The Deputy Chief Medical Officer is well-known for his creative turns of phrase – now it seems he’s lent his hand to visual theatre as well
Jonathan Van-Tam stunned viewers of a TV lecture by ripping off his shirt and tie in a cloud of smoke… to reveal another shirt underneath.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer stood at a mock No10 podium for the start of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, aired on the BBC.
“Many of you may have seen me giving public health announcements from the podium at No10 Downing Street.
“But tonight is different!”, he proclaimed.
In a puff of fake smoke, his crisp shirt and tie vanished… only for his “dressed-down” gear to look almost exactly the same, without a tie.
“Tonight I’m speaking to you as a scientist and a doctor, not a government adviser,” he said.
The audience appeared briefly bemused by the visual joke – but quickly eased into the Christmas lecture about how viruses work.
Scientists proceeded to light a fuse to “blow open” a coronavirus, stretched out its genetic code on a piece of paper that spanned the entire lecture theatre, and illustrated the human body using a single, gigantic, blow-up hair that stretched to the ceiling.
It’s far from the first piece of theatre by Prof Van-Tam, who has become a cult figure for his creative analogies about the coronavirus pandemic.
Describing the ultra-cold storage of the Pfizer vaccine, he once retorted: “It’s not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times.”
Urging proportion ahead of July’s ‘Freedom Day’, he said: “Nothing reduces the risks to zero other than standing in a meadow completely on your own ad infinitum with nobody coming within three metres of you.”
In February, he told people getting tired of lockdown: “It’s a bit like being 3-0 up in a game and thinking ‘we can’t possibly lose’. But how many times have you seen the other side take it 4-3?”
And urging the public to hold on until more people were vaccinated, he oncesaid: “I don’t know if many of you are used to crawling into small tents on mountainsides.
“But if you do so and you know a storm’s going to come up in the night, it’s better to put some extra guy ropes on there and then, than it is to wait until it’s the middle of the night, it’s howling with wind and rain, and you’ve then got to get out your tent and make your tent secure and by the time you crawl back in you’re soaking wet”.
He described the arrival of a vaccine like a football match last year.
He said: It’s clear in the first half, the away team gave us an absolute battering, and what we’ve done now is it’s the 70th minute, they got a goal, and in the 70th minute we’ve now got an equaliser.
“Okay, we’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it.
“But the key thing is not to lose it, not to throw it away at this point because we’ve got a point on the board, and we’ve got the draw.”
He also compared it to landing a plane, saying in November 2020: “Do I believe we’re now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes, I think I do.
“Do I accept that sometimes when you’re on the glide path you can have a side wind and the landing is not totally straightforward – of course.
“And this is the real science world we live in. But yes, I think we’re on the glide path. Over.”