Lydon walkout leaves ITV in the lurch

12.15pm: Former Sex Pistols star John Lydon will not be allowed to return to I'm a Celebrity after storming off the jungle contest in the middle of the night, throwing the show into a temporary crisis. John Plunkett reports.

Former Sex Pistols star John Lydon will not be allowed to return to I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! after storming off the jungle contest in the middle of the night, throwing the show into a temporary crisis.

ITV bosses have been forced into emergency action and are working out a damage limitation plan to plug the gap left by Lydon, who was the favourite to win the show.

Lydon, who sparked almost 100 complaints earlier this week after calling the audience "fucking cunts" for not voting him off, walked out after launching another four-letter rant and starting a fire on the edge of the camp in protest at the lack of food.

He told programme-makers he was "bored" and "wanted some chocolate".

He is now holed up in a luxury hotel on the Gold Coast and will be barred from returning to the set.

"John Lydon left camp at 12.30pm Australian time," said ITV in a statement. "He has been fantastic entertainment on the show and viewers and his fellow celebrities have found him to be an endearing, eccentric and sensitive character.

"We respect his decision to quit and hope we haven't seen the last of him."

Lydon's departure came around 2.30am UK time. A show insider said he decided to leave after thinking about it overnight.

"He said he was bored, really, and decided to leave. We asked him if he was sure and he said yes, and of course we respect that decision. It was all in very good humour and he waited for Lord Brocket to return from the 'Bushtucker' trial before he left so he could say goodbye.

"Kerry [McFadden] and Lord Brocket were the saddest to see him go but these things happen. It is very tough in there. They don't have much food and there are spiders the size of your hand."

Executives in Australia confirmed Lydon would not be returning to the show, even though his impatience with Jordan, whom he described as a "page 3 blow-up balloon", had created the on-screen tension that all producers dream of.

But the nature of his exit may disappoint. An outburst over Jordan might have fitted his punk pedigree more than a protest over the lack of chocolate.

Granada TV said it was too late to replace Lydon with a stand-in celebrity, while the rules of the show bar him from returning to the camp.

Tonight's live eviction, in which viewers vote to kick one of the celebrities out of the jungle, has been abandoned and will be replaced by a "Johnny special".

Viewers' favourite

Lydon's departure will be a huge blow for the show, which is watched by up to 12 million viewers every night. The former Sex Pistol became an unlikely viewers' favourite and his increasingly eccentric behaviour became the main talking point, along with the on-off romance between Jordan and Peter Andre.

His casting was praised a stroke of genius for attracting 30- and 40-something viewers who would otherwise be unlikely to be tempted by the prospect of a jungle-based reality show peopled by C-list celebrities. Show insiders were relishing the prospect of a Johnny/Jordan face-off in Monday's live grand finale.

Bookies have now replaced Lydon as the favourite to win - yesterday he was 11/8 to be crowned king of the jungle. Now Lord Brocket ranks number one at 6/4 favourite followed by Kerry McFadden at 13/8. Jordan is next at 4/1 followed by Peter Andre at 7/1, Jennie Bond 18/1 and Alex Best 20/1.

"To be honest, the biggest change to the odds was last night when 'Razor' Ruddock was voted off. We saw very little money on Jordan - I don't think we took a single bet on her yesterday, so she really is out of favour with the public. John Lydon was favourite yesterday, so he's just been moved off the list with Brocket and Kerry McFadden moving up to joint favourite position," said Jenny Prest from William Hill bookmakers.

But a spokesman for the show refused to discuss whether Lydon's walkout would cost him his fee for taking part in the show. However, the money he would receive from any newspaper buy-up of the story of his time in the jungle is likely to more than compensate.

Lydon's behaviour had grown increasingly eccentric over the last 48 hours. He said he was going "lentil mental" because of boredom and lack of food and lit a fire at the edge of the camp before going back to bed.

When producers asked the contestants to extinguish the blaze, he walked over to the fire and started squeezing his nipples, pretending to put the fire out with breast milk. Treading on the fire to put it out, he said: "I'm doing the dance. I'm doing the pogo. Lentil mental. I have gone lentil mental."

His behaviour prompted fellow contestant McFadden to ask: "Is he on medication? It is not right. Seriously, you have gone nuts."

Lydon replied: "I'm splendid, I'm super, I'm cute and cuddly. I'm irresistible, that's what I am. I am not a misery guts." He also cut two nipple holes in his T-shirt with a knife and began colouring his hair with a toothbrush.

His antics, which also included talking to lizards, made him the darling of the tabloid press, with today's Daily Star declaring: "Never mind the b*ll*cks (or any other swear words) we love Johnny."

Lydon is now "holed up" in a nearby luxury hotel. However, he is not expected to fly home immediately and is likely to remain in Australia until the end of the show. He told Lord Brocket: "See you at the wrap party!"

This year's show has achieved record ratings for this stage of the series, with a high of 11 million viewers so far. Last year's final, when Phil Tufnell was crowned king of the jungle, was watched by more than 12 million.

ITV was forced to put a time delay on the show after Lydon's four-letter outburst during the live eviction two days ago. The network apologised for the outburst, and a spokeswoman said Lydon was "extremely sorry" for swearing on the programme. But his rant earned fewer than 100 complaints.

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John Plunkett

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