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Cummings, Rashford, Whitty – Unlikely household names of 2020

Chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson Dominic Cummings makes a statement - Credit: Getty Images

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

Following a year like no other, the PA news agency looks at some of the headline makers of 2020.

– Professor Chris Whitty

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has become a familiar face due to his appearances at Downing Street press conferences, where he explains the science behind policy decisions.

The nation’s top medic was relatively unknown before the country was gripped by the coronavirus crisis.

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

– 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 there was widespread public outcry after details of the chief adviser’s trip to Durham with his family at the height of lockdown were revealed, seemingly in a high-profile breach of the rules.

He defended his actions at a press conference in the No 10 rose garden, claiming he went to Durham over childcare concerns and a trip to local beauty spot Barnard Castle was to test his eyesight after recovering from Covid-19.

The controversial figure left Downing Street at the end of this year 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 and Mr Cain also left.

– Marcus Rashford

While already a familiar face for football fans, Marcus Rashford made headlines this year over his child food poverty campaign which forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers.

After being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, the Manchester United star 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 striker, 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”, telling the PA news agency: “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 worldwide 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.