The Handbook
The Handbook

If someone had told you a few months ago that the highlight of every single day would be the nation coming together and tuning in to watch Boris Johnson live on TV you simply wouldn’t have believed it. The idea would have been preposterous and dubbed a ratings impossiblilty. And yet, the Boris Show is even more popular than Noel’s House Party at its Crinkly Bottom Mr Blobby heights.

The cast of the daily Coronavirus briefing is led by Boris as the main character, but with supporting roles played by the Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty. There have been a couple of cameos in the form of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries, but the breakout star has got to be Whitty. Here are five reasons why we love him so much…

1 – He’s The Man For This Moment

Boris has been preparing for his ‘Churchill moment’ for decades, and yet it’s a chance appointment within his top health team who will determine how Boris fares, and falls to Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.

Chief Medical Officers rotate about once every ten years, and until 2019 the post was filled by a bone marrow specialist. Whitty was appointed in October and by chance he is a world-class specialist in epidemics. Almost by accident, Britain has one of the world’s best pandemic specialists already on Boris Johnson’s team.

"Have you got Winnie The Pooh?"

2 – He Looks Like The Annoying Bookshop Guy From Notting Hill

As he hovers while Boris finishes up his initial daily summary you almost expect Whitty to pipe up ‘have you got any ‘Winnie the Pooh?’ The fact that he vaguely resembles Notting Hill actor Roger Frost is, of course, entirely dispelled the moment the eminent professor doctor opens his mouth. But never-the-less it’s an almost reassuring element of the British response that one of the central figures reminds us of someone in a Richard Curtis film.

3 – The Voice Of Reassurance

It’s great to hear a voice of reason after Boris’s bombast. The Prime Minister sets the scene with his, albeit muted compared to usual, over-optimistic Tigger-like scene setting, then the grown-ups take over. And it’s Whitty we can’t wait to hear.

Ever-so-slightly socially stunted, with just the corners of a smile always on his lips, the professor is scrupulously balanced, returning to fact and avoiding hyperbole. It’s a clever dynamic, but his reassuring voice lets us know there’s a steady hand on the tiller.

4 – The Guy’s Basically A Genius

It seems a lifetime ago when it was politically advantageous to sneer at ‘experts’. Now we’re desperate to hear from them. And in Whitty, at least, we’ve got one. He’s basically an epidemics genius.

Most doctors spend their years after qualification toiling away on the wards, working their way through various specialties. But after leaving Oxford University, the newly doctored Chris Whitty went to Africa, where he’d grown up, and Asia studying tropical diseases and epidemics.

Somehow juggling his medical work with penning academic papers, he even found the time to gain an Open University economics diploma and an MBA from Heriott-Watt University. He became an expert in ebola, AIDS and, incredibly, plague. Whitty’s genius recently won a $40m grant for The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which he headed, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help beat malaria.

After leading the government’s response to the ebola outbreak, he made the move to Chief Medical Officer, a role that normally only makes an appearance on our screens when we’re being lectured about sugary drinks, but is now so crucial. Oh, and he’s still a practising doctor!

5 – And Yet, He’s Still A Bit Of An Enigma

What’s a little strange about Chris Whitty is how little we know about him, apart from his glittering CV! We know he isn’t married and doesn’t have children, but we don’t know if he’s got a partner (indeed, and curiously, the security services voiced concerns because he’s ‘not married’, which is somewhat odd of them in this day and age).

His father, a diplomat in Athens, was killed by Palestinian terrorists when Whitty was in his final year of public school Malvern College, though the tragedy clearly didn’t stop him getting the grades to study at Pembroke College, Oxford.

We also know he’s incredibly measured, apparently he never gets heated but instead relies on fact and evidence to make his point.

But perhaps the most illuminating piece of information came from our favourite scurrilous news source, Popbitch, who this week reported “Spotted on the Hastings to Charing Cross train last Wednesday, Professor Chris Whitty. Not reading important updates on the pandemic, but reading The Accident by Linwood Barclay”.

 

Tune in today, and almost every day, for another instalment. On weekdays it’s at around 5pm, meaning you can go into your evening suitably demoralised at the nightmares awaiting us ahead, but somewhat uplifted by the unflappable, enigmatic genius of Professor Chris Whitty.