From the storming of the Capitol to the Taliban's rise to power, these are 2021's defining images

191221 2021 in pictures, AP/PA
2021 was a year of highs and lows. Credit: AP/PA

By ITV News Content Producer Alex Binley

The start of a new year would normally see people gathering together with loved ones, attending parties or packing into pubs, but new year's eve 2020 fell during the peak of the UK's second Covid-19 wave.

December 31, 2020, saw 964 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test reported, a further 52,783 cases recorded and 26,577 people were in hospital with Covid.

With the different nations of the UK all being advised to stay at home and limit social contact, streets which would normally have been packed with revellers were deserted as the country sought to combat Covid.

An empty Royal Mile in Edinburgh, usually thronged with people at new year. Credit: PA

Just days later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation, announcing that the differing Covid rules across England would be replaced with a nationwide lockdown as Covid cases and deaths continued to rise and pressured on the NHS increased.

The leaders of the devolved nations implemented similar rules and the whole of the UK was once again under stay at home orders.

A sombre-looking Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be going into another lockdown just days in 2021. Credit: PA

With just two weeks to go until he would leave office and still contesting the result of the US presidential election held in November, Donald Trump urged his supporters march in Washington DC, telling them to “get rid of the weak Congress people” and saying, “get the weak ones get out; this is the time for strength".

What ensued was one of the defining moments of the year. Crowds of pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in an act the Republican National Committee described as "domestic terrorism" which represented "an attack on our country and its founding principles.”

ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore, producer Sophie Alexander, and camera operator Mark Davey were the only news crew who managed to cover the event which left five people dead.

Watch Robert's report from Washington DC in full here. Robert, Sophie, and Mark were the only news crew who filmed the rioters as they stormed Capitol Hill on January 6.

In the wake of the Capitol riots, Mr Trump did concede defeat in the election and on January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as his predecessor and 46th president of the United States.

Former vice president Joe Biden was sworn in as US president on January 20. Credit: AP

Although cheering could be heard up to a mile away as the 78-year-old formally took office, the show was stolen by 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman with her work, The Hill We Climb, with its focus on unity.

Synonymous with the first lockdown after raising almost £39 million for the NHS, during the second, Captain Tom Moore was hospitalised with pneumonia and later tested positive for Covid-19.

He died on February 2 aged 100.

Flowers were left at a plaque dedicated to Captain Sir Tom Moore in his birthplace, Keighley, on the day of his funeral. Credit: PA

Just two months short of his 100th birthday, the Duke of Edinburgh died on April 9.

Similarly to the funerals of many who died whilst social distancing rules were in place, the Queen had to remain separated from members of her family during the funeral for her husband.

The Queen was forced to sit alone during Prince Philip's funeral due to social distancing measures. Credit: PA

As lockdown rules began to ease from mid-April, people queued from midnight to get much-needed haircuts and enjoy pints again in pub gardens.

As soon as hairdressers and barbers' shops reopened on April 12, people queued to get their hair cut after months of DIY efforts. Credit: PA

Lockdown rules were the downfall of former health secretary Matt Hancock after The Sun obtained CCTV from inside his office which showed him kissing aide Gina Coladangelo.

The newspaper alleged the photos were taken on May 6, before the rule of six applied indoors from May 17, meaning social distancing guidelines should have been adhered to.

A day later, Mr Hancock resigned, writing in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the government "owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest" and admitted he broke the rules.

CCTV from inside his office caught Matt Hancock breaching social distancing rules with his closest aide.

Former home secretary and chancellor Sajid Javid was appointed health secretary in his place.

More explosive footage came from the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma in September when the volcanic ridge of Cumbre Vieja began erupting.

Molten rock flow has caused thousands of people to have to evacuate their homes. Credit: AP

Three months later and rivers of lava are still destroying homes and disrupting everyday life on the island.

To date, molten rock from the September 19 eruption has consumed more than 1,500 buildings and covered more than 2,800 acres including banana farms, the island's main source of revenue along with tourism.

Swimming pools on La Palma evaporate from the heat of burning hot rocks tumbling in

Unlike the volcano in La Palma, an eruption in Iceland on the Reykjanes Peninsula caused much less disruption but similarly spectacular scenes when it began spewing out lava in March 2021.

The eruption near the capital of Reykjavík caused much less disruption than the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010. Credit: AP

The scenes from the Fagradalsfjall volcano were so dramatic it appeared as the backdrop to countless selfies, a music video and even a wedding.

While the natural world provided spectacular scenes, it also caused widespread devastation.

Flooding in China's Henan province in July left more than 300 people dead, 50 missing and forced more than 100,000 to leave their homes.

Flooding in China's Henan province was up to one metre deep in some places. Credit: AP

The rain was so heavy that commuters on the subway system in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou were left stranded in neck-deep water.

Just days before, parts of Germany and Belgium were left devastated by some of the worst flooding in years.

At least 155 people were killed in Germany and at least 27 in neighbouring Belgium.

As well as heavy rain and flooding, record-breaking heat across northern America in late June and early July led to 595 deaths and sparked wildfires which laid waste to acres of land and homes.

The town of Lytton in southern British Columbia, which frequently sees temperatures of well below freezing during the winter, repeatedly broke the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada, reaching a scorching 49.6C (121F).

Dramatic footage shows fast-moving wildfire spreading toward Canadian town

Countless others died due to extreme weather events, with scientists finding these incidents were exacerbated by climate change and say there are more to come – and worse – as the Earth's atmosphere continues to warm through the next decade and beyond.

In a bid to limit the damage humans are causing to the world, the COP26 climate conference was convened in Glasgow in early November.

The aim of the summit was to limit global warming to the 1.5C agreed upon in Paris in 2015

However, the long-heralded event ended in a watered-down coal deal, branded "meek and weak" by critics.

Climate protesters took to the streets of Glasgow daily during the COP26 conference. Credit: PA

With the eyes of the world on Glasgow, protesters took to the streets of Scotland's biggest city throughout the two weeks of the conference in a bid to put pressure on world powers to enact tougher measures on climate change.

Many felt their efforts fell on deaf ears, with Extinction Rebellion heralding the deal as a "Titanic failure".

One of the aims of the COP26 summit was to lessen the world's reliance on fossil fuels, but few events displayed the need more than the queues of drivers waiting for hours outside petrol stations in September.

Motorists queued for hours for fuel amid panic-buying and shortages. Credit: PA

A shortage of supply was caused by issues with transporting fuel from distribution terminals to forecourts, caused by a lack of HGV drivers, and led to panic-buying which further exacerbated the problems which led to low stocks at pumps for more than a week.

Branded one of the worst storms to hit the UK in the last 20 years, Storm Arwen left three men dead and hundreds of thousands of people without power, many for days, as it battered the UK with heavy rain and snow and winds of almost 100mph.

Storm Arwen wrought havoc to large parts of the country. Credit: PA

2021 saw a bumper summer of sport for the UK.

England's men's football team nearly ended 50 years of waiting for a major trophy when they made it to the final of Euro 2020, but were ultimately beaten by Italy on penalties.

A dejected England team react after Italy score the winning penalty in the final of Euro 2020. Credit: PA

Less than two weeks after the football final, the Olympics kicked off in Tokyo.

Team GB only had to wait three days until Adam Peaty took gold in the pool, while Jason Kenny became the first British Olympian to win seven golds when he won the men's keirin on the final day of the Games.

Meanwhile Laura Kenny added to her collection and is the most successful British female Olympian.

Jason and Laura Kenny are the most successful male and female Team GB athletes. Credit: PA

However, the total number of golds between both Kennys pales in comparison to the 17 held by Dame Sarah Storey.

Unsurprisingly the 43-year-old is Great Britain's most successful Paralympian.

Tokyo was her eighth Games, having begun her career in the pool and later moving to the bike.

