when he arrived back in the UK.
And in an exclusive interview with the magazine, Ms. Webster said she really believed she would die.
She said: “I thought he was dehydrated But then the doctors said.” I need to know that you’re dying and you have to get your family here now “Then he became very afraid. ‘.
Miss Webster, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, has a magnetic smile immediately familiar to those who have followed his meteoric career presentation in the sky, the BBC, ITV and elsewhere.
Over the past decade, has trailblazed their way into what was perhaps the last bastion dominated by men of broadcasting and, most times, manages to keep the smile in place, even when faced with those who still they question his credentials.
‘You really like sport? ‘- That is what makes me more often, “he says wryly But viewers are not fools -.. Who knows he does not have to be a middle-aged man to know what he is talking”
And those who dare dismiss her as a ‘showcase’, Charlie has always had the perfect riposte: she not only lives and breathes the stories on which it is reported, which is also an athlete accomplished resistance, with 11 marathons and Ironman (one 2.4-mile swim and bike ride 112 miles, finished off with a marathon) to his credit.
Today, however, Charlie is not your usual effervescent self. In a tentative outing with her mother last week, he says, he managed to walk the 800 meters from the post office, but then had to clear a shelf in the store so she could sit. “I have no energy reserves. I’m not used to being this fragile my body. But doctors say it’s a miracle that I’m here, so I know I just got to give myself time ‘.
Three months ago, on the eve of the opening ceremony Rio Olympic Games, which Charlie was scheduled for presentation equipment online Britain, he was taken seriously ill. In the typical way of Charlie, who had arrived in Brazil not on a direct flight, but on a bicycle, after participating in the ride to Rio – A charity bike ride 3,000 miles from the Olympic Stadium in London.
However, as she and her fellow riders posed for photographs beside his triumphant of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue after six weeks on the road, Charlie could feel it was going rapidly downhill. “I had stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, and thought must be exhausted and dehydrated,” he recalls. “I had no idea then that he was in danger of death. ‘
Somehow Charlie made it to the opening ceremony, but the following day she was admitted to hospital where doctors were initially mystified as to what was wrong with her. Three days later, her kidneys failed and she was placed on dialysis. Another three days after that, her lungs collapsed and she had to be transferred to intensive care and put into a coma.
Her body, it turned out, was battling with two potentially life-threatening conditions. She had hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a rare complication of a bacterial infection, and she had also contracted malaria. ‘My heart had gone into overload and my body was starting to shut down. I’ve always thought I was invincible – now I know how fine the line is between life and death,’ she says.
Charlie lives in London, but we have met today in Yorkshire, where she is convalescing at the home of her mother Joy. As she settles on a sofa, she shows me a photo on her phone of her unrecognisable self in hospital, swathed in tubes and breathing through a ventilator mask. ‘I need to look at that picture to remind myself just how far I’ve come,’ she says.
As someone who normally hurtles through life at 100mph, it’s strange, she concedes, to have time for contemplation as well as recuperation. ‘I would never wish these past few months on anybody,’ she says, ‘but in a weird and wonderful way, surviving them has changed me. I feel more grounded – they’ve given me a new sense of who I am.’
Charlie was born in Sheffield into a family full of love – but also conflict. The product of a teenage pregnancy, she arrived two weeks after her mother’s 17th birthday, and her presence initially heralded shame and embarrassment, rather than happiness, as far as Charlie’s policeman grandfather was concerned. ‘He threw Mum out and said that the only way she could come back was if she married my father,’ Charlie explains.
In desperation, Joy, who is now a teaching assistant for children with special needs, agreed, but the marriage was short-lived. ‘My dad was only a year older than she was; they had no money, no jobs and they lived in a bedsit above a petrol station. It wasn’t nice,’ says Charlie. By the age of 21, Joy was a single parent, holding down three jobs – one as a supermarket checkout assistant and two as a cleaner – to make ends meet.
‘We walked everywhere, because we couldn’t afford to get the bus, but Mum was always determined and strict. I wasn’t allowed to eat sweets and she made me read rather than watch telly. Her biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be clever. She used to say: ‘I don’t want you to end up like me.’
As Charlie grew up, her grandfather’s attitude softened: ‘He and my nan looked after me loads and in the end he absolutely adored me – and I adored him.’ Charlie’s father, too, remained part of her life. Indeed she credits him with imbuing in her a love of football. ‘He used to take me to Sheffield United – we’d watch the game and have fish and chips at half-time. At first I loved it because he did, and then I just loved it.’
