Whitty, Wicks and Cummings: The people who became household names in 2020

Before 2020 came along, not many people would have been able to name one of England’s deputy chief medical officers or the Prime Minister’s top adviser.

But in a year which saw football stadiums, cinemas and theatres closed, attentions shifted elsewhere.

From politicians and professors to personal trainers, a number of figures unexpectedly became household names this year.

Following a year like no other, here are some of the headline makers of 2020.

Professor Chris Whitty

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty first appeared on our televisions during Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefings back in March.

The nation’s top medic was relatively unknown before the country was gripped by the pandemic, but has become a familiar face over the months since.

Typically seen flanking Prime Minister Boris Johnson with chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Professor Whitty is usually tasked with taking us through the graphs showing the country’s fluctuating R number and infection rates.

A key figure in the Government’s response to the pandemic, he has built up a following of thousands of fans online and has even appeared on merchandise including novelty mugs, Christmas cards and T-shirts.

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Dominic Cummings

For an adviser meant to lurk in the shadows, Dominic Cummings frequently found himself in the spotlight this year.

Prior to the pandemic, the maverick Prime Minister’s aide was well-known in political circles for his role as campaign director at the official Brexit group Vote Leave.

But when details of his trip to Durham with his family at the height of lockdown were revealed, seemingly in a high-profile breach of the rules, there was widespread fury.

He defended his actions at a press conference in the rose garden of Number 10, claiming he left London over childcare concerns, adding that a trip to local beauty spot Barnard Castle was to test his eyesight after recovering from Covid-19.

The controversial figure was last seen at the end of this year leaving Downing Street carrying a box of belongings following an explosive row over a proposal to appoint head of communications Lee Cain to the key post of chief of staff.

The plan was said to have been opposed by Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, with Mr Cain also leaving.

Marcus Rashford

While already a familiar face to football fans, Marcus Rashford made headlines on the front pages as well as the back pages this year over his child food poverty campaign which forced a high profile Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers.

After being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, the Manchester United striker vowed to continue campaigning and his petition to end child food poverty went on to attract more than one million signatures.

The high-profile campaign led the Government to backtrack and lay on £170 million of extra funding for free meals for disadvantaged children during the Christmas holidays.

The England star, who spoke about his own experience of using a food voucher scheme as a child, was personally informed of the decision in a telephone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Kamala Harris

A trailblazer throughout her career, Kamala Harris is set to make history by becoming the first female, black and Indian-American vice president of the US.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s running mate is one of the party’s most prominent figures and became a household name in the UK when voters chose her and Mr Biden to replace Donald Trump in the White House.

In her victory speech, she paid tribute to the women who have paved the way for her, telling voters that ‘while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last’.

Joe Wicks

Joe Wicks shot to fame during the first national lockdown thanks to his daily online PE lessons, keeping children – and their parents – active while the nation stayed at home.

The personal trainer, known professionally as The Body Coach, raised £580,000 for the NHS through his sessions and was subsequently made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

He described his MBE as ‘incredible’, saying: ‘I’m so proud that I’ve done something which helps so many people.’

Wicks later raised more than £2 million for BBC Children in Need by leading a 24-hour fitness class.

Margaret Keenan

The face of Margaret Keenan – known as Maggie – was on the front page of newspapers around the world after she became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of a mass vaccination programme.

Sales of the charity T-shirt worn by 90-year-old Mrs Keenan when she received the jab shot up by 300%, while a baby giraffe was even named in her honour at Whipsnade Zoo.

The grandmother described the day she received the coronavirus jab at University Hospital Coventry, administered by matron May Parsons, as a ‘whirlwind’.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam

Prior to 2020, it would seem absurd for England’s deputy chief medical officer to become an internet sensation.

But in a year that experts took centre stage, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, often referred to as JVT, gained a growing fanbase for his use of colourful metaphors while explaining the science behind Covid-19.

Featuring trains, planes and penalty shootouts, explanations by the unlikely cult hero often steal the show at Downing Street press conferences because of their simplicity.

Football analogies seem to be a common go-to for the professor, who is a season ticket holder at Boston United.

He recently likened the positive results from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials to reaching the final and scoring with the first kick in a penalty shootout, adding: ‘You haven’t won the cup yet, but what it does is, it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten.’

Another memorable analogy was when he compared the process of waiting for a vaccine to be developed with waiting for a train.

When the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was approved, he said: ‘The train has now slowed down safely. It has now stopped in the station. And the doors have opened – that was the authorisation by the MHRA.

‘What we need now is for people to get on that train and travel safely to their destinations.’

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