by Kerenza Willcox
Nigel Farage, former UKIP and Brexit Party leader, joined the 2023 cast of I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here for a reported £1.5 million.
Whilst ITV surely hoped for Farage to bring entertainment to the show, perhaps it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Viewing figures were down by 2 million for the first episode compared to last season, and Ofcom received over 1000 complaints before the show even started over their signing of the controversial figure.
It’s not just the British public that are getting tired of politicians appearing on reality shows; even hosts of the show Ant and Dec spoke out on Instagram, suggesting they do a year without any politicians.
The general consensus about Farage featuring on I’m a Celeb is a negative one amongst my peers, however I’m sure this would vary if I was asking a different audience.
Despite never having been an elected MP, the broadcaster and politician has still been influential in UK politics, particularly regarding the country's decision to leave the European Union.
He served as a Member of European Parliament from 1999-2020, and has discussed politics multiple times in the Australian jungle, sparking debate amongst campmates.
With a past filled with anti-immigration campaigns and euroscepticism, Farage isn’t shy about his opinions - continuing to be vocal and true to his public image throughout the show.
He has been met with criticism from some of his fellow contestants, particularly Fred Sirieix of First Dates. The French maître d'hôtel brought up a UKIP poster featuring the words ‘Breaking Point’ above a line of refugees, stating that it was shameful, demonising migrants. From this, Farage responded simply saying: “In your view it was, but it wasn’t”.
Matt Hancock’s appearance on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and subsequently Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins seemingly softened his public perception, and he became somewhat of a TikTok sensation.
Whether or not people were posting humiliating clips of him or genuinely encouraging support, virality is a surefire way to stay in the competition. As they say, ‘all publicity is good publicity’.
For Hancock, these shows were a way to let the British public see the ‘real him’, which clearly worked to some extent as he came out of both shows in the final three.
Whether people kept him in to punish him with trials, or if by the end they’d actually come to like him, it’s easy to forget the decisions someone has made when they’re locked in a tank grinning like an idiot with a toad on their head.
Farage expressed frustration at not being picked for a bushtucker trial, saying to fellow contestant Grace Dent: “You see, if you do the challenges, it is 25 percent of the airtime. I'm looking to reach a new audience", showing that - like most other contestants - he’s on the show at least partly for a popularity boost.
Following a discussion between Farage and fellow contestants Tony Bellew and Josie Gibson about Brexit, and particularly the financial side of the EU withdrawal, Bellew said: “Politicians will sugarcoat things and dress things up to suit their narrative”, adding: “I’m not sure Nigel’s being absolutely 100 with us”.
Hancock’s treatment in Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins was very different to his time in the jungle. He handled the physical tasks relatively well, yet it was in the interrogations that we saw the true politician in him.
One interrogation saw him being called a “Weasel faced c***”, which did the rounds online, whilst the final interrogation solidified his sarcastic arrogance and need to come across as cool and collected. This appearance showed that there absolutely is a way to include politicians in reality television without putting them on a pedestal, however this is a difficult task for the celebrity jungle as it attempts to be a light-hearted, easy-going watch.
So, what’s the answer? Perhaps politicians should be just that, politicians, not reality tv stars or laughable idiots.
Surely Boris Johnson taught us that a ‘loveable’ (by some) goof doesn’t make a good political leader, so maybe it’s time to stop the celebritisation of politicians. They’re not meant to be your mates.