Who is Dr Jenny Harries: The Welsh wizard of coronavirus communication

Vogue called her our new “national treasure” and she has been winning plaudits as the standout communicator of the coronavirus emergency.

Dr Jenny Harries OBE is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer who stands in for her boss, Prof Chris Whitty, when he is unavailable to join the Prime Minister for the daily televised coronavirus briefing.

Recently Prof Whitty developed coronavirus symptoms himself and began self-isolating, so Dr Harries is getting rather more airtime and becoming a very familiar face.

Born in Monmouth, Dr Harries has had a stellar career and has been in her present role since July 2019.  She is widely believed to have a brain the size of a planet with qualifications in pharmacology, medicine, business administration, public health and health economics and, to cap it all, she’s a brilliant communicator.

So, what’s the secret of her success?

Commentators have called her “inspired” and “calm, collected and cool headed” but that’s only half the story.  Dr Harries has a clear, measured, reassuring tone which does not sound as if it has been carefully crafted by Dominic Cummings… and that’s because it hasn’t!

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries giving a daily Covid-19 press briefing
(Image: Getty Images)

She adopts a total focus on the latest facts and the most up-to-date science.  She has been criticised by some observers – and some doctors – for shifting her position on key issues, such as the speed at which the national lockdown should be applied.  But she would argue (along with John Maynard Keynes) that when the facts change, she changes her mind, and nobody would disagree that our understanding of coronavirus is changing on a daily basis.

At one of the recent Downing Street briefings, Dr Harries even got into a little lighthearted “relationship counselling” advising couples who lived in separate households to remain in separate homes or to “test the strength of their relationship” and move in together.

Writing in Vogue, Phoebe Luckhurst made the point that “it takes diplomacy – and a mind like a steel trap – to speak plainly about epidemiology without condescending.”

At this time of chaos and confusion, Jenny Harries is the woman you want calling the shots.  She’s clearly on the side of the patient and the public.

John Underwood is Executive Director of Freshwater UK, the Cardiff-headquartered communications consultancy

She is the composed embodiment of trust and, whether you love him or loathe him, you have to give Boris Johnson credit for recognising that, when you stand in front of a lectern for a televised briefing on coronavirus, it’s wise to be flanked by a couple of scientists like Jenny Harries.

Put simply, it boils down to this.  With Jenny Harries, you have a real sense of what-you-see-is-what-you-get.  You’d feel safe buying a second-hand car from her and you would know the milometer hadn’t been clocked.

John Underwood is Executive Director of Freshwater UK, the Cardiff-headquartered communications consultancy. He is also Director of the Centre for Health Communication Research, Bucks New University

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