People of the Year 2020

It has been quite a year. I was fully expecting to be picking out stars of the year from a bunch of Olympians who had won gold medals, but 2020 did not turn out quite as planned.

It would be easy to produce a list of this year utter see-you-next-Tuesdays, full of Johnsons, Foxes, Trumps and others, but for now let’s look at the people who made my year better.


The big science story of the year was obviously the pandemic, which brought out armchair virologists and epidemiologists in their thousands, happy to share their opinions on social media while being unable to even explain how an exponential function works or what T-cell actually is.

Amongst the noise and the politics, some names stand out. Prof Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh university has been a consistent clear voice on public health and behaviour.

We’re moving now to a point where vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are available, so my scientists of the year are the founders of Biontech who were first to get a working mRNA vaccine Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. To quote Hamilton (more of this later); “Immigrants, we get the job done”.


There’s little point looking to the superpower that was America for inspiration, as their current president continues to lie and stir up hatred. Closer to home, few of our own politicians have covered themselves in glory this year either, at least in the national stage. As last year, my top politician is Jacinda Ahern. Proof that a successful approach to a pandemic is to lock down hard and quickly, so that economic recovery can happen more quicker. The Asia-Pacific countries have been pretty good at this, unlike Europe and the USA.


If we were judging achievements outside of sport, then clearly Marcus Rashford, fo his work on school meals and reading, is ahead by a country mile. In January I would have been forecasting this year’s sports star would be someone like Dina Asher Smith or another Team GB track and field star. For consistent performance though, this has to go to Lewis Hamilton – 7 world championship titles, equalling Michael Schumacher, and a world beating 95 wins in Grands Prix.


There were few opportunities for cinema this year, with plenty of “big” movies having their release dates postponed, so a great year financially for streaming services. The Guardian has put “Parasite” as their number one film of the year, but my vote is for something a bit less international – “Lovers Rock” by Steve McQueen, still available on BBC iPlayer


I’ve never been a fan of musical theatre, but then in then in the spring, Disney added Hamilton to its streaming offer. Oh my word! Michelle Obama has described it as “the best art ‘I have ever seen in my life” and it has become the soundtrack to my year. . From a standout cast in the version available on Disney+, my pick from the musical is Renée Elise Goldsberry who plays Angelica Schuyler (now we all know that Eliza is really the star of the story – don’t @ me, you know it’s true). Have a hanky when you listen to Angelica sing  “It’s Quite Uptown”.


This year we lost one of the great authors of the English language. John le Carré wrote books that are not just spy thrillers, he says something about the human condition, about a world that is in shades of grey, not black and white. Over 30 years after I first read it, this year I bought a new copy of “A Perfect Spy” to read while away on a trip. If the smoke and mirrors of the Smiley books baffles, then read this – once again we see inside the British secret service, but the deceptions are of almost everybody and everything.

Looking ahead to 2021

It has to be better, sunlit uplands and all that?