Nobody had heard of Captain Sir Tom Moore before Covid.
It was during the first lockdown that the 99-year-old caught the public imagination. There was something poignant about the frail, bent figure, still smart in a navy blazer, and with his war medals on proud display, doggedly walking laps of his garden to raise money for NHS charities.
The donations poured in. Before he passed away earlier this week, aged 100, Captain Tom had raised almost £33m. No wonder he has been hailed as a hero, an inspiration - and above all, a national treasure.
To be a national treasure, you must embody the perceived ideals of a nation: what it means to be great. The BBC obituary for Captain Tom summed it up: "With stubbornness, courage and optimism, he was the right man at the right time. He was Britain as it needed to see itself: selfless, patriotic and undefeated - and never taking a backward step."
Essentially, the national treasure loses their own identity and turns into an emblem, a cause, an icon. Captain Tom became a very powerful, deeply emotive emblem of nationhood, with which politicians were keen to align themselves.
Witness the national clap in his memory presided over by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday evening. Yes, it was framed as a tribute and many joined in to pay their respects. But Mr Johnson was no doubt hoping that some of the public affection would rub off on himself. Anything to distract from his woeful handling of the pandemic.
While Captain Tom's fundraising achievements were extraordinary, we must remember that the NHS itself is not a charity. It is a huge, bureaucratic and radically underfunded health care system. The brave frontline staff work wonders, driving themselves to the point of exhaustion, doing the best with what they've got.
It is the government's duty, on our behalf, to provide the NHS with sufficient staff and resources to do what a national health system is supposed to do: protect the public, even in the event of a pandemic. Not vice versa, with the public instructed to protect the NHS - and in some tragic cases, paying with their own lives.
That Captain Tom died with Covid added yet another layer of poignancy to his passing. But according to his family, the pensioner had regularly tested negative for Covid until he went to hospital suffering from pneumonia, where he stayed 10 days.
It was only on the day of his discharge from hospital that he tested positive for Covid. This may indicate that Captain Tom caught the virus while in hospital - a so-called nosocomial infection, which is far more common that the authorities would like to admit.
That the hero may have died with an infection contracted within the NHS itself, the very institution he sought to support during all those hours he spent shuffling along with his walking frame - that is a much darker story than the officially-approved narrative.
Here in Northern Ireland, the idea of who or what should be considered a national treasure is inevitably a divisive one. To state the obvious, we are not a nation - we're a small, argumentative and politically divided statelet. We can never agree on who our shared heroes should be, with the result that we don't really have any.
In some ways this is a lack. During the pandemic, we haven't had anyone like Captain Tom to bring us together, inspiring hope and uniting us in a shared sense of endeavour. Certainly, we can applaud the captain's achievements, if we're not too blinkered by bigotry - for some, those gleaming medals on the war veteran's chest mean that nothing he could do would be worthy of admiration.
But we have nobody of our own to rally the troops, as it were.
In other ways, perhaps it is a good thing.
The British actor Judi Dench, now 86, is often described as a national treasure, and she absolutely hates it. In a recent interview she explained how she feels suffocated by the unasked-for label. "Do you know what it's like?" she said. "It's like they've picked me up and put me inside a little glass-fronted cabinet. Then they've locked the door so I can't get out."
The problem with national treasures is that the public adoration of them says more about who the people of a country want to be, rather than who they actually are. It's about myth-making rather than truth-telling - the human equivalent of a flag, or banner.
Captain Tom served his country well to the very end.
But we cannot allow hero-worship to blind us to the complicated, uncomfortable nature of reality.