Three performers – among the one million people suffering from long Covid – explain the painful process of getting back on stage

In 2019, the actor and director Helen Oakleigh was hired to stage a number of shows in China that would be playing throughout 2020. They flew from London to Wuhan on 1 January last year and then on to Chengdu but, soon after arriving, began to feel unwell with a virus that would later be diagnosed as Covid-19. Although able to return to work soon afterwards, they struggled to concentrate and experienced sensory overload. Today, Oakleigh is “unrecognisable” from her former self and, along with many others working in the stage industry, is dealing with both the effects of the pandemic on the arts as well as long Covid.

Oakleigh is one of around a million people in the UK with long Covid. After working all around the world on stage and screen projects, from Harry Potter to Shakespeare, the actor is now also an advocate for helping fellow sufferers. Oakleigh never felt 100% better but by July 2020 was getting there and, thinking she was just “deconditioned”, began to push slowly back to previous fitness levels and enjoy hockey, netball and cycling again. “I was doing a lot and also working. I was really proud that I had got to that level.”

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