Taking time from his busy schedule the charming, delightful and genuinely caring Doctor Christian Jessen tells us why the Olympics are inspirational, why STIs are not exclusive to the young and all about Cher’s boozed up twitter binges!
Thank you for giving us your time today, I believe you’re currently filming?
Yes I’m filming bits and bobs today for a new series of Embarrassing Bodies.
Were you surprised by the success of your programmes: Embarrassing bodies and Supersize Vs. Superskinny?
Yes massively. Supersize is very much a diet, weight and body image show which have always been fairly popular. Supersize is definitely new in the way that we do things and it’s rattled a few cages which I think is always good for telly. We look into eating disorders in quite a graphic and emotional way and that’s very important. Embarrassing bodies is the one that’s been the complete runaway surprise. I remember filming the first series and thinking God this is a bit dull, it’s verrucas and haemorrhoids not really stuff that excites GPs. I remember saying to one of the execs: “Hmm not sure we’ll be back for a second series.” I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong and I’m quite happy, proud and relieved to say that.
Do you ever get shocked at how many people want to show off their bits to the nation?
That is the million dollar question. Yes I’m shocked as I’m not sure that if I had a problem like that I’d try and get it sorted on telly. The show’s been on so long that a lot of people are very firm believers in it and want to be part of that whole raising awareness of their condition and experience. Others just haven’t got a great GP and they’re just a bit fed up so if coming on TV means they can get their chronic problem, which they’ve had for many years, sorted, then that’s fine by them.
They say you’re “un-shockable”, but has anyone walked into your clinic with something so bad you felt like leaving?
I’ve never felt like leaving, no, because that’s what I’ve trained to do but I’ve certainly been rattled by things.
You work a lot for promoting good sexual health. What advice would you give to someone who’s never had an STI test and is nervous about going?
I would say it’s going to be much easier than you think I promise you, particularly if you go to a GUM clinic where they do it all the time. I think you’ll find the rumours, the stories are very much urban myths and the reality is really very different. Most clinics have very nice non judgmental people working there and I think you’ll find it a really pleasant surprise. It’s totally painless. There may be a blood test involved and that means a little needle in the arm but that’s probably as bad as it gets.
Have you found a particular age bracket that takes more sexual risks and why do you think they do?
The new problem group at the moment is actually the 40-50 year olds who have probably been in long term relationships for quite a while then suddenly things go wrong and divorces come through. They’re then out dating again and not having a clue how to go about it or about safer sex practices so they are starting to pick things up. They’re really rather naive and actually don’t handle it very well, so that’s an important group we’re keeping our eye on. Unfortunately the younger generation still are doing what young people do and that is take risks and I think they always will. It’s the nature of being ‘the teen/twenty something’ they still live fast and hopefully not die young, but certainly take the risks associated with that.
Obviously, health is very important to you, so how do you manage to keep so fit during your busy schedules?
Oh by being a bit of an obsessive. I try to go to the gym at least 5 times a week because a) I enjoy it b) I like the result and c) I don’t think you can be on telly preaching health to a younger audience who can be quite critical about looks and what you’re wearing, if you don’t appear to follow your own advice. I feel very strongly that you need to look as though you know what you’re talking about and are putting it into action in your own life.
Will you be attending the Olympics in London?
I’m not, I haven’t got a ticket unfortunately though I think it’s a good thing. There are a lot of younger Olympians like Tom Daley and Amir Khan who are very influential and inspirational to young people and I’m really hoping something like this will motivate people a bit more.
I read your recent article for the Evening Standard about your high school experiences and the sad story about your friend Paul taking his own life due to struggling with his sexuality and feeling alone. What do we as a community need to do to stop something like this ever happening again?
I think the Stonewall programme, going around schools helping them sort out homophobic bullies and teaching them the skills to do so, is really important. Any programme like that is important to show that we mean it and that it’s not just another campaign that fizzles out. I think when you see homophobic bullying or hear something like that going on, don’t just shrug it off and go: “Oh that’s life.” ED. We agree and here’s the link to the Stonewall programme should you wish to get involved: www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school
Do you still find prejudice today being an openly gay doctor?
I certainly did when I was younger and training I remember being in hospitals with some consultants and hearing some really very homophobic comments about patients and just being really shocked and thinking: ‘actually we are the profession that should absolutely not be making these sort of judgements.’ This was really depressing and I swore from that moment that I was going to try and change that and be more of a friendly public face of health if not anything else.
You have 125,000 Twitter followers, give free advice to many a strange and wonderful question and have tweeted as much as Stephen Fry. Would you class yourself as a Twitaholic?
I am yes! I’m addicted to Twitter. I think it’s a fantastic medium where public experts can interact with the public in a nice way. Health is all about interacting with the public, and I have some simple rules. First of all it should be fun and the questions can’t be too specific. I don’t always answer them terribly seriously as you may have noticed but I do it because everyone can read them and learn something. I’ll tweet when I’m in the gym or travelling. You can stir up some wonderful campaigns and also have some very public arguments which other people can follow and I think that’s a good thing.
You have a book out at the moment ‘Can I just ask?’ (The 250+ curious questions that off-duty doctors are most often asked.) How does it make you feel to always be confronted with the publics’ problems when off-duty?
It’s very much part and parcel of being a doctor – you’re a doctor for 24 /7. Before telly I could lie about what I did so if you were on a plane journey and we got talking I would never admit to being a doctor because it would inevitably mean 8 hours of recounting the family and their health problems which you honestly don’t want. These days unfortunately I can’t lie about what I do as most people already know so I thought: ‘Let me put all these questions down then I could say “go read my book”.’ It seems to be quite a popular ‘loo book!’
Who’s you’re favourite person you follow on Twitter?
Oh oh oh. I tell you my favourite person to follow on twitter is Cher. If you ever follow Cher clearly she sits in a villa in Malibu getting pissed on something camp and then starts tweeting her followers and its really very funny. She gets very political or she goes on about Chaz. She’s well worth following particularly during one of her boozed up Twitter binges. They’re never vicious, they’re always rather charming and lovely. Never tweet when you’ve been having a drink.
Have you seen an increase in S.A.D. syndrome this summer due to the weather?
Oh yes definitely there’s no doubt about it people are a little bit grumpy, a little bit miserable, particularly in London with the lack of anything weather wise. A lot of people are going away over the Olympics to get some summer sun somewhere and hopefully they’ll find that should improve things.
What’s your favourite App?
Oh of course it has to be the ‘Embarrassing Bodies My Health Checker App’ doesn’t it. I had to say that didn’t I?
Have you set a date for your ‘big day’ with your partner yet?
ha ha ha no! I don’t even know if that’s going to happen, not for any other reason than I just haven’t really given it any thought at all.
Have you ever had an embarrassing illness?
Of course – plenty – yes!
Would you like to divulge?
Erm… no. I’ve tweeted about stuff. I was saying about having to look fit because you’re preaching fitness on the telly well I talk about sexual health and I talk about my early sexual experiences and I’ve certainly already admitted I’ve had chlamydia before as a student. That I think would count as an embarrassing illness in most peoples’ books.
What’s your favourite fruit?
Passion-fruit. Addicted to passion-fruit.
Question from the 60’s music icon Beryl Marsden, [read her interview here]
If you could be an ice-cream what flavour would you be and why?
Oh it would have to be a rich, dark chocolate flavour because that’s what I like best. Mmmm – Yes, a very rich unhealthy high cocoa content chocolate ice cream.