‘Oh my God!” shouted footballer Jill Scott halfway through her last bushtucker trial. “I’ve got a rat on my face!” On the plus side, the rat wasn’t the one who quit the sinking ship of the Conservative party before jumping on board a 20-year-old TV franchise that, if not sinking, then like Matt Hancock’s political career has a negligible future.
In the end, the slimiest thing in the jungle did not win. The disgraced former health secretary and MP who opted to be covered in toads, spiders and eels, rather than do the well-remunerated job he was elected to do, was not crowned king of the jungle but only came third in the final of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
Hancock lasted 21 days in the jungle camp, survived eight eliminations, 1,700 complaints to the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, a statement from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group accusing him of “cashing in on his terrible legacy”, metabolised a cow’s anus and, most incredibly of all, was beaten by a Hollyoaks star. After eating a witchetty grub in this final instalment, second-placed Owen Warner told Ant and Dec proudly: “It’s going down my windpipe.” It wasn’t, of course, nor was the bull’s penis, the fermented duck egg, nor the camel’s testicle and eye he ate. Had they done so, Hollyoaks might have had to start casting for a new hunk.
The majority of more than 12 million public votes went to Scott, the actual lioness who was part of England’s Euro-winning football team this summer. She was indeed, as Warner described her, a “sweet soul” and one who from the first episode showed a steeliness of spirit. She, along with TV presenter Charlene White, walked a plank on top of a skyscraper before dangling above the human splatter zone for one long minute, while another contestant, comedian Babatunde Aleshe, understandably bottled it.
Scott’s achievement is more striking since, as Tanita Tikaram tweeted yesterday: “We are so lucky in the UK to have a whole industry of people working to make sure the least deserving in our society succeed.” What could the former pop star mean? She meant that, as the Observer reported, members of Hancock’s PR team were lobbying for votes on the I’m a Celebrity app – encouraging people to vote for him repeatedly and giving them step-by-step instructions how to do it, often using TikTok videos to court a younger demographic.
None of this, apparently, is against the show’s rules – but it’s clear that neither of the other finalists had PR machines behind them, so this was hardly a level playing field. Another intolerable truth about this year’s I’m a Celebrity is how contestants of colour were the first to be voted out. As in a Hollywood blockbuster (I’m thinking Ice Cube asphyxiated by the eponymous Anaconda) their fate was not to make it to the finale. A comparison with the recent finale of The Great British Bake off is salutary: the three finalists in that show were immigrants, one from Pakistan, another from Angola and the winner from Malaysia – all selected not by public vote but by TV judges. On I’m a Celebrity, all three finalists were white Britons. I’m not saying the voting public is racist, but it clearly doesn’t value diversity much.
Nor am I saying that those who voted to keep Hancock in the jungle were morons with more disposable income than sense who witlessly endorsed a terrible politician trying to sanitise his toxic brand. Well, not entirely. Some, no doubt, voted for him to stay in order that he be punished through a series of grisly bushtucker trials, which, though I’m no sadist, I think ncommensurate with his awfulness.
After he was voted out, Hancock crossed the rope bridge to a well-deserved glass of champagne and a post-match interview with Ant and Dec. “We are normal people!” he said of himself and his fellow celebrities after watching his highlights video. Even Ant found that hard to take, given that the video consisted mainly of necking the viscera of local fauna and performing bad karaoke. (Hancock’s unsurprisingly self-serving choice of karaoke number? I Want to Break Free, by Queen.)
You can’t have it both ways, Mr Hancock. Either you’re normal or a celebrity. Or maybe the truth is you’re neither normal nor a celebrity, just another weak man who ran way from his responsibilities and expected to be forgiven for doing so.