Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Confidential

Mark Porter: A covert petrolhead

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 03 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i68


Mark Porter, 53, is a GP with a high media profile. He presents BBC Radio 4’s flagship medical series Inside Health, is a reporter for the One Show, and is medical correspondent for the Times. He is in practice at Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, where the sight of a patient waving one of his cuttings must be a frequent experience. Porter also applies his healing hands to old cars, confessing that, if he was exiled to a desert island and was not allowed to take his wife, he’d settle for a Porsche 911 of 1970 vintage and the tools to tinker with it. He isn’t the BMA chair; that’s a different Mark Porter.

What was your earliest ambition?

To marry Gerry Knight, but I was only 5.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Too many to single out one person. As a doctor I meet a lot of people in difficult circumstances—a fertile ground for inspirational acts. And the less fuss they make, the more likely I am to be inspired.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

From a media perspective, it was turning down an offer from Columbia TriStar to host a show in the United States. I’m very happy with my medical career, clinical errors aside.

What was your best career move?

Joining GP magazine. There I answered a phone call in 1992 from a BBC producer looking for a doctor to join the team behind Good Morning. I told her that I knew just the bloke.

Bevan or Lansley? Who has been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?

Bevan was best. I prefer to keep my opinion of health secretaries to myself: it makes it easier to interview them (on the rare occasions they agree to talk to me). But I think that my opinions reflect those of my peers, if you get my drift.

Who is the person you would most like to thank, and why?

Simon, the surgeon who saved my mother’s life. He knows who he is.

To whom would you most like to apologise?

My family, for my single minded pursuit of my career in the early days: missed time that you never get back.

If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?

A flat in Fitzrovia (if you can get one for a million).

Where are, or were, you happiest?

At home in the Cotswolds.

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?

The internet.

Do you support doctor assisted suicide?

Yes, as a patient. But I’m not sure that I could get involved as a doctor.

What book should every doctor read?

Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh.

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?

The haka, performed by the All Blacks. And William Henry Davies’s poem Leisure, which starts: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” I would love to have faced the haka—and to have had time to stop and stare.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

The pub. And apple strudel. Although not at the same time.

If you could be invisible for a day what would you do?

Avoid anyone I know, for fear of seeing or hearing something I wish I hadn’t.

What television programmes do you like?

The Bridge.

What is your most treasured possession?

Sadly, it’s my car. I’m a covert petrolhead.

What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

Not enough. But I hate waste, I’m an avid recycler, and I go for the greener option wherever possible (except with cars, so far).

What personal ambition do you still have?

I’m lucky enough to have achieved my goals. Now it’s time to give back.

Summarise your personality in three words

Inquisitive. Restless. Particular.

Where does alcohol fit into your life?

It’s been a cornerstone of much of my social life—in reasonable quantities, naturally.

What is your pet hate?

Making mountains out of molehills.

What would be on the menu for your last supper?

Spicy soup with coconut and pineapple at Reuben’s, a restaurant in Franschhoek, South Africa (weird, but out of this world); beef Wellington; and apple strudel. All washed down with something from Bordeaux.

Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor?


If you weren’t in your present position what would you be doing instead?

I dread to think. My career faltered at an early phase, when I didn’t get my expected A level grades after discovering girls in the sixth form. I got into college after retaking—but only just, thanks to clearing (I had five straight rejections the second time around and had to go knocking on doors). Had I not got to medical school I suspect I’d have continued down the hedonistic road to oblivion. But I haven’t left those days behind completely: I married the girl who so distracted me back then, and I’m pleased to report that Ros is still leading me astray today.


Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i68

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