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An Interview with Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts, an accomplished anatomist, biological anthropologist, author, and renowned broadcaster, will be hosting the Our Health Heroes Awards 2024 bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to our prestigious event.

With a remarkable career spanning over a hundred television documentaries, including popular series such as Digging for Britain and Britain’s Most Historic Towns, she has captivated audiences with her insights into human biology, history, and archaeology. Beyond her extensive filmography, Professor Alice Roberts is a bestselling author, accomplished public speaker, and experienced compere, having hosted numerous awards ceremonies at prestigious venues such as the Natural History Museum and the Royal Society.

Ahead of her co-hosting the Our Health Heroes Awards on 16 April, we spoke to Professor Alice Roberts about her career and how she felt about hosting this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards.

Alice, you’ve packed a lot into your career – doctor, academic, author, television presenter, artist and now children’s author. Do you have a favourite?

I enjoy all the strands of my career, and feel very lucky to be exploring ideas I find fascinating in my writing and broadcasting – and sharing those ideas with an enthusiastic audience. The different aspects of my work might seem quite separate, but they all flow together. I started writing because of television, and I started doing television because of my academic work, by writing bone reports on Channel 4’s Time Team, back in the day. I really enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie when I’m making documentaries, but I also enjoy the monastic solitude of writing, and I also love teaching medical students. It sounds like a lot of different things, but they all inform each other and are quite synergistic. I also really enjoy ranging across different disciplines – bringing together ideas from biology and history, genetics and archaeology.

You’re taking your new show, Crypt on the road. What is it about?

The show is all about my new book, Crypt, illustrated with lots of great images and packed full of intriguing stories and surprising revelations. I’d like to say it’s an all-singing, all-dancing romp through the worst injuries and diseases of the Middle Ages, but – my audiences will be thankful – there’s no singing and dancing in it. But I can promise plenty of plague, syphilis and leprosy, gruesome murders, archery and sword fights. Crypt is the final instalment in a trilogy that started with my books Ancestors and Buried. It pulls together some of the threads from the first two books but also moves us on in time. Ancestors focused on prehistory, while Buried was about the first millennium.

With Crypt, I move into the Middle Ages, but once again I’m looking at how archaeology is being radically transformed by new science, from chemical techniques which allow us to analyse tooth composition and work out where somebody grew up, to ancient DNA – where we’ve now entered the era of archaeogenomics.

You are the host of the eighth annual Our Health Heroes Awards, organised by not-for-profit Skills for Health. The Awards recognise the outstanding teams and individuals working behind the scenes in our health service. As someone who has worked in the NHS, what does it mean to you to be hosting the awards?

I’m delighted to be hosting this year’s Our Health Heroes event. The NHS involves huge teams of people, working together to look after patients – and it’s great to be able to recognise and celebrate the role of support staff. I’m looking forward to meeting the nominees and winners, and finding out more about their own invaluable contributions.

What is your message to our amazing finalists?

Of all the things you could have chosen to do in your life – you have chosen this: to make a difference and to pour your hearts into doing just that. You’ve been nominated by people who recognise the value of your work, your contribution. And you’ve been voted for by the public. And the Awards ceremony is a way of saying: thank you, for everything you do.