There’s got to be a limit – and mine is Farage in the jungle
We’re no longer shocked by the screenwashing of politicians. But tonight’s I’m a Celebrity is a step too far, says Observer TV critic Barbara Ellen
With Nigel Farage about to enter the showbiz jungle, is it time for the British public to rediscover our sense of shock? The former Ukip leader, key architect of Brexit, and proud holder of various divisive and inflammatory views (immigration; working women; refugees … take your pick), is due to appear on the 23rd series of ITV’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, which starts tonight. In a group including Britney Spears’s sister, Jamie Lynn, First Dates’s Fred Sirieix, and Made in Chelsea’s Sam Thompson, Farage will be entertainingly tormented/ degraded for a reputed fee of £1.5m (beating Noel Edmonds’s 2018 payment of £600K). There’s a Twitter/X post of Farage smirking: “How much?”, which social historians of the future may study as a prime example of 21st-century “smug”. Last year’s “watercooler”-signing, pandemic health minister Matt Hancock, may be regretting selling his soul for a snip at £320K. While there’s been some public anger, including calls to boycott the show, the reaction seems oddly subdued. Nor, come to think of it, did there seem that much of a reaction when Boris Johnson (soon to join Farage on the GB News TV channel) was rumoured to be “in talks” for I’m A Celebrity himself. With Farage, there’s almost a sense of eerie inevitability (verging on surprise he hasn’t already been on). It seems obvious what I’m A Celebrity represents for Farage: a spell in reputational rehab; a litmus test of his popularity. Hancock used his stint to reposition himself in the “nice bloke” zone of public consciousness. Farage, recently seen paddling in the backwaters of the Conservative party conference, is thought to be launching a political comeback. Travelling to Australia for I’m A Celebrity, he spoke of “a big young audience out there worth talking to”. It appears the wellknown adage needs updating: now showbiz is politics for ugly people. It’s unclear when politicians started deluding themselves they had h d“something thi to t give” i ” on the th light entertainment circuit. Just in terms of I’m A Celebrity, it goes back decades with politicians and their brand-affiliates (AKA: relatives). First, Christine Hamilton in 2002, then Carol Thatcher, Stanley Johnson, Edwina Currie, and more. In 2012, the show’s first sitting MP, Nadine Dorries, was suspended by the Conservatives for donning the brimmed hat and scarlet cargo pants, only to be voted off first. These days, the jungle represents an unofficial post-Westminster payday. A sign that a political career is i either ith fl agging, i dead, or, in Farage’s case, about to be resuscitated. For those “casting” the show, there’s now a “desperate/grubbing politician-type” slot to be filled. Elsewhere on the reality circuit, there’ve been similar manifestations. Ed Balls Gangnam Style-ing on Strictly Come Dancing; Penny Mordaunt in full hair and make-up make on Splash! . On something like Strictly, S it’s about learning a skill and becoming b fluffier, more palatable. able. On Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, Wins it’s about (Hancock again) being bein bollocked in interrogations, poisoned poiso with gas, dragged through mud, mud and “proving himself”. I’m A Celebrity is different again. It’s about a punishment cum atonement; men a “toss the viewing public lic some red meat” kind of deal. Whatever they fondly imagine they’re being hired for, politicos are a put in a kind of quasi-medieval e stocks, with public votes in place p of rotten vegetables. It’s a format that requires divisive sive figures, which is how someone like Farage F (a self-styled love me/ hate me gobshite outlier) rakes in the big b bucks. Even if you don’t buy the “I’m the kind of chap you can have a pint with” baloney, you might want to see him slurp down some cow urine, or chomp on some camel testicles. testic In the past, I’ve been as guilty as anyone else of nodding all this through, but there has to be a limit. Sitting through “The Only Way Is Hancock” jungleshow show was bad enough. Now we’re being bein asked to collude with Farage disinfecting disin his public persona for political polit re-entry. In a bid for higher ratings, ratin how do broadcasters get away with throwing such characters into the mix, abdicating responsibility, ity, and a expecting viewers and other contestants cont to deal with them? On the one hand, it doesn’t do to be alarmist (as in: if you tolerate this, Tommy Robinson will be next), but, if Hancock could be perceived as the th seat-warmer for Farage, you have to wonder what’s coming. Perhaps Perh it’s time to re-stoke public lic shock sh levels. At the dubious idea of Fa Farage on nightly primetime TV. At Boris Bo Johnson hosting a show on GB News, N and, reportedly, considering going on I’m A Celebrity. It really wasn’t so long ago that this would have been unthinkable. Could Farage on I’m A Celebrity be the wake-up call Britain needs? Even if we do end up watching, it could be time to dig deep and once again muster some shock about greedy, cynical showbiz-addled politicians.