As former DJ Chris Moyles put it after parachuting into the jungle, “I’d rather eat a sheep’s anus than ever do anything like that again.” You’ve never been so relatable, Mr Moyles. I feel precisely the same way after watching nearly two hours of the first episode of the 21st series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. While the members of Cop27 gathered in Egypt, the Not Much Cop 10 invaded Australia. “You might know me from Hollyoaks,” said one pretender to become king of the jungle. “More likely,” I told telly, “not.”
There was a huge problem with the first episode: insufficient schadenfreude. I have absolutely no interest in seeing three people I’ve scarcely heard of – newsreader Charlene White, Euros-winning footballer Jill Scott and comedian Babatunde Aleshe – dangle over the edge of a high-rise tower in Australia to win tokens for a meal in their camp. Do you really want to hurt me, sang Boy George, perhaps the most famous of the contestants in this year’s show, many years ago. Absolutely not, Mr George. There’s only one person I want to see suffer. I want to see disgraced lockdown rules-flouter and failed health secretary Matt Hancock being force-fed kangaroo penises for his temerity in suggesting that he’s getting out of the Westminster bubble and going to the jungle to get in touch with real people.
Former contestant Lembit Öpik, himself a former politician, told the Guardian that I’m a Celebrity might well be the making of Hancock. It might even make him likable, once viewers get to see the real Matt behind the media coverage. I know what you’re thinking. Lembit who?
“We’re looking forward to rolling out the welcome Matt,” quipped Ant or Dec. I’m not sure which. They served effectively as Geordie Vladimir and Estragon, while the rest of us mugs watched a 2003 World Cup-winning rugby player and the late Queen’s grandson-in-law light a campfire. In real time. Which is as stupefying as it sounds.
Before the man the Rev Spooner would call Hat Mancock arrives in camp, quite possibly by a hot air balloon inflated entirely with his own entitlement, self-regard and self delusion, we have time to consider what he is up against in his counterintuitive bid to nestle in the bosom of the British public, or those of them who have downloaded the app or will cough up 50p a minute to express their preferences. The early money is most likely riding on actual lioness Jill Scott MBE, who seems, to my mind, annoyingly sweet, brave, competent and, even worse, pleasingly devoid of smugness.
I’ve already forgotten the names of the young man and young woman who are, one presumes, there as eye candy in this ailing franchise, but good luck to them in their careers – whatever they are. Another possible threat to Mancock becoming king of the jungle is comedian Babatunde Aleshe. Why? Because Aleshe has the wrong stuff, which, ironically, means he has the right stuff for garnering audience popularity. He admitted he is not fit for the jungle, sensibly noting that spiders have too many legs and that camping is folly when there are perfectly serviceable bed and breakfasts in the world.
“Do I have survival skills?” Aleshe asked rhetorically. “Yes. I’m from Tottenham. We run. I’m scared of everything.” Now that, Mr Moyles, is how you do relatable. Better yet, in his first challenge, Aleshe completely bottled it, failing to walk a plank to stand on a ledge overlooking an Australian motorway several hundred feet below. He deployed the safe words “I’m a celebrity get me out of here,” leaving fellow contestants Charlene White and Jill Scott to dangle high above the human splatter zone for more than a minute, proving, not for the first time, that women are better than men.
But these were incidental pleasures. For the most part, the return of I’m a Celebrity to the Australian jungle after lockdown interregnum despoiling the Welsh valleys was underwhelming. The proverbial disembodied kangaroo penis, by whom I mean Hancock, was off the opening episode’s celebrity menu.
Hopefully, the next episode will be different and the members of the public who vote for who to do which humiliating bush tucker trial task will start to show a contempt for Hancock equivalent to the contempt he’s showing his West Suffolk constituents and the taxpayers who pay his salary while he’s garnering a reported £400,000 for his performance. Fingers crossed that’ll be worth seeing.