Ugh! Why hand sanitiser is a must when celebrities meet the great unwashed

Robbie Williams was ridiculed after cleaning his hands on stage on New Years Eve. He may well have been joking, but hes not the only one to fear close contact with the public

For a man who has boasted about his record of enthusiastic manual engagement with the public, Donald Trump is shy about grabbing women or anyone by the hand. Or at least he was. In his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback, Trump called hand-shaking one of the curses of American society, adding: The more successful and famous one becomes, the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.

If Trump has spent the past year furiously cleaning those little fingers (he was an outwardly keen gladhander on the presidential campaign trail), then he is more discreet than Robbie Williams. In a clip that went viral faster than an outbreak of E coli on a cruiseship, the singer was captured grimacing and using hand sanitiser after a New Years Eve singalong of Auld Lang Syne. A subsequent Instagram video, in which Williams does the same thing after wishing a woman Happy New Year, suggests he might have been joking, but how concerned should a public figure be about contact with the great unwashed?

Sarah Wollaston ought to know. The GP-turned-MP and chair of the health select committee confirms that some bacteria and viruses can pass between hands, and points out the importance of handwashing in the bathroom and before eating. But it would never occur to me not to shake hands with someone because I was worried about my health, she adds. And if youre worried about that kind of thing, you probably shouldnt be a politician. Wollaston says decades of medical practice have made her bomb proof, but advises all MPs to take the precaution of getting a flu jab.

Ann Widdecombe calls concern about handshaking an absolute nonsense. En route to a Caribbean cruise, where she is similarly blase about bacteria, she adds: What an attitude to take. You might as well worry about shaking hands with people in church when doing the peace.

Special advisers say politicians can be wary. I know several people who have kept hand sanitiser in the car to use after a really big door-knocking session, says Ayesha Hazarika, who worked with Ed Miliband among others. She wont name names. Nor can she recall encountering germ freaks, but says the former Labour leader was a genuinely enthusiastic gladhander. Lets be honest, we werent blessed with brilliant photo ops, but Ed loved dashing into a crowd and shaking hands and chatting away, she says. And no, he didnt have a secret stash of sanitiser, she adds.

Trump and Williams are not alone in being, or playing at being, paranoid. British athletes were advised not to shake hands during the 2012 Olympics, for example. But the president-elects fans should be warned: while fist bumps have been recommended as a more hygienic alternative to the handshake, a team including members at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recommended in 2007 that the least risky greeting was a kiss. Presumably without lips.