Matt Hancock eating on I’m a Celebrity… turned out to be a low point | Zoe Williams

I will wonder forever about the brass neck of the disgraced former health secretary being in the jungle

You know how I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! works, right? Let’s break it down: “I’m a Celebrity” refers to the 12 contestants, who are all famous – except are they? The yardstick of fame is a better kept secret than Colonel Sanders’ recipe. There’s not even a coherent ideal household, to whom all these people would be “names”.

If you’re an absolute TV aficionado, you’ll know your way around Owen Warner (Hollyoaks), Sue Warner (Corrie), Charlene White (Loose Women) and Scarlette Douglas (A Place in the Sun), but would you necessarily be familiar with the oeuvre of comedians Seann Walsh and Babatúndé Aléshé? Would the former England football player Jill Scott ring any bells?

No prizes for knowing who Boy George is, naturally – well, they couldn’t afford a prize, since all the money, half a million quid, went to Boy George – but he’s not what you’d call the man of 2022. I wonder if it matters whether they’re celebrities at all. I wonder if this exact dynamic couldn’t be replicated by 12 lookalikes, though I also wonder whether the market is strong enough for a Chris Moyles lookalike to exist.

I will wonder forever about the brass neck of sitting MP and disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock, being in this jungle instead of at work. I wonder whether the whole show is just an elaborate ruse, to foreground the beautiful bromance that is Ant and Dec, as fresh and loving today as it was in Byker Grove. From the loud, brash, effervescent explosion of hope that was 1997, their relationship is all that survives: don’t call it a cockroach, though, as then Hancock will have to eat it.

Sorry, I’m showing my age: contestants haven’t been allowed to eat anything that’s alive since 2019, when animal cruelty trumped theatre of cruelty and the show made a new rule: only dead titbits, from now on. Realistically, this means genitals. Thus we were treated to the sight of Hancock eating the tip of a camel’s penis, which I want to call a highlight. Wasn’t that the entire draw of this casting, that we would be able to tell him, through the medium of telephone voting and disgusting punishments, exactly what we thought of him? In fact, it turned out to be a low point: camels’ penises are disgusting to look at, but more surprisingly, so is Hancock eating.

“Get Me Out of Here” refers, of course, to the fact that these celebs will face many hardships – they will be deprived of food and freedom, covered in slime and insects, pushed to the limits of their ingenuity and sometimes made to walk places when there’s a golf buggy right there. Boy George had a tantrum when Sue Cleaver got a lift. It would have been good to explore this a bit, push them to the point of utter mutual hatred with well-timed favouritism and sleep deprivation. Sadly, it was not to be, they’d both been booted out early doors, because of the immutable rules of British culture. Am I going to call the nation racist, sexist and homophobic? I am not. I merely observe the voting pattern, which goes: first eject any woman who isn’t white and young; then any man who isn’t straight and white. When you’re satisfied that only straight, white people of childbearing age remain, you can decide which man you prefer. On the plus side, we’re still a nation of animal lovers; the show has received a record 17,000 complaints for the mistreatment of insects, and nobody’s even trying to eat them, they’re just being poured on people, and who knows whether they even mind that?

I enjoyed watching Warner and Scott try to spell “coq au vin”; not because I care whether or not they can, but just because of the subtlety of their comradeship. There are rumours that Warner is acting dumb on purpose, to win the battle for hearts and minds. The strategy is so fraught with risk – does the dumb guy ever win, or just get a lot of laughs that he only hears about later? Does his thicko reputation cling to him going forward, out of the jungle? Will he only shed it when he appears on Mastermind?

The peculiar thing is how surprised they all are, by what was written on the tin, and has been for 20 years: it really does involve doing disgusting things such as yoga in a tank of offal, and hard things – hoisting a teammate into a tank with an unmechanised crane. If you don’t win the necessary stars for a meal, you really do eat rice and beans. “I’m scared of everything, I’m an anxious, scared man that’s only comfortable in a radio studio,” Moyles said, as he departed. But mate, you’re 48 years old! How have you only just realised that? Mike Tindall has quite an endearing mode of speech, somewhere between Confucius and motivational-sports-coach. “He wears everything that is going on, in his head, and in his body, on his face,” he said about Walsh, and it was true: Walsh is very expressive, his eyebrows are like over-used exclamation marks made of hair. But realistically, after about four days, all their hearts are on their sleeves, splashed with other organs from crocodiles or whatever. The singalong was almost too poignant to watch, everyone so idiot-happy, most of them for the obvious reason that they were singing Karma Chameleon with Boy George, Hancock because he looked like a man who had never once been invited to a party, one who, if he happened to be in a party-appropriate room, everyone would wait in silence until he left before they started.

If there were any justice, Scott would win; she’s got grit. If you had to pick a team to take into battle, you’d pick her, and then you’d clone her, and take 11 more of her. So it’s going to be Tindall, isn’t it? Goddamn United Kingdom.


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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