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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The doctor will see you now

Dr. Christian Jessen, made famous by Supersize vs Superskinny and the not-for-the-squeamish Embarrassing Bodies seems absolutely unshockable. If you’ve got three testes, a purple boob or a claw for a hand, he’ll have seen it before. What’s more, he’ll be surprised you haven’t volunteered to show it to the nation on prime time channel four. But does he really never squirm at the sight of such shocking maladies?  “I suppose what shocks me is going to be different to what shocks you, or what shocks the public, you’re going to be shocked by yucky, yucky things while I’m going to be shocked by the implications behind them, rather than the actual thing itself. I’ve probably seen it before so that’s not going to have much effect anymore.”

“While I was working on Embarrassing Bodies, a little girl called Charlotte was brought to see us with a case of bad verrucas, she had been to see her GP who seemed to ignore it, and firstly, it was the most shocking case of verrucas I’ve ever seen, and secondly, I was shocked by the whole management behind her. She ended up having a bone marrow transplant.” He seems just as unsettled by the patient’s treatment as he is by her condition. “It was how bad this was and the fact that nobody had thought to ask, ‘maybe there’s an immune problem going on, and perhaps we ought to check it’. The thing that shocked me is, how the hell did that happen?”


‘It was the most shocking case of verrucas I had ever seen. She ended up having a bone marrow transplant’


Talking to a man who seems unfazed by everybody else’s body problems, I couldn’t help but ask, had Jessen has any embarrassing bodily malfunctions of his own? I half expected, or guiltily hoped for, a brazen confession of a mortifying, repugnant condition. Instead, “I got appendicitis, which I decided to ignore. So that was fairly embarrassing, but that was for other reasons because I knew exactly what it was, I just didn’t want to have appendicitis at that particular time”. While he jokes about trying to hide from his own diagnosis, he admits to what troubles him most. “I suppose my biggest issue is my body dysmorphia; my issues with weight. I obsess with the gym and my body weight and how I look. Not in a completely superficial way, but what I see in the mirror is not really how I look.” Now, I’ve seen his show where he swans around the beach of Marbella telling tourists to slather on the sun cream, and his body should not even be humanly achievable for a 44-year-old man. But he maintains, “I’ve had issues with that for a long time and I’m fully aware of it; I need to not weigh myself obsessively when I’ve been to the gym. Being on the telly obviously doesn’t help when people are commenting on how you look and your build and all the rest of it.”

So how did he wind up working on one of the most bizarrely compelling shows on the television? “It was like so many people in television, it’s a lucky break. You kind of say yes to things that sound like a bit of fun and it escalates from there.” Not only that, but he didn’t even plan to be a doctor. “I actually wanted to be a film director, but because I was academic my school sort of pushed me towards something more worthy, in their eyes. But to be honest at that age, you don’t have a clue do you?”

He went on to study medicine at UCL, about which he says, “I enjoyed parts, hated other parts and ended up as a doctor. But in fact, what I do, I love. I love what I do – it ticks all the boxes for me.” While so far it seems like he stumbled into the job he now loves, he is quick to admit this and laughs, “a lot of my life has been lucky accidents I suppose, I’ve found myself doing things that I never actually intended to do but then found that I quite enjoyed them.”


‘Here’s a picture of my boobs, doctor, I thought you might like them’


But what does Jessen think of us? Young people are always in the media for our obesity rates, eating disorders, STIs, teenage pregnancies, and binge drinking, for example. But refreshingly, Jessen doesn’t blame young people. “I think the majority of students know exactly what they’re doing. It’s partly to do with the age that students are at, it’s all  about taking risks and finding out who you are, so to me that’s fine to an extent, as long as you’ve evaluated those risks accurately. If you know that you’re going to have a wild summer and drink a bit too much, then, fine. I suppose taking sexual risks is a different matter because that’s not so simple. As long as you have evaluated things carefully in your head then obviously it’s your decision and I’m never ever going to tell anyone not to do something. I don’t believe in that. I think it’s a small minority of young people that generate bad press. Being a student is about having fun, if you drink an awful lot and have fun then actually I think that’s a good thing, because you get it out the way and then you move on. And you can cope with it when you’re young.”

I ask Dr. Jessen whether he had received any strange fan-mail, he laughs and says, “Oh God yes, lots, masses. Particularly being a doctor people think they can be a little bit more open with you than they are with other people. But it’s things like ‘here’s a picture of my boobs, doctor, I thought you might like them’. I get things like ‘here’s my knickers with discharge in, I thought you’d like to look at them’ but not just in a pervy way, in a really serious way, they’ll say ‘I really need to know is this normal? Should I be worried?’ and I just think, what? You sent me your knickers!”

Dr. Jessen is now busy preparing for his next show due to air on Channel 4 at the end of May. He says, “it’s going to be a completely live, interactive health show in HD. People will skype in for consultations and there’ll be specialists there. It’s sort of interactive medicine via your TV set, the first time it’s ever been done. It’s going to involve a lot of the web, and we’re linking up with the NHS Choices and the NHS website. It’s going to be high tech, the future of medicine, with diagnosis from the comfort of your own home I think. But it’s very scary indeed, we’re doing six one hour shows initially and I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

Dr. Jessen’s new show ‘Live From the Clinic’ will be airing 8pm on Channel 4 later in May.

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