’I want to go back to being a normal human being’: Jonathan Van-Tam reflects on celebrity status

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27: Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a press conference at Downing Street on January 27, 2021 in London, England. Johnson told the House of Commons today that he hoped Schools would return on 8 March 2021. He also said travelers returning from 22 'red list' countries such as South Africa, South American countries and Portugal would have to isolate for ten days in hotels. (Photo by Geoff Pugh - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has become an unlikely celebrity during the pandemic. (Getty)

One of the lighter stories to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is Prof Jonathan Van-Tam's unlikely ascent to celebrity status.

The deputy chief medical officer for England has been a regular at coronavirus press briefings, where his colourful metaphors and sometimes blunt answers to journalists have seen his popularity soar over the months.

However, despite rumours he was being touted to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, Van-Tam – or JVT as he has affectionally come to have been known – said he wants to “just go back to being a normal human being”.

Van-Tam said his family found his celebrity status amusing – and told Good Morning Britain presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid he was primed for questions about whether he has a tattoo.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 16: Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam attends a virtual press conference on the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) developments at Downing Street on November 16, 2020 in London, England. UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock hosts today's virtual press conference on Coronavirus as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and five other MPs are self-isolating.  The five MPs and two aides met with MP Lee Anderson who has subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.  (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Jonathan Van-Tam is a regular sight at coronavirus press briefings. (Getty)

He said: “I’m primed for this because I think you’re very clever. I get up at seven o’clock and see what mood you two are in and see how much of a bashing I’m going to get at eight o’clock.

“Seriously, on tattoos, the subject does come up quite regularly in the Van-Tam household.

Watch: Jonathan Van-Tam's mother has COVID vaccine

“But it’s about whether, when the moment is right, when all this pressure is finished and maybe I’m in a quieter phase of my career, I’ll have a little left deltoid BUFC (for Boston United Football Club).”

The softly spoken professor regularly appears on television wearing pinstripe suits as he distils complex science into easily understandable language.

He has often drawn on metaphors to ensure his point is made, comparing the vaccine rollout to waiting for a train in the wind and rain, and the hope of an end to lockdown to penalties in a game of football.

Speaking in the past about his analogies, Van-Tam told BBC Breakfast: “I love metaphors. I think they bring complex stories to life for people. It’s great.”

Speaking on the week that Boris Johnson announced his road map to exit lockdown, Van-Tam said following pressure from a vocal group of Tory backbenchers to ease all restrictions by the end of April that it would be wrong to “blow it now”.

(left to right) Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, London. (Photo by John Sibley/PA Images via Getty Images)
Left to right: Jonathan Van-Tam, Boris Johnson and NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens during a media briefing on coronavirus. (Getty)

Van-Tam insisted the five-week gap between different stages is necessary to monitor the impact on infections, adding: “I would rather do this once and get it right and not have to make any U-turns.”

He said he understands people’s frustrations with the pace of the loosening of restrictions, adding: “I completely get it, I am desperate for the football to be back, but actually I would rather do this once and get it right and not have to make any U-turns or backtracking, I would rather just go slowly and steadily and get there in one go."

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown