Celebrity photographer Rankin turns his lens on to NHS heroes

From Hollywood to the hospital: Celebrity photographer Rankin turns his lens on to the NHS heroes who helped fight coronavirus

  • Celebrity photographer Rankin has turned from Hollywood to NHS hospitals in his latest set of portraits
  • Rankin, 54, has photographed 12 people who have helped in different ways during the coronavirus crisis
  • He has released the set, which he said brought him close to tears, to celebrate the NHS’s 72nd anniversary 
  • Rankin, whose real name is John Rankin Waddell, worked as a hospital porter when he was in his twenties

One of the world’s most renowned celebrity photographers, who has snapped the likes of David Bowie and Madonna, has turned his attention from Hollywood to hospitals.

The latest set of portraits by British photographer Rankin – real name John Rankin Waddell – are of 12 NHS workers who have helped in the coronavirus crisis. 

From ICU doctors and nurses to cleaners, porters, midwifes and medical students-turned-111 operators, the moving portraits will be featured on billboards, at bus stops and at the Piccadilly Lights in Piccadilly Circus. 

He has released the new photographs to celebrate the NHS’s 72nd anniversary and said he was close to tears while shooting his subjects socially distanced through a plastic sheet.

Rankin, 54, who used to work as a hospital porter himself when he was in his twenties, said he wanted to highlight the work of everyone on the frontline, not just surgeons and ICU staff. 

He added: ‘I wanted to get everybody because everybody is facing this pandemic one on one, the cleaners are cleaning around it, it’s a really big thing and I didn’t want it to just be the surgeons or the people that worked in ICU although we did photograph them too, it was great because it was so diverse.’ 

Rankin is one of the world’s most prominent celebrity portraitists with his work appearing in Vogue, Elle and GQ magazines. 

All portraits have been donated by Rankin to the NHS. The full selection of portraits and their stories can be found at www.england.nhs.uk/rankin.  


Ali Abdi, porter at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

Covid story: ‘I honestly couldn’t tell you how many miles I must have walked around my hospital helping patients, transferring medicines or carrying specialist equipment.

‘As a porter, it’s my job to make sure the right people get to the right place at the right time. Every day is different, and you are never in one place for long.

‘All the excitement and adrenaline mean it’s hard to switch off. Even at the weekends I like to keep active and ride my bike – but in the back of my head I’m always thinking “when can I get back to work and help the team?”

‘Even though I work 12-hour shifts the day goes so fast. My favourite part is talking to patients and helping them feel at home. It’s even more important at the moment in this new world we live in.’ 


Ade Williams, 39, Superintendent Pharmacist, Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol (left) and Claudia Anghel, midwife at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire

Ade Williams Covid story: ‘I moved to the UK 23 years ago from Nigeria and lived with my aunt, a nurse in Brighton. I was just a teenager, yet utterly awestruck at how the NHS functioned. Unsurprisingly, when I was old enough I jumped at the chance to study pharmacy.

‘Since then, I’ve lived all over the country but have now settled in Bristol providing clinical care as a community pharmacist, alongside working at a GP practice and advising on the board of a local hospital.

‘In our team, working alongside my wife, also a pharmacist, we all share the belief that health inequality is a form of injustice. We literally have it written on our wall! Our goal every day is to help address this – which means there is never a dull moment.

‘The shoot was really fun and what I liked the most is that you could tell it meant a lot to Rankin, that he really wanted to use his lens to tell our stories through the pictures.’ 

Claudia Anghel Covid story: ‘Since the pandemic, we’ve had to isolate certain areas and set-up a coronavirus labour ward for patients who may be infected. Expectant mothers can now only have their partner with them for the delivery, but no visiting is allowed before and after the birth – and so, the emotional support we give has become even more important.

‘Even during challenging times, midwifery is about life and joy. Of course, we are concerned, but we are also strong. I still get up in the morning, put on my uniform and a bit of lipstick and go to work (although these days the masks we wear mean the lipstick doesn’t last long!).

‘I don’t like having my picture taken so when I heard about the photo shoot my first thought was ‘I can’t do that.’

‘But then I thought it’s got to be a good thing if it promotes midwifery which I feel is a very noble profession.’


Anne Roberts, 53, District Nurse, Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in Staffordshire

Covid story: ‘I’m not a hero. I’m a nurse just trying to do the best I can. I was inspired by an aunty but I also think being a nurse is ingrained in you. I remember I used to bandage our dog with toilet rolls to practice when I was little.

‘And I’ve found myself looking after another lovely dog recently.

‘One of my patients didn’t want to go into hospital because he had no-one to look after his little Jack Russell, so I looked after her and sent lots of pictures and updates (I resisted the toilet roll game).

‘When I heard I’d been chosen to take part in the photo shoot I was gobsmacked. It made me giggle because I’m 53 and not much of a supermodel. I told Rankin: “If you don’t make me look like Kate Moss, I’ll be having words with you”.’


Emma Kelly, 26, Critical Care Nurse, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

Covid story: ‘About two weeks ago, I had the hardest day of my career so far. One of my patients deteriorated rapidly and a decision was made to switch to end of life care.

‘The patient was a Covid-19 case which meant family visits were restricted. Sitting there holding her hand and relaying messages from her family is something that will stay with me forever.

‘At one point, I had to run upstairs to compose myself. Five minutes later I knew I had to get back to the ward, as I had another very sick patient whose relatives were only able to briefly visit. I sat with them, held their hand and kept telling them how much their family loved them.

