Former government special advisor Dominic Cummings is set to appear at the Covid 19 inquiry on Tuesday (October 31). 

Mr Cummings, who was the heart of the UK government for several years, will give evidence in London as part of the national inquiry into the governance during the pandemic. 

As the chief advisor to then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Cummings was heavily involved in the decisions made at Downing Street during this period, having a front row seat to one of the most challenging and controversial periods in British political history. 

Once a shadowy, unknown figure, Cummings saw himself thrust into the spotlight when he travelled from London to County Durham, and drove to a tourist spot, while experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 amid a stay at home order in April 2020. 

Who is Dominic Cummings? 

The Herald: Dominic CummingsDominic Cummings (Image: PA)

Born in November 1971 to a special needs teacher and an oil rig manager, Cummings attended an all-boys boarding school in Durham, before heading to Exeter College at the University of Oxford to study ancient and modern history. 

He then spent the mid-1990s in Soviet Russia, working on various business projects. On his return to the UK, he put his Euroscepticism into practice as the campaign director for the Business for Sterling lobby group, who opposed a UK currency change to the Euro. 

Cummings’ other political forays included advising Conservative grandees, writing Telegraph op-eds, and campaigning against the creation of a regional assembly in his native north-east in a 2004 referendum. 

He would have his first taste of riling up civil servants in Whitehall when he began advising Michael Gove in 2007, who went to become Education Minister in 2010. 

Dominic Cummings' role in the Brexit campaign

These roles would all be precursors to his showpiece career milestone, becoming the brains behind the successful Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum of 2016. 

Widely considered as coming up with the Take Back Control slogan, as well as other successful stunts, Cummings became a household name, and was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Channel 4 docudrama ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’. 

It was during his time masterminding Vote Leave that Cummings would form a close relationship with Johnson, who brought him into the fold upon his election as Prime Minister in July 2019, with many saying he held more political influence than any non-elected official in the history of British politics

He later left his role in November 2020, with Cummings claiming he had planned to make himself “largely redundant” by the end of the year, while senior Tory MPs reported a fracturing of his relationship with Johnson. 

How did Dominic Cummings become the story? 

The Herald: Dominic Cummings leaving 10 Downing StreetDominic Cummings leaving 10 Downing Street (Image: PA)

A joint investigation by the Daily Mirror and The Guardian published in May 2022 found that Cummings had journeyed from London to County Durham a few weeks earlier while knowingly experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

Cummings’ wife, Spectator journalist Mary Wakefield, had fallen ill with Covid in late March. Suspecting he might also experience symptoms soon, Cummings drove to his father’s farm in County Durham, where he also became ill. 

Read more: Dominic Cummings was 'most empowered chief of staff Downing Street has seen'

On 12 April, he had been cleared to go back to work and wanted to return to London. However, Cummings claims his wife was apprehensive about his capacity to drive, so the family drove 25-miles to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight”. The family were also said to have briefly walked around the grounds and sat on a nearby bench. 

The revelations prompted national outrage, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying it was “one role for Dominic Cummings, and one rule for everyone else.” 

An investigation of the incident followed from Durham Police, who found “there might have been a minor breach of the law’ during his trip to Barnard Castle, but as there did not appear to be any breach of social distancing rules, no action would be taken. 

Cummings maintains he acted reasonably and legally throughout. 

What did Dominic Cummings say? 

In an unprecedented moment in British politics, the unelected official Cummings held a press conference in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street, as various news outlets’ political editors stood up one by one to question his actions. 

He said: "My wife was very worried, particularly as my eyesight seemed to have been affected by [Covid-19]. She did not want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been.

"We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely.

"I don't think I am so different and that there is one rule for me and one rule for other people. I don't regret what I did."

What did Boris Johnson say? 

The Herald: Former Prime Minister Boris JohnsonFormer Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: PA)

The Prime Minister came under a great deal of pressure to sack his closest advisor over the incident, but instead backed his man. 

Mr Johnson said he understood "the confusion, anger and pain" felt, arguing he had acted "reasonably" and with "integrity and care for others"

He added: "To me, he came across as somebody who cared very much about his family and who was doing the best for his family."

What is Dominic Cummings doing now? 

For a man who was once at the very centre of British politics, the answer is not a lot. 

The 51-year-old chiefly writes articles on his Substack subscription platform, covering issues from Russian history, to AI, to film & TV recommendations.

He also hasn’t been shy of taking a dig at his former boss and colleagues on social media, routinely using a shopping trolley emoji to denote Johnson, said to be due to the ex-Prime Minister’s indecision and his likeness to a “shopping trolley smashing between aisles.” 

Though a return to the political arena has so far been off the cards, Cummings did lay out in a lengthy blog post his plans for a new political party, one that would seek to “replace the Tories” and “win in 2028, govern for two terms then self-destruct as a legal entity.” 

How does Dominic Cummings feature in the Covid-19 inquiry? 

The Herald: Spitting Image puppet with the likeness of Dominic CummingsSpitting Image puppet with the likeness of Dominic Cummings (Image: BritBox)

Given the bombastic nature of his previous takedowns of Johnson’s government, Cummings’ contributions are sure to be explosive. 

He is set to take questions from the inquiry on the same day as Lee Cain, the former Number 10 director of communications, who left his post just a day before Cummings. 

On Monday evening, the night before Cummings was slated to appear at the inquiry, campaign groups 38 Degrees and Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK projected the number of UK deaths during the pandemic on the side of Barnard Castle, showing the anger that is very much still felt towards Cummings from those who lost loved ones.