Dame Sarah Storey crosses the finish line of the C4-C5 race, winning her 17th Paralympic gold medal. Credit: AP

Emma Raducanu topped off a sensational summer of sport by winning the US Open, all without dropping a set.

She's the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam in the Open Era.

Teenage tennis sensation Emma Raducanu shocked the world when she won the US Open. Credit: AP

2021 also saw the return of mass participation sport after a Covid hiatus.

Once again tens of thousands of people ran 26.2 miles through the streets of the capital as the London Marathon took place after an 18-month Covid-related break.

Tens of thousands of runners once again pounded the streets of London as the marathon was held after an 18-month break. Credit: PA

However, 2021 wasn't solely a year of sporting success for the UK.

The world of sport was rocked by racism allegations made by cricketer Azeem Rafiq.

The 30-year-old fought back tears as he told a parliamentary committee of racial slurs being "used constantly" at his two spells at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC), leaving him feeling "humiliated" in front of other players.

Cricketer Azeem Rafiq held back tears as he gave evidence to MPs about the racism he has suffered. Credit: House of Commons

The issue of racism again dominated the news during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who killed George Floyd by kneeling on the black man's neck for nine-and-a-half minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis in May 2020.

In April, after less than a day of deliberations, a jury found Chauvin guilty of Mr Floyd's murder and manslaughter.

The verdict triggered celebrations across Minneapolis as crowds flooded the streets with banners and cars blared their horns.

There were tears and screams. “They see us, they see us, we matter, we matter,” shouted one sobbing supporter.

Two months later, Chauvin was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison.

Residents across Minneapolis reacted with joy after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. Credit: AP

One of the defining moments of 2021 and likely for years to come was the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

The militants swept to power in a matter of weeks, and soon began enforcing their brutal laws.

Thousands of desperate Afghans attempted to flee the country in any way they could, and dramatic scenes from Kabul's airport showed scores running alongside the plane attempting to cling on. Some did and fell from the plane. At least five people were reported to have died.

Frantic Afghans run alongside and cling onto the side of a US military plane as it begins to take off from Kabul

This video contains distressing images

Just days later, a photo emerged of hundreds of Afghans tightly packed in a US military plane.

The photo from the US Defense Department and obtained by news site Defense One shows roughly 640 citizens on board the US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.

It was a much larger number than expected and came near the record for the most people ever flown in the Boeing airlifter.

A defence official told Defense One the plane was not intending to take on so many passengers but the panicked Afghans clambered on board the plane via its half-open ramp.

The official said instead of forcing the fleeing citizens off the military cargo plane, “the crew made the decision to go”.

A US official said the crew of the military cargo plane made the decision to go instead of removing anyone from the aircraft. Credit: US Department of Defense/ Defense One

Britney Spears' conservatorship dominated the news for much of 2021 and in November, it took a judge in LA just 40 minutes to bring it to an end, handing the singer back control over much of her life.

Free Britney campaigners - who had been calling for the 40-year-old's release for years and who had propelled the issue to international recognition - reacted with screams of joy and tears outside the court.

The singer took to social media to proclaim it the "best day ever", adding: "Good God I love my fans so much it's crazy."

Free Britney campaigners reacted ecstatically to the news that her conservatorship had been terminated. Credit: AP

One of the more surprising events of 2021 was the wedging of the Ever Given tanker in the Suez Canal.

The 220,000-tonne, 400 metre-long "mega ship" – became stuck on the crucial East-West waterway for global shipping for almost a week in March, forcing dozens of ships to take a 3,100 mile, two-week detour around the Cape of Good Hope, Africa's most southern tip, sending global oil prices soaring.

The Ever Given tanker blocked the Suez Canal for six days and seven hours. Credit: AP

With Covid cases once again on the rise, it seems 2022 may get off to a similar start to 2021, but with the men's football World Cup, a double-bank holiday for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee and hopefully some summer sunshine, there's certainly a lot to look forward to.