‘I originally started training in Australia before returning to England to finish. Nothing makes me prouder than working for the NHS and providing healthcare to everyone.’ 


Dr Farzana Hussain, 47, GP at Project Surgery in Newham, London

Covid story: ‘We get asked a lot about how the pandemic and the pressures we are facing has impacted our feelings towards medicine.

‘For me, making sure that none of our patients are left behind has been really important and has motivated me to keep going.

‘Recently, we introduced a children’s immunisation drive-through clinic at the practice because we didn’t want children missing these vital appointments.

‘Using technology, we are now also able to triage all of our patients online. The pressing need created by coronavirus has meant we were able to pull in plans and aspirations we have been discussing for years.

‘Now more than ever it’s important that we not only recognise the vital role primary care has played in fighting this disease but to also shine a light on the humanity that makes up our GP practices, community services and hospitals.’ 


Jack Hannay Manikum, 24, 111 call handler for West Midlands Ambulance Service (left) and Laura Arrowsmith, 32, Covid-19 ward cleaner at Leighton Hospital in Crewe, Cheshire

Jack Hannay Manikum Covid story: ‘I’m a second-year medical student at Birmingham University, and when coronavirus hit earlier this year, like many other students, we were told our exams were cancelled. We were, however, offered the chance to train as an NHS 111 call assessor.

‘It can definitely be nerve-wracking as you never know what or from who your next call will be.

‘One of the most difficult calls I picked up was from a patient that had suffered a late stage miscarriage. She was extremely distressed, and I just felt like crying.

‘But you have to be strong, so that you’re able to help. I’m so honoured to be a part of this campaign.’ 

Laura Arrowsmith Covid story: ‘I’m pleased, more than anything, that as part of my job I can be a friendly face for patients.

‘In this situation we can’t allow as many visitors and not everyone has the technology to keep in touch with loved ones, so I try to help by bringing patients a little piece of the outside world.

‘I’ve always liked to talk to the patients and find out more about them. I’ll always remember a mum of two who was on the Covid ward. She didn’t want her kids to see her looking so unwell.

‘I’ve got two sons myself, and I could only imagine how she felt. So, I brought their photos and cards to her instead. After she became better, she said to me that seeing their faces helped her survive her hardest days.

‘We’ve sadly lost a dear colleague to coronavirus at Leighton. Brian was a porter, who had been working there for years. We are one big team here and everyone is playing their part and I feel I’m just doing my job as best I can.’ 


Dr Marc Lyons, Intensive Care Unit Consultant, East Cheshire NHS Trust

Covid story: ‘I’ve had Covid-19. I felt dreadful for ten days and even after most of the symptoms were over, I felt really fatigued.

‘While receiving a test which confirms you are positive can be intimidating, it was also what freed me to safely plan how to get back to work.

‘As you’d imagine, there have been huge changes since the start of the pandemic.

‘East Cheshire NHS Trust is a small hospital trust and it’s been a big challenge to accommodate the surge in patients.

‘Luckily, one advantage of working in a smaller hospital is that we are a tight knit team, so everyone has banded together, mobilised at speed and made it work.’


Dr Roopak Khara, General Adult Psychiatrist, West London NHS Trust

Covid story: ‘I work in an intensive care ward in Hammersmith & Fulham Mental Health Unit which means caring for extremely vulnerable people with significant needs.

‘I walk to and from work each day, as I find it helps me to clear my head. I plan my schedule on the way in, always carving out 30 minutes to spend with my patients doing non-clinical activities. This includes everyday activities like reading the Metro, watching TV or doing a crossword together. It’s very often the highlight of my day.

‘My role has changed a lot since the pandemic started. I was asked to be the medical lead on a new ward – Avonmore Ward – to care for patients with severe mental illness who test positive for Covid-19.

‘I felt nervous initially, and full of adrenaline, but I said yes and started the next day.’


Sarah Jensen, Chief Information Officer at Barts Health NHS Trust, London

Covid story: ‘Covid-19 crept up on us, and our earliest challenge was to support staff remote working. You may have heard of the challenges with accessing PPE but trying to get laptops was equally challenging.

‘When the outbreak started 1,000 out of 20,000 staff were able to work remotely, but after six weeks we had been able to increase this to over 5,000 of our staff.

‘When I was asked to support IT for the NHS Nightingale Hospital London, I didn’t hesitate because I instantly knew my team could do it.

‘We had a meeting at 8am that morning, and by 10pm the team had an articulated lorry dropping off all the network kit.

‘We were about to replace the network in two of our hospitals, so we emptied our warehouse of that kit and asked all our suppliers to send teams to help.

‘Within five days, we had set up a new secure network and connected devices from scratch to support the first group of patients – over 26km of cable, 500 switches, hundreds of PCs and more.

‘I was very surprised and flattered to be chosen – to be at the forefront of the coronavirus story was not something I was expecting.’


Stuart Brookfield, paramedic for South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

Covid story: ‘Becoming a paramedic wasn’t easy for me, I fought hard to self-fund my course and get the grades I needed to join the ambulance service. I finally became a fully qualified paramedic in April this year.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has been a tough time for any new paramedic. We are making decisions that are very hard for us on the road. It has been mentally draining, but I’ve never felt that I didn’t want to go in the next day.

‘I am lucky to be part of the trust’s team at this time – there is always someone to support us at the end of the phone.

‘The respect too that we’ve received from the community during the pandemic has been amazing and so good for staff morale.

‘I was overwhelmed when I was nominated for this. I feel privileged to work for the NHS and to represent my colleagues who are going through a tough time on the road.’

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