With a brand new series of Embarrassing Bodies airing tonight, Redbrick TV took some time out to talk to Dr Christian Jessen, who became a household name after the first series aired in 2007. Now a star in his own right, he also fronts Supersize vs Superskinny for Channel 4, a show aimed at changing the nation’s eating habits. Here is a snippet of the interview, which will be published in full in the next issue of Redbrick.
Hi Dr Christian! What are you up to at the moment?
I’m filming another series of Embarrassing Bodies which seems to be this ongoing juggernaut of a series – we seem to just be doing more and more and more. It’s doing so well, it’s extraordinary!
Have you been surprised by the success of Embarrassing Bodies?
I have to say yes, if I’m honest. I remember making the first series and thinking – who’s going to be interested in looking at verruccas and piles?! For GPs, it’s the sort of things you see all day long that don’t excite you much, really, and I thought people might find it dull. But I got that quite wrong! I try and approach the show with a sense of humour but without ever laughing at the patients or their conditions, which is also part of its success. It’s not preachy: it’s entertaining.
What is the worst thing you’ve ever had to deal with?
Well I don’t recoil very much from things, but I remember seeing the most horrendously advanced case of hidradenitis suppurativa, which is a kind of chronic rotting infection of the sweat glands. His whole armpits were rotting away and I remember him lifting up his armpits and great lumps of skin were dropping off and he had blood pouring down his sides. I mean, that was pretty horrific.
How important are your shows for the British public?
I see Embarrassing Bodies as a much needed role – I’m now the face of Channel 4 health, and while it was all a bit of fun initially, it had to happen sooner or later. Medics are pretty crap at communicating generally, and if we have managed to get messages out, it has been done in a very dry and very preachy way. I’m very much committed to bringing health information and advice to the public in a way that they will actually listen to and get something out of, and that’s why I’m so proud of Embarrassing Bodies: because it’s done just that.
You often use Twitter to discuss topical health issues. Would you encourage others in the public eye to do the same?
Absolutely- I think Twitter’s a great thing, I’m a really big fan. People often accuse me of starting arguments on it but I choose to respond to people – I could just leave it. I like getting people thinking and debating and discussing, and doing so really gets the public interacting and debating heavy issues like changing the abortion laws. Admittedly, I play devil’s advocate sometimes and take a view I know people will object to just to invite comments, but again, that means we’re talking about public health and raising awareness.
Has anyone ever asked for an autograph after a medical exam?
Always! Normally they have the consultation and say ‘ooh, can I just get a quick photo with you?’ That’s part and parcel really, it’s something I’ve come to expect.
Do you think you could ever go back to being a specialist full time and end your television commitments now that you’ve had a taste of fame?
I’ve always said that my clinic comes first and my doctoring work takes priority – TV does not. First and foremost, I trained to be a doctor: I like being a doctor and I like seeing my patients. The TV came along afterwards as a rather fortuitous bit of fun which I now genuinely see as a useful role, but if I have to go back to clinic and do what I’ve always done, I will. And that’s that!
The new series of Embarrassing Bodies begins tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm