Name: John Ashton

Job: North-west regional public health director

Style: Action Man. Hit the headlines confronting fuel protesters at the barricades over the beleaguered NHS.

Zeal for emergency planning emerged after the Hillsborough football disaster - he was at the match where 96 fans died. Flew out to organise medical evacuation of Kosovan refugees in the 1999 war and 'ended up having a critical conversation with Bill Clinton', getting him to airlift top-priority cases. A 'glorious advocate for public health', but also 'a loose cannon'- his 1995 letter to every north-west MP urging opposition to French nuclear tests went down badly under the Tories.

Background: Trained in psychiatry and general practice.

Lectured in primary care at Southampton University while training in public health. Then taught in London and his native city, Liverpool, returning in the wake of the 1981 riots 'because there was something to be done'- while holding honorary contracts in the NHS. Students say he took them to 'the darkest and dingiest nightclubs'in Liverpool. Was the first co-ordinator for the WHO healthy cities project. Became public health director for Mersey RHA in 1993, then North West region in 1996. Headhunters invited him to an interview for the chief medical officer's post in 1998 - but rang days before to cancel. Became a CBE in 2000.

Commissioned Kirkup report into the Mersey air ambulance affair.

Future prospects: Regional assemblies are an exciting part of the future for public health, says our man in the North West. Observers say he would 'blossom'in a more political role, with 'a freer voice'. A future North West mayor, perhaps?