UK Communicators of the Year 2021 (numbers 10-6) revealed by PRWeek

Who got their message across most effectively in this tumultuous year?

Read on for the third instalment of PRWeek's countdown of the UK's best communicators of 2021, compiled by the editorial team. PR professionals are excluded – our focus is individuals from other walks of life, whether that's politics, entertainment, business or something else.

The list is, of course, entirely subjective, but we hope it contains a few surprises and plenty to think about. Today, we reveal the entries ranked 10 to six. The remainder will be published in the days ahead, so stay tuned…

10. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer

England’s deputy chief medical officer appears to have taken the public messaging reins from Professor Chris Whitty during 2021.

Over the spring and summer months, Jonathan Van-Tam skilfully steered the COVID-19 narrative away from a tone of crisis and lockdown and away from daily briefings about the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

He has become a household name, known as a reassuring, straight-talking and authoritative speaker most observers would want as their own GP.

Van-Tam has universal appeal and regularly uses simple metaphors – often involving football or trains – to get his message and often complex scientific points across in a way that is simplified, accessible and useful for ordinary people.

He’s even been a popular discussion point on the Mumsnet forum, is widely regarded as media savvy and is rarely caught on the hop, usually anticipating and preparing for questions from the press.

Since the UK largely came out of lockdown in spring, briefings to news channels and political shows talked up the success of the vaccine rollout and centred on life returning to some sort of working normality and ‘learning to live with COVID-19’.

But Van-Tam has been notable in warning those sceptical about getting vaccinated to seek advice from health professionals, not social media or dubious influencers. And given their influence on parts of the British public, he notably briefed Premier League footballers about vaccination, which resulted in most deciding to get the jabs.

In a video call, he told leading players that he was not "going to mince words" and instead give them the "scientific facts they need" to convince them to get vaccinated. A lifelong Boston United FC fan and season ticket-holder, he even administered the vaccine jab to a couple of the club’s star players himself.

9. Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets

In the wake of the shocking kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by the former serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, Jamie Klingler became a powerful voice expressing anger about violence against women and girls, as well as the apparent inability of the Metropolitan Police to do enough to prevent it – or indeed to tackle misogyny within its own ranks. Klingler said women have been ignored or made to feel invisible by the Met when they have demanded protection from harassment, domestic violence and rape in society.

She condemned Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick’s decision to send officers in to “manhandle women attending a peaceful vigil” held in the aftermath of Everard's murder, and said women were sick of hearing Dick express concern and instead wanted action taken now. Meanwhile, the group Klingler co-founded – Reclaim These Streets – demands that women should be safe “regardless of what we wear, where we walk, or what time of day or night it is”, and said it will continue to speak out about harassment, misogyny in society, and educating men and boys to be part of the solution.

8. Marcus Rashford, footballer

The Manchester United forward, who we judged overall Communicator of the Year in 2020, makes the longlist again this year for his continued campaign to support vulnerable children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Marcus Rashford received an MBE from Prince William in recognition of his interventions for the cause and collected the award at a ceremony in Windsor Castle, joined by his mother Melanie.

The striker dedicated the MBE to his mother and promised to continue his campaigning.

He said: “It seems like there's a lot going on, but for me to put it in the simplest way – I'm trying to give children the things I didn't have when I was kid. If I did have, I would have been much better off and had many more options in my life.”

Rashford speaks from the heart of his lived experience of growing up in poverty with a message that is compelling and clear. He grew up with his mum in a single-parent family that did not have enough income to provide every meal of the day. The footballer has shown his authenticity, humility, caring, calmness and steely determination to help children.

In 2021 he has continued to campaign on issues around child food poverty and created a task force working with major food brands and supermarkets

The Food Foundation spearheads the End Child Food Poverty Coalition – a group of more than 30 third sector organisations that support Rashford’s call for the Government to improve the diets and food access of children in low-income families.

And by raising £20m in donations for his campaigning, he also became the youngest person to top The Sunday Times Giving List.

His mother Melanie has supported his drive for social change with her own work in local food banks in Manchester.

7. Michaela Coel, actor

Actor, screenwriter, director and producer Michaela Coel – now probably best known as the creator and star of the critically acclaimed series I May Destroy You – has spoken out on injustice for several years. As her star rose further this year, the trend continued, and Coel used bigger platforms at high-profile awards ceremonies to speak out.

In her acceptance speech at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards in March, she thanked the women to help in her success, including Tarana Burke, "the pioneer of the #MeToo movement”. Even more powerful was the Londoner's Emmys acceptance speech in September, in which she dedicated her award to “every single survivor of sexual assault” – one of the topics of I May Destroy You.

6. Azeem Rafiq, cricketer

Before this year few non-cricket fans had heard of Azeem Rafiq, yet his stand against the racism he and some fellow teammates experienced at Yorkshire Cricket Club became one of the biggest national stories during the autumn and winter of 2021.

Born in Pakistan and moving to England in 2001, Rafiq grew up in Barnsley in South Yorkshire, playing for school and county sides before going on to become a leading player and captain of Yorkshire.

He had first raised concerns about incidents of racism in 2018 following the stillbirth of his first child, but it took the club until early September 2020 to discuss the claims. Over the past 12 months Rafiq expanded on his initial allegations and made reference to specific instances of racist language being used by both employees of Yorkshire and supporters, of a culture which isolated Muslim players at the club and of a lack of development support for younger Asian players.

The case rumbled on until, at the beginning of September 2021, MPs applied pressure to YCC and the England and Wales Cricket Board to investigate Rafiq’s allegations more thoroughly. This culminated in YCC chairman Roger Hutton resigning in early November, followed by the resignation of club chief executive Mark Arthur, whom Rafiq had been critical of, on 11 November.

Rafiq's powerful spoken evidence in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in November grabbed TV headlines and positioned him as an eloquent campaigner against hidden racism in modern Britain.

It then emerged that Rafiq had used antisemitic language in Facebook messages with another cricketer in 2011 when he was 19. He issued an unreserved apology for the messages, saying that he was "ashamed" and "a different person today". More recently, Rafiq was filmed meeting a Holocaust survivor, which appears to have won him back support from the Jewish community.

Read: UK communications of the year 2021 (numbers 15-11)

Read: UK communicators of the year 2021 (numbers 20-16)

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in