The people of 2010

Six of the most notable people to have hit the headlines this year.

Six of the most notable people to have hit the headlines this year.

Julian Assange

The whistleblower

Dangerous subversive or freedom fighter? The Australian behind WikiLeaks continues to divide opinion. Currently holed up on bail at a friend's house in Suffolk, awaiting extradition to Sweden on charges of rape (trumped up, say supporters), he ignited a global debate about state power and censorship triggering "hactivist" attacks on Mastercard, Visa and Paypal after they refused to process payments. The leaked US diplomatic cables at the centre of the fray were remarkably tame certainly compared with the footage of foulmouthed US troops gunning down Iraqi civilians released earlier this year. But Assange is all about threat. There's plenty more dirt to come, he hints. He recently told Forbes that he's got enough to bring down a major US bank.

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Angela Merkel

The alpha female

The eurozone debt crisis might be giving Merkel sleepless nights, but it has sealed her status as the world's most powerful woman quite a feat for someone once dismissed as a frumpy "Ossi" hausfrau. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Merkel grew up in East Germany, speaks Russian fluently, and studied physics at the University of Leipzig. Considered a "lucky" politician by some (she was fortunate to ride the wave of reunification), she became renowned for her prodigious work ethic, shrewd judgement and the ruthlessness with which she toppled her mentor, Helmut Kohl. Amiable in person, Merkel's hard-bargaining is legendary and, some believe, myopic in the European context. Handelsblatt compares her tough sanctions on debt-ridden states to a "Versailles without war". Privately she is said to be deeply sceptical about the single currency. But if anyone can hold the euro together or extract Germany from it on the best possible terms it's probably her.

Katrin Radmacher

The trailblazer

When the German paper heiress Katrin Radmacher married investment banker Nicolas Granatino in 1998, her father insisted the couple sign a prenuptial agreement waiving their rights to claim against each other's wealth if they split. Divorce they did and Granatino who had swapped his well-heeled JPMorgan lifestyle for the impoverished lot of a student decided to take the £100m heiress to the cleaners. The couple's four-year court battle culminated in a landmark Supreme Court judgement that the prenuptial agreement was binding sweeping away centuries of tradition that marital assets should be divvied up. In one fell swoop, London lost its status as the "divorce capital" of the world. Radmacher has struck a blow against gold diggers, but it's left her emotionally bruised. "I was madly in love. But looking back, I don't think he would have married me if I didn't have a penny."

Tony Hayward

The PR disaster

Corporate crises don't come much worse than the one BP had to face after the Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill and few chief executives have suffered such a public pillorying as the mild-mannered drilling geek Tony Hayward. Appointed as a safe pair of hands to counter the excesses of BP's "sun king", Lord Browne, it looked at one point as if Hayward would preside over its destruction. Initially viewed in the US press as a ditherer ("The British leader he calls to mind is Ethelred the Unready", said Newsweek), a series of PR gaffes elevated him to villain status. British apologists accused US politicians of stirring the anti-Brit rabble. But Hayward's "I'd like my life back" quote, so soon after 11 others had lost theirs, was crass by any standard. However, within BP, there is much sympathy.Judged to have coped with an impossible situation with "nerves of steel", he was given the consolation prize of a senior post in Russia. Hayward would be wise to avoid visiting America.

Mark Zuckerberg

The superstar

Media mogul William Randolph Hearst had to wait till his deathbed to be immortalised on film as Citizen Kane. Not so the youngest self-made billionaire in history, whose rise from a Harvard dorm to corporate titan was charted in this year's hit movie The Social Network. Zuckerberg, 26, and worth $7bn, was depicted as a scheming back-stabber, motivated by romantic rejection and social exclusion. Time magazine, which has named him its Person of the Year, prefers to focus on his achievement. It started out "as a lark", but in less than seven years "Zuckerberg wired together a 12th of humanity into a single network". If Facebook were a country, "it would be the third largest, only behind China and India". But the drama is just beginning. Zuckerberg's ambition to establish Facebook as the de-facto power on the net sets the scene for a titanic battle with Google.

George Osborne

The dark horse

Young, privileged and cocky, George Osborne seemed a natural target for ridicule when he took over as chancellor. Under-promise, over-deliver is the first rule of politics and that's what Osborne has done, growing in gravitas even as the economic news brightened and the threat from bond markets receded. He gained credit for announcing the toughest austerity measures in a generation and for showing every sign of sticking with them. But Osborne has had it "cushy", says The Guardian's Larry Elliott; living off the growth inherited from Labour's stimulus. Next year is when the pain will really bite. However, fans compare Osborne with Cassius Clay: light on his feet and adept at landing the winning punch. If worse comes to worse, notes Foreign Secretary William Hague, he can always be relied upon to tell a good joke.