However, his visits always triggered deep tensions. ‘When he came to fetch me, he and Mum would never speak. They really disliked each other – I always knew that.’
When Charlie was eight, Joy remarried and went on to have three sons – Ben, Joe and Toby, now aged 26, 24, and 18. Charlie adjusted to the new family set-up by becoming her mother’s little helper. ‘I always wanted to make sure everyone was all right and that Mum was happy, because I had seen her be unhappy for such a long time.’
Like many children, Charlie developed parallel personalities. ‘At home, I was the quiet one. I just wanted to do my chores, read my brothers’ bedtime stories and do my homework,’ she recalls. ‘But at school, I chatted nonstop and was definitely one of the naughty girls who hung out with the cool gang. And Mum had attended the same school so I arrived with that baggage – the kid of the kid who got pregnant.’
Tall, slim and long-legged, Charlie was naturally sporty, but refused to play for the netball team and became a runner instead. Two years ago, she went public about the athletics coach who sexually abused her. ‘I was 15 and I knew what he was doing was wrong, but I was too scared to tell anybody. He was an authority figure and I was nothing – that was the way I saw it. Kids with all the chat like me are often the ones with the least confidence,’ she says.
Charlie never reported the coach, but another of his victims did go to the police. Three years later, when Charlie was 18, she was contacted and asked to give evidence about her own experience. The abuser was subsequently sentenced to ten years in jail and put on the sex offenders’ register for life.
Outwardly, Charlie may have appeared to have emerged from the experience unscathed but, with hindsight, its impact was profound. For several years, she gave up running. ‘I hated training after that – I couldn’t carry on.’
Around the same time, her mother and the rest of the family moved to Leeds, and Charlie went to live with her grandparents so that she could remain at school in Sheffield. Lonely and resentful of her mother for moving away, she went through a period of self-harming and developed an unhealthy relationship with food.
‘I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but I would hoard food and not eat – it was all about control and maybe also attention-seeking. I needed help but I didn’t know how to get it.’
Charlie’s salvation was her academic competence. She secured a place at Newcastle University where she studied English language and linguistics. To support herself financially, she worked as a fitness instructor and at 21, having graduated with a respectable 2:1, she moved to London ‘because I thought that was the place where dreams were made. I’d decided I wanted to be a TV presenter and everybody used to laugh when I told them, but I thought, ‘Just watch me.’
From her bedsit base, Charlie carried on working as a fitness instructor and put herself on to the books of several modelling agencies. Her lucky break came when she heard about a casting for Real Madrid TV. ‘It was at that time when football clubs were setting up their own TV stations. I spoke a little Spanish, and I knew all about football. I must have had the right answers because I got the job.’
Charlie spent two years in Madrid and a further two years in Singapore, where she was the first female football presenter in Asia, before returning to the UK and presenter roles with ITV, BBC and Sky Sports. When Charlie arrived at Sky in 2009, presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys reigned supreme. Two years later, Andy’s sacking for making sexist comments – along with Richard’s resignation – was seen as a watershed moment. (Andy: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’ Richard: ‘Course they don’t.’)
Just how bad was the macho culture? ‘Oh, it was bad,’ she says. ‘The producer would automatically talk to the male rather than the female, even if I was the lead presenter. But I didn’t ever question whether I should be there. I’m passionate about sport, I know my subject, and it’s always been important to show that people like me can become whatever we want to be. I think that goes back to my mum. She used to say she couldn’t have got through life without me, but just as I have been her driver, so she has been mine. I wanted to show her that we didn’t have to be downtrodden, that we could be strong. I’m a nice person but I don’t take any crap,’ she says.
Six years ago, partly influenced by her teenage experience, Charlie became an ambassador for Women’s Aid and, in 2014, she was presented with a ‘fundraising hero’ award after raising more than £100,000 for the domestic abuse charity with a 250-mile run over seven days. She was also appointed as an adviser on the Government’s Ministry of Justice ‘victims panel’ working to change policy in order to support victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
The Ride to Rio event that led to Charlie becoming critically ill was raising money for another charity close to her heart – the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. Jane, a mother of three from Leeds, captured the attention of the world after completing an ironman, marathons and triathlons during her treatment for terminal cancer, before her death, aged 43, in 2007. ‘Jane made a choice to seize every opportunity so I said yes to the bike ride because that is the way I try to live my life,’ says Charlie.
