Chris Whitty has gone from almost complete obscurity to one of 2020’s break-out media stars, and he didn’t even compete on Strictly. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has been at Boris’s side at press conference after press conference, never afraid to speak his mind and very seldom wrong. This fount of knowledge wins our Person Of The Year award, though somehow we suspect he won’t be collecting the accolade in person.
In a tough crowd, facing the likes of centurion Colonel Sir Captain Major Tom, PE’s Joe Wicks and car driver, campaigner and corona-sufferer Lewis Hamilton but it’s Chris Whitty who gets our nod as Person Of The Year.
Who would have thought that the daily highlight of 2020 would be the nation coming together to tune in and watch Boris Johnson live on TV? The idea would have been preposterous and dubbed a ratings impossiblilty. And yet, the Boris Show proved even more popular than Noel’s House Party at its Crinkly Bottom Mr Blobby heights this year, and due to the new strain a new season looks like it’s being hastily commissioned.
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 CMO Professor Chris Whitty. Whitty is the Robin to Boris’ Batman, the Niles to his Frasier. 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 history ultimately judges Boris, and this 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.
Forget Fauci, we’re with Whitty!
2 – He Looks Uncannily 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. And, to be fair, the narrative arc of 2020 has been equally implausible.
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 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. When he’s not briefing the PM, Cabinet, SAGE or us and the press he’s pacing up and down the wards at University College London Hospital doing the actual job of a consultant doctor!
5 – He’s Had The Virus Himself
Back in the dark days of April, there was a point where Boris was lying on his near-death bed famously being tended to by Luis and Jenny, the sort of immigrant nurses he’s anxious to bar from entry to the country, Chris Whitty was suffering quietly in his flat.
The CMO was caught up in the Downing Street corona party that also took out Health Secretary Matt Hancock and prompted Dominic Cummings’ impromptu eye test. Speculated to have been sparked by a visit from Corbyn aide Seamus Milne.
But the fact that he sweated it out without fanfare and then got back on with the job just endears him to us even more!
6 – You Can Get A Mug With His Face On It
Okay, not necessarily a reason, but we’re super excited to learn that Whitty memorabilia is a thing.
A glance online reveals mugs, dolls, even a Chris Whitty Appreciation Society. The public are nuts about him and who wouldn’t feel reassured sipping their chai from a Whitty mug?
7 – 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 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”.
So this Christmas, let’s raise a glass to Whitty, person of the year. But let’s hope we don’t have to hear too much from him next year…