People of the year: the heroes and villains of 2021

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  • Sarah Gilbert
    British vaccinologist
 (Evening Standard comp)
(Evening Standard comp)

It’s been a funny old year, and definitely not in the ha-ha sense.

We started it with high hopes. We’re ending it with said hopes not merely dashed, but in shreds. Tatters. Pieces. What’s that sound? It’s your heart breaking as you cancel another arrangement. It’s your stomach churning as you fear for the health and safety of your loved ones. It’s your knuckles cracking as you steel yourself for another round of home-schooling. It’s your soul departing as you stare disconsolately into the fridge and realise you can’t even have turkey for Christmas dinner because you’re isolating and the city ran out of home delivery slots in October.

But never mind: there are people who have had it much worse. And there are people who have had it much better. Strange times deserve strange heroes and villains, and 2021 has certainly given us those. Here’s our round-up.

Heroes

Strictly

The 19th season gave us the finale the nation needed: uplifting, dramatic, emotional and inclusive. All three finalists were brilliant, even if an injury prevented AJ Odudu from competing, forcing her to bow out early with dignity and grace. All over the country, viewers cried happy tears, either because they were drunk on Baileys, strung-out by the year from hell or emotional because, after a lifetime of invisibility, they finally saw themselves represented on primetime TV. 12.3million people watched Rose Ayling-Ellis beat John Whaite, but both were winners.

Champion: Rose Ayling-Ellis (PA)
Champion: Rose Ayling-Ellis (PA)

The Oxford Vaccine team

What did you achieve this year? Well done for getting your sourdough starter to raise and everything, but bow down to Professor Sarah Gilbert and team for being among the first in the world to develop a vaccine against Covid 19. At 7.30am on January 4th, 82 year-old Brian Pinker became the first person to receive the Oxford AstraZeneca vax, paving the way for millions of Brits to be protected, and untold lives to be saved.

Oprah

For giving us the most compelling interview of the year, and the best catchphrase. ‘Were you silent, or were you silenced?’ The nation debated which category Meghan Markle fell into, as millions watched she and Prince Harry’s first televised interview since quitting the UK.

Warts and all: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry talk to Oprah (AP)
Warts and all: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry talk to Oprah (AP)

Gareth Southgate

Everyone needs a Gareth figure in their life: someone who will weather the storm, calm the nerves, encourage the doubters, stand up to the haters and display the best of British stoicism. Not only did he lead England to the Euro semi-finals: he tirelessly supported every member of the team, standing side by side with them in the rain, a stoical Jesus in a raincoat. “It’s just not what we stand for,” he said of the abhorrent racism his black players experienced. “We heal together as a team.”

Soma Sara

For founding Everyone’s Invited, the platform that allows people to call out unacceptable behaviour in schools across the UK via anonymous submissions. It gave victims a voice, and shone a much-needed spotlight on the extent and severity of the issue. In a year in which violence against women has been particularly egregious, Soma, 22, was a powerful advocate for change.

Virgil Abloh

The tragic and untimely death of Virgil Abloh at 41 sparked tributes so heartfelt that it was highly moving to read them. Not only was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton a talented creative: he was one of the nicest, kindest and most sincere people you could meet. He raised people up. We should all be more Virgil.

Gone too soon: Virgil Abloh sadly passed away this year (Kim Kardashian West INSTAGRAM)
Gone too soon: Virgil Abloh sadly passed away this year (Kim Kardashian West INSTAGRAM)

Emma Raducanu

Came out of nowhere to win the US Open Women’s Singles aged 18, and was promptly canonized for her incredible skill, grit, determination and positive attitude, eventually winning Sports Personality of the Year. Projected to become a billionaire, but so down to earth that you know it’ll always be her tennis that matters most.

Marcus Rashford

He topped the philanthropy list by raising £20million in donations, helped charity FareShare distribute four million meals to vulnerable children, forced a series of government U-turns over free school meals, launched a charity to ensure every child has access to their own book, stood up to racism, bagged an MBE, oh, and played a bit of football as well. A total king.