Along with Jane’s widower Mike and other team mates, Charlie set off at the end of June, cycling through France, Spain and Portugal, before flying to Brazil where they continued their quest, completing up to 100 miles a day in 30-degrees-plus heat. They stayed in hostels and beach huts, and the conditions were challenging ‘but you don’t complain because of the desperate poverty you see around you’.
Three days before the end of the ride, Charlie began to feel ill, but battled on. After arriving in Rio, she realised she was passing blood, but insisted on going to the opening ceremony despite being doubled up with pain. Her friend Annie, a lawyer from London who had flown out to Brazil to be with her for the Olympics, then got her to hospital, where she was given antibiotics and sent away, before returning and being admitted.
As doctors sent off blood and stool samples for analysis, her condition rapidly deteriorated. ‘When they said, ‘You need to know that you are dying and you have to get your family here now’, I became very scared,’ she recalls.
Joy, who had never travelled outside Europe, arrived with Charlie’s brother Joe on her sixth day in hospital. ‘She walked in, grabbed my hand, broke down and then pulled herself together. It was just the most horrible feeling,’ says Charlie, blinking back tears at the memory. ‘I didn’t want Mum to see me like that. I wanted her to go away while I sorted myself out because I’ve always been the one to protect her. But for the first time ever, I couldn’t control what was happening to me.’
Almost immediately, Joy was asked to sign a consent form so that Charlie could be put into a medically induced coma. Only later did Charlie learn that Joy was told that even if her daughter survived, she could have permanent brain damage.
Charlie was brought out of the coma after six days, by which time tests had established that she had developed HUS as a consequence of contracting shigella – a particularly nasty group of bacteria – and that she also had malaria. She was put on courses of drug treatments for both illnesses, but remained in intensive care and on dialysis for a further two weeks, before making the 20-hour trip to the UK on a medical plane.
Back in Leeds, she was admitted to St James’s University Hospital where doctors monitored her for nine days before declaring her well enough to be treated as an outpatient.
Physically, her recovery has been remarkable. The day we meet, her kidney function has reached 50 per cent – compared to just 13 per cent when she arrived back in the UK. Her vision, which had become blurred because of some bleeding at the back of her eyes, is now back to normal. She is on a salt-free diet and has been told she must drink at least four litres of water a day, but ‘overall, doctors say the fact I was so fit and strong means that I should be OK,’ she says.
Mentally, however, she has some way to go. She has been suffering flashbacks, mostly related to fleeting moments of consciousness while she was in the coma. ‘I woke and could feel the ventilator, but couldn’t open my eyes. I really thought then that that was it – I was going to die,’ she says.
Another recurring trauma centres on the moment she believes she ‘had a conversation with death’. She describes a sensation of entering a black space ‘and I was in so much pain that I felt I was going to give into it. I thought, ‘I’m only 33, but I’ve had a good life.’ Then I pictured my mum and I knew I couldn’t leave, and that was when I started shouting, ‘No, no, no.’
Sensibly, Charlie is now seeing a specialist trauma psychologist to help her process the flashbacks. ‘It is about looking after the mind as well as the body – I don’t want to end up with post-traumatic stress disorder.’
All being well, Charlie expects to be back on our screens before the end of the year (she is finalising talks on a new entertainment project). ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever run a marathon again, but that doesn’t worry me any more,’ she says. ‘They were all part of me finding out who I am, but I don’t feel I need to do that now.’
Where once she relentlessly pursued goals, now she seeks balance. She has been single since separating last year from Downton Abbey actor Allen Leech, with both of them citing work issues for the split. ‘I love kids and I want a family,’ she says, ‘but I’ve always promised myself that I will bring them up in a stable environment and it has to be with the right person. I believe that will happen.’
And if her career remains a priority for now, she also acknowledges that there is nothing like being ill to make you appreciate those you love. ‘When I was in hospital, Mum told me to visualise sitting with her in the garden back in Yorkshire, drinking tea, with the sun on our faces. At the time, I feared we would never have that moment. Now we have, I’ve realised that it is the simplest pleasures that matter most.’
If you would like to donate to the causes that Charlie feels passionate about, visit comicrelief.com, which supports malaria charities abroad and domestic violence charities in the UK
Styling: Lorna McGee at A&R Photographic. Hair and Make-up: Amanda Grossman at Frank Agency using Oribe haircare and Nars cosmetics.