Matt Hancock has said his decision to appear on I’m a Celebrity was motivated by a desire to showcase his “human side” and to use reality TV as a platform to “deliver important messages to the masses”.
Writing in the Sun in defence of his decision, which resulted in him losing the Conservative whip on Tuesday, the former health secretary said that “although some may think I’ve lost my marbles”, he believed politicians “must wake up and embrace popular culture”.
He wrote: “While there will undoubtedly be those who think I shouldn’t go, I think it’s a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics, even if they care very much about how our country’s run. It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are — not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster.”
Hancock said he had thought “long and hard” about the decision, and that he had already turned down the producers twice over the summer, but had “a change of heart” when he was approached for a third time last week.
He said his confidence that the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was leading a stable government had further persuaded him it was an appropriate moment for the reality TV appearance.
On Tuesday night, the Mirror reported that Hancock had landed in Brisbane to begin filming the show, which will air its first episode on 6 November.
Hancock’s trip to Australia has been described as a “serious” breach by the chief whip and will mean he is unable to vote in parliament while still able to claim his £84,144 salary.
In his piece for the Sun, he said he did not expect to serve in government again, but that he could “support Rishi and the government in different ways”. He added that he had spoken to the whips “in the same way any MP would when going on a foreign visit, which happens all the time”.
He said he had agreed with the producers that he would be able to continue to speak to his constituents from the jungle.
Hancock said he planned to use his reality TV appearance to promote the campaigning work on dyslexia that has been his focus as a backbench MP since resigning as health secretary after he broke Covid rules by having an affair with an aide, which he said “blew up every part of my life”.
He wants the public to understand the need for earlier identification and better support for dyslexia, as a result of his own struggle to obtain a diagnosis, and hopes to increase public support for his dyslexia screening and teacher training bill, which will receive its second reading in parliament a few days after I’m a Celebrity … finishes.
He said: “I want to use this incredible platform to raise awareness, so no child leaves primary school not knowing if they have dyslexia.”
He said he would use the proceeds from his appearance to make a donation to St Nicholas Hospice in Suffolk and causes supporting dyslexia, and confirmed that he would declare the amount he received to parliament.
Condemning “patronising” attitudes among MPs to popular culture, he wrote: “While some will say reality TV should be beneath a politician, I think we’ve got to go to where the people gather.”
Mark Harper, the transport secretary and a former chief whip, suggested Hancock was not serving his constituents well by going on Im a Celebrity … while parliament was sitting.
“As a former chief whip, I very much support the decision the chief whip has taken,” he told Sky News. “It’s a member of parliament’s first responsibility when parliament is sitting to serve their constituents.
“The chief whip has made the position clear, which is that he has made a decision that going on I’m a Celebrity is not compatible with doing your job properly as a member of parliament, which is why the whip’s been taken away and as a former chief whip I completely support those decisions taken by my successor.”