Celebrity: Who had a good 2020 and who had a bad one?

2020 in Review: The year was good to some, and not so good to others

Good year: Jacinda Ardern

The New Zealand prime minister’s decisive handling of the Covid-19 crisis won international plaudits this year. Naysayers might reflect that containing the spread of an infectious virus on two large, sparsely populated islands, in the middle of an ocean, three hours’ flight from just about anywhere else, possibly wasn’t quite the atom-splitting feat it is being hailed as, but her landslide victory in October’s general election confirmed her popularity with voters.

Good year: Sam Bennett

The Co Waterford cyclist proved himself on his sport's biggest stage when he clinched the maillot vert on the last day of the Tour de France, with an unforgettable sprint victory on the Champs-Élysées. He was following in the footsteps of fellow Carrick-on-Suir rider Sean Kelly who won Ireland's last green jersey in 1989, a year before Bennett was born.

Good year: Richard Bruton

In July, the 67-year-old Dublin Bay North TD appeared in a short video promoting his constituency as a potential summer staycation destination. And, like Ursula Andress before him, it was the shot where he emerged from a dip in the sea that really turned heads – “Minister for Abs” was one of many rave online reactions.

Good year: Holly Cairns

The newly elected TD for Cork South-West has proven a breath of fresh air in the Dáil. Not least for standing up to the greyhound industry and offering to pair with pregnant Minister for Justice Helen McEntee for votes next year, assuming legislation is not introduced by then that would allow the latter to take maternity leave.


Good year: Denise Chaila

The Limerick rapper had a very busy 2020: popping up in the National Concert Hall, at Other Voices in the Guinness Storehouse, making multiple appearances on the Late Late Show and releasing her debut mixtape, Go Bravely, in October.

Good year: Sarah Cooper

The Jamaican-American software designer-turned comedian became ubiquitous on social media early this year with her hilarious lip-synch recreations of Donald Trump's most unhinged and rambling utterances. A Netflix special titled Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine soon followed. "I hate him so much," she told the Guardian. "But he has provided my greatest material."

Good year: Bob Dylan

In April, the Nobel laureate scored his first ever Billboard number 1 single with Murder Most Foul: a long, ponderous, valedictory victory lap, which referenced the JFK assassination and a thousand old-timey jukebox hits your grandparents probably jitterbugged to in the 1950s. It was 2020's The Irishman, in other words. In December, he sold his entire back catalogue to Universal Music for a reported $300 million (€247 million). Not bad work for a 79-year-old.

Good year: Joe Exotic

Ordinarily, you wouldn't hazard this guess about a 57-year-old man beginning a 22-year sentence in federal prison. But it's highly likely Joseph Maldonado-Passage had a ball in 2020. His Netflix docu-series Tiger King was so ubiquitous in March that millions of online fans were willing to overlook this rogue zookeeper's very serious, real-world crimes, while hating his arch nemesis Carol Baskin for something she only possibly (well, probably) did.

Good year: Dolly Parton

When her Zoom rendition of Bury Me Beneath the Willow brought Stephen Colbert to tears in October, it was seen as a reflection of the extreme stress even powerful late-night TV hosts were experiencing after nine long months of lockdown. What few could have predicted was that, when a chink of light did finally appear at the end of the tunnel, just a fortnight later, it would be partly thanks to Dolly. Her $1 million donation helped fund the Moderna vaccine, which promises protecting from the virus in 94.5 of recipients.

Good year: Vladimir Putin

What do you get for the man who has everything? In July, Russian voters apparently approved a controversial constitutional amendment allowing Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year presidential terms, after his current one expires in 2024. His agenda for the next 16 years? Peace, love and cool vibes. We assume.

Good year: Marcus Rashford

If the Manchester United striker was misfiring on the pitch, squandering his money off it and using his platform to push a divisive political agenda in his spare time, it might kind of explain the Daily Mail’s niggling hostility towards him. Instead, he’s banging in goals, investing his money and campaigning for nothing more controversial than providing school dinners for disadvantaged children. Fortunately, outside of the pages of toxic right-wing tabloids, those efforts have elicited much well-deserved acclaim.

Good year: Joe Wicks

It's a distant memory now, but there was a time at the beginning of quarantine when people were intent on doing more at home than just eating, drinking and bingeing on Netflix. For four months, Joe Wicks' YouTube exercise classes, aimed at children, drew hundreds of thousands of views daily. In October, the 34-year-old, who grew up with a heroin-addict father, received an OBE from the Queen for services to fitness and charity.

Bad year: Russell Brand

In 2013, Russell Brand declared that voting was pointless, that the outcome of elections were inconsequential and that the political process exists only to serve the agendas of major corporations. Then the UK voted for Brexit, the US voted for Trump and those results proved massively not inconsequential. Years on, we're in the midst of a devastating global pandemic and the former comedian is now "just asking questions" about the advisability of taking the vaccine. Jesus wept.

