The husband of the woman imprisoned in Iran has described how he tries to be a “real husband” by trying to preserve the life they had in Britain before she was arrested 19 months ago.
In a HuffPost UK interview, Richard Ratcliffe said he considered moving out of the Hampstead flat he shared with British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and their infant daughter Gabriella before her arrest in April 2016.
But he resolved to keep it as it was so his wife could return to the “real life” she left behind, the memory of which she has clung to, including during eight months in solitary confinement.
She faces having her sentence for spying and spreading propaganda doubled after Boris Johnson mistakenly said last week she was in Iran training journalists, for which he had to apologise. She was actually on holiday.
Ratcliffe was speaking after he met Johnson on Wednesday and told a press conference he had conveyed him a message from her about how “traumatising” it was to see Johnson’s comments repeated on Iranian TV as evidence she was a spy.
Ratcliffe, who has been diplomatic about Johnson’s error while telling journalists how grave his wife’s plight is becoming, told HuffPost she was “shocked and horrified” as the Foreign Secretary’s words were broadcast across the country.
Prison has hurt her health so badly her hair has been falling out and she is due to see a specialist on Saturday to learn whether a lump in her breast is benign. Ratcliffe told HuffPost a prison psychiatrist has put her on anti-depressants.
“She’s angry at the foreign secretary for making things worse,” he said.
“She’s probably,” he added, pausing for six seconds, “angry at me sometimes for promising her stuff that doesn’t happen.”
Ratcliffe has combined a drive to get his wife released with continuing to work full-time as an accountant, though he said the explosion in media interest since Johnson’s mistake has meant “the campaigning husband is dominating, if not obliterating, the real one”.
“There’s a campaign role and then there’s real life … what Nazanin needs to come back to is real life,” he said.
At times holding back tears, Ratcliffe described how the only changes he has made to their flat is painting a wall and putting up a curtain rail as his wife asked before she left.
″I am sure, in my heart of hearts, that the most important thing Nazanin wants to do is to come back to her home … [for it] to be the home she remembers is important,” he said.
“She will try and remember what’s on the kitchen work surface. She will try and remember what’s kept next to the coffee machine. That’s partly about holding on to memories, keeping your mind alert.
“She’ll try and remember which school people went to and the dates of the birthdays. Knowing that, you hold on to people and to friendships. The risk is, particularly in solitary, it all atrophies.”
He decided against renting the flat out, despite the money it would bring in, because “having that home ready for her, whenever she comes, is a key part of what real husbands should be doing”.
He said his wife should return to someone “who really does clean the bathroom, who really does still have a job, who really does still live in the flat and gets on with the neighbours and really does read his daughter bedtime stories”.
Ratcliffe said he was sleeping “erratically” and, though he went to the office the day before his Johnson meeting, he had struggled to concentrate.
Johnson told him he was “keen” for him to accompany the foreign secretary to Iran to see his wife and daughter for the first time since the arrest.
Gabriella, who is now three and with Ratcliffe’s parents-in-law, has forgotten the English she has learned, though he still tries to communicate through Skype.
He speaks to Nazanin once a week by phone, sometimes more. She sees Gabriella twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. He hopes to have them both back by Christmas.
When asked what the family’s last Christmas together was like, Ratcliffe smiled as he recalled Gabriella, who was then just one, “kind of understood Christmas and she kind of didn’t” but liked opening presents.
“We had a big family party where she liked to be in charge of a tub of sweets,” she said.
“She didn’t actually recognise there were sweets inside, she just liked being in charge of it. All the other children would come over and she would happily give them out, without realising what she was giving out, because she was important.”
Nazazin’s birthday is Boxing Day, he said, adding that the coming together of family made the period “probably the time of the year that most resembles life in Iran”.
“She’s very fond of Christmas. It’s a lovely landmark to have to come back to,” he said.