What is it about ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!’ that persists in being so irresistible? Even a pandemic that reduced it to a couple of years in a buggered fridge of a Welsh castle wasn’t enough to kill it off. ‘Where Strictly Politically Correctly Come Dancing’ is glittery and repetitive and ‘Celebrity Masterchef’ keeps proving that no matter how famous you are you can still fuck up a slice of toast, ‘Get Me Out Of Here……’ somehow gets away with it. Very much like Anthony McPartlin. Like ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ before it, it seems to capture the true nature of modern celebrity – the sense that none of these people really matter, even the ones that we think should. Perhaps those ones most of all. It allows us to peek into what it really means to be famous, only to find an empty space, and that just leaves us speculating whether fame is worth any bother whatsoever. For some famous people winning it has been a career high, but I’m afraid if that’s what you consider a career high then your career hasn’t been going as well as you might have planned or hoped for. Not that I’d turn it down, because I’m just as shallow.
This year’s offering isn’t much more than a large collection of mildly animated cardboard cut-outs peppered with the occasional glimpse of an actual personality. Whereas contestants of old tended to be damaged, argumentative and thick, now they seem to be much nicer and more malleable, if not necessarily any sharper. Just look at Owen Warner, a pretty boy with muscles who ‘acts’ in Hollyoaks and has all the depth (and intellect) of a bowl of cold porridge. He may think he’s there to add something to the pot, but in reality (depending on your definition and perception of reality) he’s there purely to represent male totty – a bit of a hunk for the ladies (or otherwise) to get all moist over between cups of tea and a last custard cream before bedtime. His unofficial female counterpart, a certain Olivia Attwood (whose occupation remains a mystery to me), had to bow out after the first day for unnamed medical reasons, thus depriving the nation of some squealy bikini action and a split nail related panic attack.
If the programmers aren’t careful, it can all turn out to be about as appealing as a seagull’s breakfast, and so they offset the dull mulch of day-time, soap opera non-events with some proper firepower; or as close as they can find to the opposite of damp squibs. All hail Boy George, a giant amongst celebrities thanks to having one recognisable hit with Culture Club before spending the rest of his career on or recovering from heroin and making absurd hat makers and third rate tattooists very rich indeed. He now spends most of his time name dropping or meditating and then hoping the rest will ask him about it – but don’t worry, he’ll tell you anyway. Boy George is there to satisfy anyone who can remember the 1980’s; just as Jill Scott is there to satisfy any fans of women’s football, or indeed anyone who isn’t but is too scared to admit it in case they are accused of being from the 1950’s. And Chris Moyles is there to remind us why he is on the radio and that even that may be one outlet too many. But in the end these stale confectionaries still aren’t enough. To get the audience ITV needs requires bad people. People seeking a shot at redemption. People for whom heaven is no longer a realistic option.
Enter Seann Walsh and Matt Hancock. In the public eye they have very much and very little in common. On the one hand they are both lowdown cheating swine. Devious, uncontrollable fuck-bags of the first order and truly the inheritors of the scum of the earth. Worse than Jeffrey Dahmer. Worse than Dr Crippen. Worse than Hitler himself. Boo, hiss etc. On the other hand, they are two men who have found themselves in completely different fields of employment and their only crime in this respect is that neither of them appears to be very good at what they do for a living: Walsh is a comedian who isn’t very funny and Hancock, well, we all know who Matt Hancock is. And yet, to me at least, they are easily the pick of the jungle bunch. Sexual transgression to one side (which is a big ask, I appreciate) they have both chosen (albeit for a hefty wad of cash) to throw themselves on the sword of public opinion in the hope it won’t be sharp enough to cause permanent damage, and while I may be wrong, I’m starting to get the feeling they may just get away with it.
I say they, I mean Seann Walsh. He seems fine already. Perhaps he never felt too bad in the first place, once the therapy kicked in. He seems funnier than I remember, which either speaks volumes about his sense of humour or my memory. Or my own sense of humour. Hancock is playing with a totally different hand of cards. But should he be? Did the NHS collapse under his watch? No, it didn’t, not quite. Was Covid his fault? No, it wasn’t. True he didn’t shower himself in glory and perhaps someone else could have done better, though we should pause to remember that Liz Truss has very recently taught us that someone else can always do a hell of a worse one. Hancock was nothing you could call a triumph, but he wasn’t a complete disaster either; and he certainly wasn’t quite the buffoon Boris Johnson proved to be or the eternal creep that Dominic Cummins was, is and shall always remain. I’m certainly no fan of Hancock but I think his going into the jungle may prove to be one of the smartest things he has ever done. He’s really in a win-win situation: if he fails in his mission to turn the tide he can go back to being the Matt Hancock nobody likes/everyone hates, and if he succeeds he’ll be the Matt Hancock who nobody used to like/always hated but now think he’s kind of not as bad as they first thought.
If he manages to redeem himself then good luck to him. Not that it doesn’t come with a price: he has been voted into every trial that has come up (until now) and that makes me wonder how many of those who voted for him to fist a kangaroo or eat a wombat’s bladder also found time to vote in real elections with real results. The fact is that if given the opportunity we like to see our villains suffer in any manner of fashion available. It is our way of getting revenge without having to do anything but dial a number. Just pick up the phone and then watch some idiot get covered in shit, or if not shit then offal and huge slabs of angry-purple, quivering camel liver. Perhaps in the future this is how all politicians should be judged and how careers on the front line should be divvied out. Some viewers might find a perverse kind of gratification in watching Priti Patel, Suella Braverman and Therese Coffey mud wrestle in a pit of indignant cockroaches to avoid washing the dishes, or Jacob Rees-Mogg trying to milk a group of angry wallabies with his hands tied behind his back, as Nadhim Zahawi takes pot shots at him with a crossbow. And I’d always pay good money to see Michael Gove sinking slowly, and without reprieve, into a swamp of pigs kidneys, furiously brushing his teeth with a crocodile’s cock for camp meals that he won’t ever get to eat. You see, there are just so many terrible politicians out there, so it seems unfair to let Matt Hancock take the rap for all of them. I think we should be thanking him – for taking a gamble and making ‘I’m A Celebrity……’ worth watching. He’s either a slightly better man than I thought, or a very good actor, or just trying to renegotiate his personal route to hell. And in an odd kind of way I’m even starting to wish he’d win. Stranger things have happened. And we all know the devil works in mysterious ways.
G B Hewitt. 16.11.2022