Charlie Mackesy’s eyes well up when he talks about all the people who are doing valiant work during this pandemic.

It is why this award winning illustrator is showing his appreciation the way he knows best - by drawing and posting his work online.

His illustrations in support of the NHS have had a huge impact. Adopted by health workers who have copied them, using them as screensavers and to post around hospitals has, he said, made him feel so privileged.

Last year Mackesy’s first book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse was a publishing sensation.

He had originally drawn the figures with their thoughts alongside to post on Instagram, before he agreed to turn them into a book.

The story is about four friends, the characters in the title, who are on a journey together and sharing, in simple language accessible to old and young, what they have learned about life and the things that are most important.

And many of their musings have struck a chord worldwide, particularly today.

“What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy. “Help” said the horse.

These lines with others like "everyone is a bit scared but we are less scared together”, and “this storm will pass” helped propel his book to the bestsellers lists when it was published last year.

Words that were written before Covid-19, were shared around the world, and now have kept the book in those bestseller lists, with more than a million sales in the US and UK alone.

Charlie Mackesy's drawings have taken on a deeper relevance during the pandemic. Credit: Charlie Mackesy

Mackesy is both surprised and moved that the story has taken on a deeper relevance today, as people grapple with fear and anxiety caused by the coronavirus.

He regularly gets emails from readers he says, expressing their gratitude that the words spoken by his characters are offering some comfort.

People like the book, he tells me, because of its themes of kindness and togetherness. In particular, the fact that his characters give voice to issues of mental health, accepting that it’s okay to ask for help, and to be honest about struggling, has had a huge impact he says.

Writing the book was a kind of catharsis for him - after his best friend died he says, he too had to learn that it was okay to talk about feelings of anxiety and depression.

When I found I had the courage he says, it was a massive relief. It is men he says that seem to struggle the most with revealing their anxiety.

The award-winning illustrator has shown his appreciation to the NHS through his illustrations. Credit: Charlie Mackesy

Mackesy’s drawing of the boy and the mole also featured on Comic Relief T shirts, his words “Love Wins” again clearly speaking to millions.

There may be a follow up book he says - dealing with other questions of grief and loss.

There could also be an animated film - he is not surprisingly being courted by filmmakers - but he is keen that any undertaking does not lose the gentle and universal messages in his book, of kindness and our need to support each other.

Four illustrated characters seem to have found a way to speak to us in these times, and share our hope that things will be okay.