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Dr Christian Jessen: 'Most celeb blogs are simply guff'

Dishing out medical advice made him famous, but TV's Dr Christian Jessen can't stand unqualified 'stars' styling themselves as experts

By Gemma Dunn

Dr Christian is pondering over what he'd consider the best piece of advice he's ever received - and eventually settles on a few teachers from his schooldays.

"I'm not a team player. I was always a little bit eccentric and I wanted to do my own thing, which was usually completely the opposite of what everyone else wanted to do," begins the telly doc.

"I was an odd child, put it that way, and it was the teachers who encouraged that who had the most profound effect on me.

"It's important to teach kids that individuality of spirit. Individuality should be encouraged, celebrated. There's too much pressure to conform to the same bland, grey mass and that upsets me. I like technicolour and that's what life is - it's multi-variant and technicolour."

Usually the one dishing out the advice, Jessen - dressed in trademark bright purple jumper and grey checked trousers - is in good spirits, despite a quick shriek when the subject of his 40th birthday, which he celebrated on March 4, is broached.

And despite admitting to not taking his own advice on board ("I'm very much a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of person"), it's easy to see why people open up to this TV personality, whose sincerity explains why Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize vs Superskinny proved such huge hits.

Luckily for viewers, his latest TV project is cut from the same caring cloth. Dr Christian Will See You Now is an eight-part series, set in a state-of-the-art clinic fitted with a fixed camera rig, that follows Jessen as he diagnoses, counsels and treats a variety of patients, in addition to supporting their loved ones, too.

"We've all seen illnesses, but the effect they have on people and their partners and relationships is really quite profound, and can get really out of control," he says.

"It's the bit, I suppose, you think you can't talk to your doctor about, but actually, it should be what we do. And if we did manage that better, we would do better for our patients and they would face their conditions very differently and more positively. The big revelation often in this show is (patients) come in with a medical problem that's really a manifestation of troubles within."

He recognises that shining a torch on mental health in such a way might raise eyebrows, however. "There's no criticism of medicine there. But I do have a criticism of the way the system makes us practise things. I have the luxury of time, which busy NHS doctors don't. How on earth can a GP possibly, in the eight minutes they have to see their patients, do the best for that patient? And that's not the fault of the GP, it's the fault of the ridiculous system we've got. If I could change anything, it would be to give patients 20 minutes with their GPs, or longer."

Can he see that happening? "We're our own worst enemy!" he exclaims, chuckling. "What really frustrates me is the way that you cannot criticise the NHS. It is a sacred, wonderful thing that must stay exactly as it is, which is just perverse and will kill it.

"It needs radically to be overhauled and changed, but you're not allowed to do that and if I say anything vaguely critical, there's the whole social media thing. I don't have a 'Save our NHS' badge on my Twitter page on purpose, because I actually think that while the sentiment's great, the end point is frightening."

Celebrities using their starry status to speak out on delicate issues could also spell disaster, he says.

"You need to be aware of what you don't know - and not enough people are," quips the academic, who graduated in 2000 from University College London, having trained in general medicine, infectious disease, travel medicine and sexual health/HIV.

"I'm going to name names and say someone like Gwyneth Paltrow, who writes utter guff on her blog that is just painful to read. I wish she would stick to what she knows, which is a horrible, slightly misogynistic and patronising thing to say, but it's also true."

Is he ever off-duty? "I don't think you ever can be," Jessen says, grinning. "If it's not family and friends ringing me up all the time with issues, it's people in the street or in the bar. But in a way, it's quite a privilege to have people trust you and want to ask your advice.

"The awkward thing is when patients come and see me in the clinic and then want a selfie afterwards. I hate that.

"Clearly, I'd like Dr Christian Will See You Now to do well, but it's not an ego thing. I was really proud of the massive noise Embarrassing Bodies made and I'm very aware of the controversies, but I'd like this to be the more grown-up next stage."

  • Dr Christian Will See You Now, Channel W, Wednesday, 9pm

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