Michael Mosley: A fearless gonzo journalist, not afraid to experiment on himself

June 10, 2024

A doctor, a gifted presenter and a gonzo journalist, Michael Mosley pushed his body to extreme lengths in his mission to improve the nation's health.

News of the TV doctor's death on the Greek island of Symi at the age of 67, after leaving for a walk and never returning, has been met with shock from fellow celebrities and members of the public alike, with multiple tributes highlighting his groundbreaking work across a five-decade career.

In numerous shows exploring health and wellbeing, he carried out unusual experiments on himself including ingesting tapeworms for six weeks, and then swallowing a camera to film them in his gut, for a 2014 documentary called Infested! Living With Parasites on BBC Four.

In the same documentary, he allowed a leech to gorge itself on blood from his arm and infected himself with head lice.

He ate a black pudding made with his own blood and injected snake venom to see how his blood clotted in the 2015 BBC documentary The Wonderful World Of Blood.

And in 2011 he took the magic mushroom drug psilocybin in a clinical trial as part of his BBC4 series, The Brain - A Secret History. He described the hallucinogenic experience as "beautiful but disturbing" at the time.

Taking the class A drug would normally be illegal, but exceptions are made in cases of clinical research.

Mosley was also not afraid to court controversy or break taboos in his search for insights into the human body and how it works.

In the same year, he fronted the controversial documentary Inside The Human Body, which aired the final moments of a dying man.

Mosley told the Radio Times at the time it was important not to "shy away from talking about death and, when it's warranted, showing it" and added "There is a case to be made for filming a peaceful, natural death - a view shared by many who work closely with the dying".

Read more: Who was the TV doctor who popularised the 5:2 diet?
Body of Michael Mosley found just metres away from safety

Mosley's Trust Me, I'm A Doctor co-presenter Chris van Tulleken hailed him as "one of the most important broadcasters of the last few decades" as he paid tribute on X.

Van Tulleken wrote "[Mosley] basically invented a genre of science broadcasting: experimenting on himself, talking about his medical problems, being a curious human being not an ivory tower expert.

"He supported me and so many others at every stage of our careers, always at the end of the phone for support or advice."

Physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox too said Mosley was a "mentor" to many of those starting out within science broadcasting.

Fellow Trust Me I'm A Doctor presenter Dr Saleyha Ahsan told Sky News: "He's left us with so many things which we can put into our own lives. I know patients who are following Michael's advice, the 5:2 diet that has really changed the approach of so many people about their health.

"Michael was pre-diabetic before he did the diet and cured himself of it. People that I know who are in the early days of a pre-diabetic [diagnosis] always refer to Michael."

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2012, Mosley reversed the diagnosis by intermittent fasting and changes to his diet.

He said it was this effort to "get my blood sugars back to a healthy range by losing weight" that inspired his books which popularised the 5:2 diet across the UK.

He published books including The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet, The Fast Diet (co-authored by journalist Mimi Spencer), The Fast 800, The Clever Guts Diet, and Fast Exercise (co-authored by journalist Peta Bee).

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Lord Tom Watson has credited Mosley's book The Fast Diet with playing a part in his seven-stone weight loss.

Lord Watson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that reading Mosley's book changed his life: "He gave me the idea that I wasn't broken… It was this notion that you can, in some way reverse or put type-2 diabetes into remission with lifestyle and nutritional changes.

"It was like a light came on in my life, and I just became a real fan of his work and, over the years, he's helped me maintain that and help millions of others."

Mosley also wrote several cookbooks with his wife Clare Bailey Mosley, herself a GP and health columnist.

A regular contributor for the Daily Mail group since 2011, Mosley has written 100s of columns for the publisher, which has also serialised many of his books.

Ted Verity, editor of Mail Newspapers, said he believes Mosley's work will have "extended, and even saved, the lives of countless readers".

Meanwhile, as a chronic insomniac - struggling with his sleep for years - Mosley's mission to get a good night's shuteye led to his podcast series Sleep Well, the documentary How To Sleep Well With Michael Mosley and his books Fast Asleep and Four Weeks to Better Sleep.

Mosley's Just One Thing Radio 4 show, testing out health hacks in short and easily digestible 15-minute programmes, is the BBC's most popular podcast and had been set to come to our screens in the autumn.

Launched during COVID lockdown and initially recorded in a spare room in Mosley's family home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Mosley said he tried out each tip personally and had incorporated many into his daily life.

Topics explored in recent shows included slow eating, Nordic walking, the possible benefits of drinking red wine and singing your way to good health.

Broadcaster and materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik, who had worked with Mosley, said he will "live on through his influential Just One Thing radio series".

Professor Miodownik said: "Science has lost one of its best and most influential communicators. His warmth and connection to the audience was remarkable."

Adapted for TV earlier this year and filmed across the UK with members of the public, the 10 half-hour shows had been due to air on BBC Two this autumn. Sky News has contacted the BBC to see if the series will go ahead as planned.

The BBC's chief content officer Charlotte Moore called Mosley "a brilliant science broadcaster and programme maker, able to make the most complex subjects simple… Passionate about engaging and entertaining audiences, inspiring us all to live a healthier, fuller life."

Andrew Cohen, head of BBC Studios' science unit, said: "His contribution to audiences around the world is unparalleled, as one of the very finest science communicators, as a brilliant programme maker and a unique presenter.

"For all of us in the Science Unit, we have lost the kindest of colleagues, an inspirational creative mind, and a friend to so many."

Channel Four wrote in tribute on X: "Michael was passionate about using his medical knowledge to help the nation live healthily. We are proud of the inspiring and engaging programmes he made for us and feel privileged to have worked with him."

Away from his health and science expertise, Mosley also had a wealth of knowledge in other areas.

He co-presented the BBC TV series Genius Of Invention - exploring topics including steam engines and the electric telegraph, and executive produced BBC documentaries including Pompeii - The Last Day; Krakatoa Revealed and Supervolcano, exploring the potential consequences of an eruption under Yellowstone Park.

Born in 1957 in Calcutta, India, and moving to the UK aged seven, Mosley studied politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) at Oxford before working as an investment banker.

However, he threw it in by retraining as a doctor, and while studying as a medical student he met his wife Clare.

After qualifying, Mosley changed tack again, joining the BBC as a trainee assistant producer, eventually progressing to an on-screen role.

Named medical journalist of the year in 1995, one of Mosley's motivations to bring better health to the nation was the death of his father from diabetes-related complications aged 74.

Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at 55 - the same age his dad was when he was diagnosed - Mosley had vowed to live a longer life, and unlike his father before him, see his grandchildren grow up.

Sadly, it was an ambition he did not get to fulfil,

Mosley leaves behind his wife Clare, and four children Alexander, Jack, Daniel and Katherine.

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