Press play to listen to this article
Voiced by artificial intelligence.
LONDON — Through the chaos of Brexit, COVID-19 and Tory regicide, there’s been one reassuring constant: Matt Hancock in the news.
Sometimes of his own making, but often not, the former health secretary tends to find himself the center of attention.
Currently, he’s riding out days of coverage about his handling of the pandemic, after a journalist to whom he handed thousands of his WhatsApp messages for his memoirs decided to … pass them on to a newspaper.
Here are seven times Hancock has ended up in the spotlight:
Sack to the future
A fresh-faced Hancock had his first unwanted experience with the spotlight when he failed to look behind him during a photoshoot.
Looming over the then-minister for skills in the 2014 pic — taken as part of an interview with Total Politics magazine — was a clear-as-day piece of graffiti about his boss at the time: “Sack Cameron!”
David Cameron clearly didn’t mind the gaffe so much — given he actually promoted Hancock to minister for business a week later.
Westminster was left bemused when Hancock — then the digital minister, in fairness — launched the Matt Hancock App in 2018 as a way of engaging with his constituents.
The app, in theory, promised to rival Twitter and Facebook as the social network of the future.
In practice, it was plagued with data usage worries and was permanently shuttered in 2022. But we’ll always have the memories.
The COVID year
When he was appointed as health secretary in 2018 under Theresa May, Hancock can’t have imagined the center-stage role running the government’s response to a global pandemic that would follow two years later.
He became a household name, regularly helming prime-time COVID press conferences while the virus raged. He was known as a key advocate for stricter rules in the government, often sparking rows with the more skeptical Boris Johnson.
Hancock also repeatedly clashed with Dominic Cummings, the former PM’s combative one-time chief aide.
Cummings used an appearance at a parliament committee hearing to suggest that “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die” during the early days of the pandemic under Hancock’s control, and that the former health secretary should have been fired for “15 to 20” different things.
He was eventually fired, but not for any of the reasons Cummings suggested.
Hancock was forced to quit his high-profile government job after it emerged he had broken coronavirus rules he helped to write.
The Sun newspaper published in 2021 photographs of the married Hancock engaged in a kiss with his aide Gina Coladangelo, while the U.K. was still following strict social distancing regulations.
To date, he has not held another job in government. Coladangelo and Hancock are now a couple.
Hancock hoped to get back into government when Rishi Sunak entered Downing Street in October last year.
After it became clear that wasn’t going to happen — when Sunak completely ignored Hancock outside No. 10 — he decided against life as a normal backbench MP.
Instead, Hancock jetted off to the Australian jungle to take part in the reality show “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here.”
Over two weeks of grueling camp life with other celebrities, Hancock faced down several snakes, took part in karaoke and ate “willy con carne” — a camel’s penis. “Soft and crunchy,” was his verdict on the appendage.
Hancock would finish third on the reality show, while his profile on social media apps such as TikTok grew thanks to his TV time.
His animal-genital-gorging escapades came with a heavy price, however. Hancock lost the Tory whip before he’d even landed in Australia.
Amid the local criticism, he eventually announced he wouldn’t stand again as an MP at the next election.
In December last year, Hancock released “Pandemic Diaries,” an inside account of his experiences during the pandemic.
Before his entrance into the jungle, Hancock had announced plans to publish the diaries, despite earlier directly denying he was planning a memoir when asked by POLITICO.
Written with the anti-lockdown journalist Isabel Oakeshott (more on her in a bit), the book charted the former health secretary’s experience of pushing for tighter lockdown restrictions.
Hancock gave Oakeshott access to thousands of his WhatsApp text messages from the time to help her write the book. Should be fine, he (potentially) mused.
Reviews were mixed. The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff argued that the diaries were clearly written after the fact, allowing Hancock to seem “brilliantly prescient.” Tim Stanley in the right-leaning Telegraph compared Hancock’s tone in the book to the cringe-comedy character Alan Partridge.
Needless to say, Hancock did not have the last laugh.
The Hancock leaks
On Tuesday evening, Hancock heard rumors that a big story about him was brewing.
The concerned MP texted his co-author Oakeshott, asking her if she had “any clues” about what was going on. Oakeshott didn’t reply.
Her reason for ignoring Hancock became clear when the Daily Telegraph published their Lockdown Files investigation — all of which is based on around 100,000 of Hancock’s own WhatsApp messages, which Oakeshott had passed on to the newspaper without Hancock’s knowledge or permission.
The newspaper is expected to publish stories about Hancock and the government’s handling of the pandemic relating to the material in the texts for days to come.
Hancock is now embroiled in a war of words with Oakeshott, whom he accused Thursday of a “massive betrayal.” The journalist said Thursday that Hancock sent her a “menacing” text at 1.22 a.m., something his team denies.
“You have made a big mistake,” Hancock texted Oakeshott.
Mistake or not, the leak thrust Hancock back into the spotlight — where he always seems to end up.