There’s been an awful lot of coverage about how awful Matt Hancock is, and how awful it is that this unworthy cur is going to make an awful lot of money (£350,00, they say) out of his appearance on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Personally, I’m looking forward to our downgraded former health secretary sweating like a pensioner in a care home during the earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The difference is that Hancock will know deep down that, unlike the unvaccinated, unprotected Covid victims, he won’t die a needless death.
Sadly, he wasn’t on hand for the inaugural episode of this gruelling three-week ordeal – for viewers and contestants alike. When he does arrive, ITV bosses will likely be thrilled with the number of premium rate phone calls coming in to nominate him for some suitably harsh punishment, including from bereaved folks who feel betrayed by the government’s complacency and failures in controlling the coronavirus. Hancock, let us recall, broke his own lockdown rules and left a lingering legacy of mistrust in public health advice as a result. This broken politician and ITV are thus literally profiting from national misery and death, a necessarily sobering thought as we watch Ant and Dec, as jaded in their own way as any time-served Tory backbencher, try to be all jovial about the fool. Hancock is not the same as lioness Jill Scott, Love Island lovely Olivia Attwood or the equally lovely Boy George, who, with his sculpted facial hair, extravagant headwear and sumptuous costume, these days resembles a medieval doge of Venice.
It is a category error. Hancock is not a jolly celebrity trying to rescue or kick-start a career of being famous for being famous. Well, he is, but more importantly he is a politician who can’t be forgiven. And he is just as creepy as anything in the jungle. But it seems we must wait for his grand entrance, just as we did when he was doing those press conferences.
For now, though, we’ll have to make do with the rest of the campmates. When Chris Moyles arrives at the luxury hotel that is the base of their initial, pre-jungle adventures, the radio DJ asks aloud what he’s doing there. To which the answer is “collecting the fee and boosting your fading profile”, or, as Moyles puts it, proving that he’s “not an arsehole” (unlike what he’ll soon have to consume in a Béarnaise sauce). He’s also there to remind the world that he is, in his words, “the greatest broadcaster of my generation”.
But he has a point. He’s struggled with a life-long aversion to heights, as well as modesty, and yet he’s volunteered to be chucked out of a helicopter. Scott, level-headed and my early tip to be Queen of the Jungle, is scared of rats, confusingly because she had a Guinea pig as a kid. Babatunde Aléshé, funny man, can’t face frogs. Loose Women’s Charlene White is arachnophobic (as is almost everyone). The only exception is Mike Tindall, who seems relaxed to be so far away from his terrifying mother-in-law, Princess Anne.
Apart from the fee and the usually transient boost to the celebrities’ fame, the truth about the all-too familiar trials is that ITV plc, its Australian partners, their hundreds of producers, medics, technicians, health’n’safety execs, and animal cruelty advisers make sure that there is virtually no real jeopardy involved in anything that happens in the “jungle”, and there never has been. They may well get covered in maggots, as usual, or totter, as usual, at the top of a skyscraper, but there’s no real risk of them meeting their deaths. No one at ITV is going to permit Coronation Street semi-star Sue Cleaver to suffer any detriment to her wellbeing. I’ve seen more thrilling episodes of Countdown. So the celebs, the audience and the advertisers are all in on the conceit.
The formulaic danger-free challenges, the critically weak banter (some of the very worst, even by the vapid standards of Ant and Dec), the spectacular photography, the lavish graphics, the hundreds of cameras in the jungle clearing (in reality a large studio set), the flash cars, the sweaty armpits, the makeshift beds and loos, and the vicarious thrills are the secrets of the show’s success. It’s awful, though, and it will be beyond awful when the rodentlike Hancock shows up. Let’s just hope he’s tested negative for Covid before he enters the closed environment of the jungle set. If he hasn’t, then things will start getting properly dangerous.