Dr Phil Hammond – NHS doctor, comedian, journalist, broadcaster and campaigner – still has one more ambition.
“I’d like to be Director of Comedy at NHS England,” he says with a straight face.
“For 90% of symptoms, you’re better off with a dog than a doctor. It’s time people were told the truth. I have two – Lottie, a golden Labrador and Tillie, a golden Doodle.”
His unique brand of humour has won him hundreds of fans. A GP for 20 years he now works in a hospital treating young people with chronic fatigue syndrome and ME but, having started as a comedian in 1990, he is now on his fourth UK solo tour – Dr Phil’s Health Revolution, an amalgamation of his sell-out Edinburgh Fringe 2016 shows.
He has also recently published a new book, Staying Alive – How to Get the Best from the NHS.
“It’s more serious than the others, and I hope more useful,” says the celebrity medic.
“It also advises you on how to get the most from your one wild and precious life. In it I argue that most lives need living not medicalising. I use the idea of doing CLANGERS every day as a way to live well, with or without illness: Connect, Learn, be Active, Notice, Give back, Eat well, Relax and Sleep. And don’t forget your five portions of fun.”
Brought up in Australia, it was a family tragedy that brought Phil to the UK. “My mum picked up the pieces after my dad’s suicide in 1969, crossed the globe and rebuilt our family with extraordinary resilience, wisdom and compassion,” he recalls.
His current tour combines two thoughtful and topical comedies rolled into one, covering subjects he is passionate about: living well, staying sane, dying with dignity and saving the NHS.
In the first half, he ponders what we can do to sort ourselves out. He looks back on his 54 years and considers how he has apparently managed to remain sane in a family with a strong history of depression and suicide.
The second half sees him setting about saving the NHS.
“Our most prized asset is being ideologically and incompetently destroyed,” he says, not mincing his words.
His unique brand of comedy owes its origins to his first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1990 with actor and doctorTony Gardner in Struck Off and Die, which he says it was the best career move he ever made. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had with a rancid rice pudding – and the door-opener for everything I’ve done since,” he smiles.
Ask him what his pet hate is and he answers without hesitation: “Fear. It’s the cancer at the heart of the NHS that feeds bullying and anxiety, and kills compassion and transparency.”