Back of the net: Marcus Rashford received an MBE for services to vulnerable children (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
Back of the net: Marcus Rashford received an MBE for services to vulnerable children (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Tom Daley

For winning a gold at the Tokyo Olympics, yes, but also for being so open about his sexuality, his relationship with his body and food, his support of LGBTQ rights and for saying that in five years’ time, he’d like to have a successful knitwear business. Absolute goals.

Italy

Started the year blighted by one of the worst Covid infection rates in Europe. Ended it with a slew of triumphs. Not only did Italy win the Euros: Giovanni Pernice won Strictly, Guiseppe Dell’Anno won Bake Off and Maneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest. Take that, France.

Villains

Elon and Jeff

While most of us spent the year trying to avoid home schooling and imminent death, two of the world’s wealthiest and most hubristic men have spent it embroiled in bitter rivalry. Are they battling to be the first to save the planet, broker world peace or stop starving children going hungry? Nah. They’ve spunked millions on their respective space exploration firms - Small Dick Energy and Tiny Pee Pee - to see whose rocket will conquer the final frontier.

Salt Bae

For having the temerity to charge £660 for a steak in the new London outpost of Nusr-Et, his global restaurant chain. For having the added temerity to charge £100 for a burger and £9 for a Diet Coke. For sprinkling salt on his hairy forearm, and posting the pic on Insta. For being branded an “insult to humanity” on Trip Advisor. Read the Evening Standard’s scathing review here.

Cheeky: Salt Bae (AFP via Getty Images)
Cheeky: Salt Bae (AFP via Getty Images)

GB News

It launched in June to great fanfare, but ended the year with 1,000 viewers and the resignation of lead presenter Andrew Neil. Guess that’s what happens when you give airtime to Nigel Farage, fail to screen out prank callers, misread the mood on cancel culture and mis-spell your guests’ names. Special mention to the prank caller Mike Oxlong, btw.

Christine Quinn

You’d have to go some to become Selling Sunset’s most hated cast member, yet in Season 4, Christine took the crown. “A little bit cold but always honest” is how the realtor describes herself, and judging by her shade-filled confessionals, love of drama and penchant for acting like Regina George, we’d have to agree. Although anyone who throws Botox and burger parties isn’t all bad.

Boss bitch: Selling Sunset’s Christine Quinn (Selling Sunset)
Boss bitch: Selling Sunset’s Christine Quinn (Selling Sunset)

Matt Hancock

For inflicting on the nation a sight it can never unsee, and a level of hypocrisy it can never forgive. Bonus points for allegedly waking up his sleeping kids to tell them he was leaving the marital home.

50 Cent

Nobody puts Madonna in the corner. Or under a bed with her butt in the air. Unless it’s Madonna herself - but when she posted the pic on Insta, it inspired a thousand memes and an epic putdown from 50 Cent, who slammed her for ‘trying to do like a virgin at 63. She shot out, if she don’t get her old a** up’. Madonna clapped back, calling him a ‘pretend friend’. Not cool to be ageist, Fiddy.

Still got it: Madonna (Madonna Instagram)
Still got it: Madonna (Madonna Instagram)

Ben Affleck

For blaming his ex-wife Jennifer Garner for his alcoholism, saying he’d felt ‘trapped’ in their marriage and would ‘still be drinking’ if he hadn’t divorced her. As yet, there’s no word on how ‘trapped’ Jennifer feels being left raising their three kids, or how she copes with having been married to such a massive bellend without hitting the gin. Frailty, thy name isn’t woman.

France

No matter how much we heart its culture and its croissants, this was the year that Brits were finally forced to accept that France doesn’t like us. Hates us, actually. We might be united by the channel tunnel, but we are divided by erratic Covid-related travel bans that can’t help but feel personal. Nulle points for Anglo-French relations this year.

Low blow: Succession’s Tom Wambsgans (Graeme Hunter)
Low blow: Succession’s Tom Wambsgans (Graeme Hunter)

Tom Wambsgans

Unctuous, desperate, a master of self-debasement and a villain of most pious stealth. He stiffed - SPOILER ALERT - his own wife, even though she deserved it.

Variants

For ruining a second Christmas. For bankrupting businesses. For making loved ones die alone. Take your mutations and be off with you. Permanently.

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