Matt Hancock could be “set for life” financially after his appearance on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, according to the ex-MP and former reality show contest Lembit Öpik, who suggested it may turn out to be his “Peter Andre moment” – though the move will probably signal an end to his political career.
On Wednesday, Hancock announced he would appear on the ITV reality show, which led to him losing the Conservative whip and criticism across newspaper front pages, with the Mirror labelling him “the man with no shame”.
But Öpik said the move could be shrewder than people give Hancock credit for, and speculated that it had been well-coordinated by a good agent, including his book publication and “clearly sorted out messaging”.
“Most people never look back after being in the jungle. There’s a speaker circuit, a superficial celebrity circuit, all there for you after,” Öpik said.
“It really is a gamechanger. For Hancock, if he plays it right, it’s already made him a celebrity, but it will give him a whole new direction for the rest of his life.”
Öpik said Hancock’s trajectory might resemble that of Andre’s, whose flagging career received a boost by appearing on the show in 2004, adding that he personally continued to benefit from his 2010 appearance.
Hancock has nothing to lose, Öpik said, since after the kissing scandal that led to his resignation as health secretary, “he starts from such a low base in the public eye that the only way is up”. Hancock was also overlooked for a top ministerial job by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak.
“I think he’s had enough of parliament,” Öpik said.
He cautioned that Hancock – whom he considers a personal friend – might not be totally prepared for the consequences of his decision, including the genuine risks posed by the jungle. Öpik nearly picked up a poisonous snake during his stint, and was bitten by a non-venomous python.
“Matt’s a little naive as a person, he’s almost endearingly innocent in a way. For a cabinet minister, you’d expect great maturity and depth.
“I don’t mean that as criticism. It’s just possible he really had no idea what was going to happen when in he went into the jungle. I got bitten by a snake, it’s possible he might get bitten by reality.”
Ten contestants are confirmed for the show so far, plus Hancock, who is expected to be one of two surprise entries to the camp in the days after the launch.
Öpik said his main piece of advice for Hancock was not to think he could control his narrative, which ultimately is the choice of the producers and their edits. “That is the most foolish misconception in reality TV.
“ITV did not recruit Matt Hancock to give him a platform, they recruited him for advertising revenue and, boy, have they succeeded.”
This was echoed by the fellow ex-MP and former contestant Edwina Currie, who appeared on the show in 2014. “Don’t try to be anything you’re not,” she said.
Currie said appearing on the show had been a good move for her because she was an ex-MP at the time and it “paid off the mortgage”. However, she was less impressed by Hancock’s decision: “You’re being paid a lot of money to look after your constituents. They have every right to the expectation you’ll be there for them and you’re not.”
She predicted Hancock would be punished for this by the audience, which she expected would vote him to do all the gruelling bushtucker trials – though the Sun has reported that he may be exempt due to having developed trench foot in a yet-to-air series of the Channel 4 reality show Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Currie thinks Hancock is unlikely to succeed in his objective “to prove to everyone what a lovely person he is”, but she offered him a little advice. “You are not an important person in the camp, you’re the same as everyone else. Be helpful, be supportive, be kind, that’s the narrative nobody is expecting that will enhance your expectation, if you can manage it.”
Hancock’s appearance is widely seen as a coup for the producers of I’ma Celebrity, which last season battled slumping ratings and a perception that the format had grown stale over 20 years.
Julian Henry, an entertainment PR who has worked on several big reality shows, said: “The trick for reality shows is in the casting. They’ve pumped more time and money into getting names for I’m a Celebrity that will cut through, like Boy George, Hancock. It looks like a strong bill.”
He added that the producers may be seeking to capitalise on the success of including political satire in the last series, in which the hosts, Ant and Dec, made several jibes at Boris Johnson that went viral on social media and generated newspaper headlines.
“From the producers’ point of view, it’s terrific as Hancock is a bumbling idiot who will happily put his hand up for all types of ritual humiliation thinking he’ll endear himself to the public. Papers will love it too. Twitter will froth with excitement,” he said.