Bat­tles, bugs and beef­burg­ers Be­com­ing the pub­lic face of a cri­sis

The Guardian - - News - Jim Water­son

Chris Whitty

The UK's chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer could have seen out his ca­reer in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity, is­su­ing the oc­ca­sional well-timed in­ter­ven­tion on pub­lic health mat­ters.

In­stead, the coro­n­avirus out­break has turned him into a house­hold name overnight. He's been a reg­u­lar at Down­ing Street press con­fer­ences along­side the chief sci­en­tific ad­viser, Sir Pa­trick Val­lance, and speaks to po­ten­tially tens of mil­lions of peo­ple on nightly news pro­grammes.

A for­mer pro­fes­sor of pub­lic and in­ter­na­tional health at the London School of Hy­giene and Trop­i­cal Medicine, he is now hav­ing to deal with the enor­mous scru­tiny that comes with shap­ing the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to the coro­n­avirus cri­sis.

Cordelia Gum­mer

In 1990, the Con­ser­va­tive agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary, John Gum­mer, was strug­gling to com­bat grow­ing con­cerns about the safety of Bri­tish beef. With jour­nal­ists and the pub­lic high­light­ing the risks of BSE – also known as mad cow dis­ease – he saw his op­por­tu­nity to show his be­lief in the safety of UK agri­cul­ture by get­ting his four-year-old daugh­ter to tuck into a beef­burger in front of cam­era crews at an event in his con­stituency. Un­for­tu­nately

Cordelia very pub­licly re­jected the burger, cre­at­ing one of the iconic im­ages of the cri­sis.

Ian McDon­ald

The Falk­lands war was one of the last con­flicts be­fore rolling news cov­er­age brought wars di­rectly into peo­ple’s homes. It there­fore fell to Ian McDon­ald, a Min­istry of De­fence civil ser­vant, to be the face of the con­flict for many Bri­tons. He de­liv­ered up­dates on the bat­tles be­tween Bri­tish forces and the Ar­gen­tini­ans bat­tling for the Falk­lands in the South At­lantic.

McDon­ald was known for his pa­tient and care­ful de­liv­ery in mat­ter-of-fact style, whether it was an­nounc­ing the loss of a ship or a Bri­tish vic­tory on the bat­tle­field.

Com­i­cal Ali

Mo­hammed Saeed al-Sa­haf was the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter in Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraqi gov­ern­ment, be­com­ing its front­man when a USled coali­tion in­vaded in 2003.

His en­thu­si­as­tic pre­dic­tions of the im­mi­nent demise of US troops were much mocked at the time, not least when he was filmed by jour­nal­ists with US tanks be­hind him – earn­ing the nick­name Com­i­cal Ali or Bagh­dad Bob. Of late, ob­servers have pointed out that his pre­dic­tions of US fail­ure in Iraq were ul­ti­mately cor­rect.

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