Read on for the final instalment of PRWeek's countdown of the UK's 20 best communicators of 2021, compiled by the editorial team. PR professionals are excluded – our focus included 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 has contained a few surprises and plenty to think about.
1. Gareth Southgate, England football manager
This year the England men's football team enjoyed its best result in an international tournament since 1966. But arguably the most towering performance came from a man who hung up his playing boots in 2006.
Since his early days in the famously "impossible job", Gareth Southgate has shown his skills as a supremely impressive communicator, in addition to being a very decent motivator and tactician. As we wrote after the 2018 World Cup, his likeable, respectful and modest manner seemed to have set the tone for the players, who acted with an almost unprecedented sense of togetherness – and lacked the arrogance sometimes associated with the "golden generation" of players a decade or so earlier.
Humble, authentic, articulate, intelligent and principled were words we used to describe Southgate as Euro 2020 finally got into full swing in July 2021.
In the weeks leading into the Euros, Southgate displayed decisive leadership by backing his players in taking the knee, clearly explaining the reasons why it was important to them despite a chorus of boos from some fans, politicians and the "anti-woke" brigade.
The manager's much-publicised pre-tournament letter to the nation was pitch-perfect: a heartfelt, personal account of his feelings about national pride and identity in modern, multicultural England. He also used the letter to ably defend his own players from the "false narrative" that they are "uncaring millionaires", and carefully explained how online hate, particularly racism, affects footballers and broader society alike.
Southgate elucidated a vision of patriotism that was both respectful of the past and supportive of an inclusive, progressive future; something sadly few political leaders have managed.
There was further evidence this year that the 51-year-old is adept at swerving potential banana skins when speaking to the media. Asked about the involvement of fizzy drinks firms in football sponsorship, after Christiano Ronaldo famously removed Coca-Cola bottles at a Euro 2020 press conference, Southgate's reasoned and persuasive response focused on the important role such companies play in funding the game at the grassroots level while acknowledging the UK's obesity problem and stressing the need for moderate consumption.
Empathetic is another fitting epithet for the former central defender. The picture of the cerebral Southgate – who previously was probably best-known for the missed penalty that knocked England out of Euro 96 – comforting Colombia’s Mateus Uribe after his own spot-kick miss at the 2018 World Cup was an enduring image of that tournament. It's a quality we saw time and time again this year. To give just one, low-key example from November: see how he started answering a question about Steven Gerrard's appointment as the new Aston Villa boss by expressing his thoughts for Gerrard's sacked predecessor, Dean Smith:
Football may not have quite 'come home' in 2021, but with the country feeling more disunited than ever, through his comms and leadership prowess Southgate and his Three Lions offered what was needed: hope, and – whisper it – pride.