Who is Matt Hancock? A man who cares a great deal about campaigning for dyslexia, that’s who. For that, he explained this week, is the reason he has signed up for the latest series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, earning the fury of bereaved Covid families, the loss of the Conservative whip, and a fee estimated at £350,000.
With Hancock’s jungle adventure set to begin on Sunday, some may welcome a reminder of the man who led Britain’s Covid response as health secretary, until he was forced to resign over a workplace affair that broke his own Covid rules. Here are 10 notable moments in his career.
Matt Hancock the app
The first disgraced pandemic-era health secretary to volunteer to eat testicles on television has always been a pioneer. Take his decision in 2018 to launch his own app for mobile phones, teasingly entitled “Matt Hancock MP” and designed, he said in a cheery introductory video, to let users on Android and iOS “find out what’s going on both in my role as MP and as culture secretary … to tell me what you think, and to engage with others on issues that matter to you”.
Users may not, however, have intended to give “Matt Hancock MP” automatic access to their photo libraries, as an early glitch appeared to allow. Meanwhile, close observers noted that a quiet update during the Covid pandemic removed the facility allowing users to “Have Your Say”, after the app became what the Telegraph called “a haven for lewd pranksters”.
While Matt Hancock MP the man may be temporarily out of action, his namesake app is still going strong – although notably it bears no mention of his current whereabouts.
Politicians don’t have to be stuffy and boring – some can also vault over a low wall. That was the message of a video released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2018, showing Hancock, dressed for stealth in head-to-toe black, taking part in a brief snatch of the street sport parkour, alongside Sébastien Foucan, one of its pioneers.
“I’ve seen it on YouTube and it’s amazing, but you never think you can get involved, because I can’t do those kinds of flips,” he told the camera. “But it’s great fun and good exercise and you learn about your body and the environment you live in.”
Just think what could have been. In 2019, when the premiership of the last Tory leader but two went down in flames (Theresa May, keep up), Hancock put himself forward for the party leadership, casting himself as the strongly pro-business candidate in contrast to his rival Boris Johnson. Or as he told the Financial Times: “To the people who say ‘fuck business’, I say ‘fuck, fuck business’.”
He also took a bold and principled stance on arguments that Brexit could only be achieved by proroguing parliament, saying that to do so would go “against everything that those men who waded on to those beaches fought and died for, and I will not have it”.
He later pulled out of the leadership race after the first round, in which he received 20 votes. Odd, though, that he did not resign his seat in cabinet when Johnson indeed moved to prorogue parliament two months later, saying it “didn’t feel like” the same thing.
Britain’s Covid lockdown was four days old when Hancock, along with Johnson and the chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, all came down with the virus. Johnson was hospitalised and eventually admitted to intensive care; Hancock experienced “very mild symptoms” and had to self-isolate, but said: “I’ll be continuing to do everything I can to get our carers the support that they need, I’ll be doing that from here, but with no less gusto.”
The next week he was back at the Department of Health announcing a target of 100,000 Covid tests a day by the end of April 2020; on 1 May, he declared it had been reached, despite admitting that the figures included 39,000 tests that had been sent out but not processed.
Hancock’s actions during the pandemic will be fully examined in the Covid public inquiry, but Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s ousted senior aide, made a first attempt when addressing MPs last year.
Hancock as health secretary should have been sacked “almost every day”, Cummings said, due to “criminal” behaviour, for “lying to everybody on multiple occasions”, for setting the “stupid” target of 100,000 tests a day, and for being one of many government figures who performed “far, far disastrously below the standards which the country expects”.
Johnson’s spokesperson said at the time that he retained “full confidence” in Hancock, though a month later Cummings released texts from his former boss in which Johnson called Hancock “totally fucking hopeless”.
Hancock did not directly respond at the time, but it is possible his forthcoming memoir may differ from both accounts.
The pub landlord
In November 2020, the Guardian revealed that Alex Bourne, formerly the landlord of Hancock’s constituency local the Cock Inn, had won a contract supplying NHS testing equipment after he sent Hancock a personal WhatsApp message.
Bourne, whose business had previously manufactured takeaway cartons, and Hancock insisted he had gone through the proper channels.
Clinch with colleague
Social distancing regulations were essential to keeping the nation safe from Covid, Hancock stressed repeatedly during the pandemic. But dammit, you can’t fight love. And so it was that in May 2021, at a time when intimate contact was not permitted outside one’s immediate household, an office CCTV camera caught the married Hancock’s bald spot and his enthusiastic erotic fumble with an old friend he had appointed to his office, Gina Coladangelo.
Despite having previously described lockdown-busting sex as “a matter for the police”, the man they (inevitably) called “Matt Handjob” insisted he wouldn’t resign – until he eventually did, having come to the realisation that he “needed to be with my children”.
Hancock and the former lord chancellor Robert Buckland were apparently taking an innocent stroll through Hyde Park in January of this year when they spontaneously decided to strip to their pants to swim in the Serpentine lido, in full view of a conveniently situated Evening Standard photographer.
Widespread coverage of his post-ministerial musculature thus secured, Hancock emerged after a brief 20-metre swim only to earn himself a sharp reprimand from the Serpentine swimming club, insisting that its pool is open to members only.
Rishi Sunak is a man of “fine judgment”, Hancock wrote in July, explaining why he was supporting him as leader the last time the job was available. Interesting, then, that Sunak very pointedly declined to shake his former cabinet colleague’s hand while being applauded by Tory MPs after (finally) being elected, despite Hancock appearing to manoeuvre himself directly into the new PM’s eyeline. Perhaps Hancock had forgotten his hand sanitiser.
Life after ignominious resignation has been largely quiet for Hancock, featuring the end of his marriage, the odd interview, a spot of paintballing and repeated appearances in his favoured attire of jeans and polo necks.
His decision to take part in I’m a Celebrity was taken only last week, he told the Sun, and then only because “the government is stable”. “And no, it wasn’t the cheque” – or, presumably, because he is publishing his Pandemic Diaries in early December.
Spare a thought, however, for the producers of Channel 4’s SAS Who Dares Wins, who have reportedly already filmed the forthcoming series in which Hancock was supposed to be the “star signing”. “Everyone is pretty angry,” a source told the Sun.