Bad year: Jess Brennan

The Irish influencer's listed occupations include dancer, choreographer and "freelance fire performer". But the social media inferno she'll long be remembered for was caused by a "boozy brunch" she organised at Dublin venue Berlin D2 in August, where a masked barman was filmed pouring shots into the mouths of non-socially distanced revellers. Former minister for health Simon Harris called the incident "a kick in the gut and a middle finger" to frontline health workers.

Bad year: Johnny Depp

November saw the downfall of a Hollywood A-lister, as actor Johnny Depp lost his libel action against the Sun over allegations of domestic abuse against his ex-wife Amber Heard. During the trial, details of his dysfunctional, drug-fuelled lifestyle were laid bare. Not long afterwards, he was “asked to resign” from his role in Fantastic Beasts 3.

Bad year: Rudy Giuliani

In this list last year, we thought Rudy had done as much as he possibly could to sully his reputation through his involvement with some sketchy Ukrainian businessman. In retrospect, reaching that conclusion in 2019 was like hearing The Beatles’ Hamburg demos in 1962 and thinking “The Fab Four will never top this!” The mayor of 9/11 has since racked up the Please Please Me / She Loves You / I Want to Hold Your Hand-esque triple whammy that were his unforgettable Borat cameo, leaking hair dye and Four Seasons Total Landscaping monster debacles.

Bad year: Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman

A little morale booster for anyone whose start-up never quite got off the ground: Quibi was a collaboration between one of Hollywood's biggest producers (Katzenberg), and one of Silicon Valley's most powerful executives (Whitman). Intended to rival Netflix, it raised almost $2 billion in funding, locked in collaborations with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Chrissy Teigen and happened to launch during lockdown, when people had literally nothing else to do but sit at home and watch videos. And yet it still failed. Abjectly.

Bad year: Stephen Kenny

The tenure of the new Republic of Ireland manager, who succeeded Mick McCarthy when the latter’s term was curtailed by Covid, has gotten off to a dismal start: no wins and only a solitary goal in nine outings. However, there remain a number of exciting young prospects at this disposal (not least Caoimhín Kelleher, who made a string of impressive appearances for Liverpool recently.) So there may yet be time for him to turn things around.

Bad year: Kim Jong Un

“Our people have placed trust in us, but I have failed to live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry.” Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Kim Jong Un’s tearful mea culpa to his people in October is that we don’t actually know what prompted it. Why did the autocratic leader of one of the most secretive countries on earth humble himself in this fashion? Was he under pressure over his regime’s response to the pandemic, a flood, a series of typhoons? Was he trying to showcase a human side? We don’t know.

Bad year: Catherine Noone

In a rollercoaster 24 hours back in January, the Fine Gael candidate for Dublin Bay North described her party leader Leo Varadkar as "autistic", then denied doing so, then backtracked on that denial when audio of her comments emerged and then – somehow – contrived to use the N-word in the course of delivering her apology. Unfortunately, for the former chair of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, she lost out in that Dáil race and also lost her seat in the subsequent Seanad election.

Bad year: Mary Lou McDonald

In 2020, the Sinn Féin leader guided the party another step closer to its long-term objective of usurping Fianna Fáil and taking power in the Republic. In the short term, however, it might be recorded as a missed opportunity. If the party had run more than just 42 candidates in February’s election, Mary Lou would be taoiseach already – and the other parties, especially Fine Gael, wouldn’t have recovered the ground they did through their (mostly) competent handling of the Covid crisis.

Bad year: Gemma O’Doherty

After a poor showing in February’s general election, the pivot from anti-immigrant conspiracy theorist, to Covid-19 conspiracy theorist, was an obvious lateral move for Gemma O’Doherty. However, the High Court challenge she took against the Government’s pandemic response failed and, two months later, the final major social media outlet to allow her a platform, Twitter, handed her a permanent ban.

Bad year: Rita Ora

In November, the British pop singer was paid a six-figure sum to perform at a private party in Cairo’s W Hotel. Returning to London, instead of quarantining as she was required to do, she threw herself a birthday in a London restaurant, with 30 friends in attendance, again in breach of Covid restrictions. She issued an apology for her actions.

Bad year: Jeffrey Toobin

In October, the New Yorker writer and legal analyst was suspended after being caught masturbating during a staff Zoom conference call. Because he was working from home, and believed his video was muted at the time, there was speculation he might keep his job. But publishers Condé Nast took a firm stand. “We are committed to fostering an environment where everyone feels respected and upholds our standards of conduct,” they said in a statement announcing his firing.

Eoin Butler

Eoin Butler

Eoin Butler, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about life and culture