If, like me, you were expecting Nigel Farage to be chowing down on some particularly recherché marsupial offal during the new series of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, well I fear we will be disappointed. On the basis of the first episode, there will be the usual lack of real jeopardy (we’re a litigious society, after all), surplus of animal cruelty (grubs have feelings too, same as Farage), and deathly unfunny presentation by the superannuated Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly. Not that I’m looking for sympathy, but I feel like I’ve been reviewing this nonsense since the old Queen was on the throne (Victoria, not Elizabeth), and it doesn’t improve with age.
Indeed, if it were possible for this panto to sink lower than a skink’s belly, it’s now being cynically exploited by all concerned, by deliberately putting “controversial” politicians into the mix. Matt Hancock was the trial, more mainstream, pilot; now it’s Farage, who is not as nice as he looks. Nigel is trying to pass himself off as a “natural leader”/“in for a penny, in for a pound” bloke in the pub with the same schtick that he employed when he conned an uncomfortably large proportion of the British electorate into leaving the EU. Getting some tokens out of some gunge in the back of a pick-up isn’t that tough. It’s an exercise in cleaning up – what you might call “celeb-washing” – fatally damaged political reputations. On a boil wash. I’m a Celeb should be sponsored by Zanussi.
It seems to be true, as reported, that the air crash he barely survived in 2010 and some resultant lingering injuries have given him an exemption from the more demanding tasks. I do sympathise, I really do, and, being of a certain age, I don’t necessarily think he’s a malingerer as such; yet I can’t help but think that maybe that actually disqualifies him from the show? Because… what’s the point? It certainly contrasts with his own views on people claiming sickness benefits for being unable to work.
As far as I can see, all that the architect of contemporary British decline is going to be required to do is some mildly icky stuff, such as wading waist-deep in a trough of disgusting brown sludge, while wearing clear goggles and a stained pink button-down shirt, to molest some non-venomous snakes – a fine but nonetheless undemanding metaphor for his approach to politics these past two ruinous decades.
However, we may yet be rewarded. The voting to get Farage and Nella Rose, fellow telly presenter, to go on a “jungle date” might be interesting. Such prolonged personal interactions should result in Farage getting intellectually and morally mashed by the other contestants, people not noted for their extremist views and, you’d hope, relatively normal. I certainly expect my old colleague, the food critic Grace Dent, to be deploying thermonuclear levels of sarcasm and scorn against the old sod. The other celebs, overwhelmingly “famous for being famous” on reality TV, may also give the former leader of Ukip and current GB News gobshite a run for his money. Maybe First Dates maître d’hôtel Fred Sirieix will also put him right on a few things (though Farage spent quite a bit of your money as an MEP in Brussels perfecting his palate and knowledge of fine wines: his ability to “take back control” of a Michelin starred wine list was legendary).
One suspects, and fervently hopes, that every time Farage opens his gob to spout some of his so-called common sense he’ll be listened to politely, and then told to explore the undergrowth. Solo.
Giving Farage the tropical cold shoulder, so to speak, sounds cruel, but I wouldn’t worry. Farage is well used to being a political pariah, and he’s made people from backgrounds different to his own feel uncomfortable if not frightened in their own country. In the EU Referendum in 2016, even Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson considered Farage about as poisonous to their cause as an angry funnel-web spider – a creature, I note, that lives in what our Australian friends call the dunny. So they kept him well away from the (relatively) respectable Vote Leave campaign, a humiliation far greater than anything ITV’s producers can come up with.
Besides, the Poundshop Enoch Powell is trousering about £1.5m for not doing very much except tolerate some unconvivial company and doing without beer and Rothmans for a few days – thus winning by far the highest ever fee for appearing (Matt Hancock only managed to get his hands on £320,000, of which £10,000 went to charity). However, Farage will certainly thus qualify for an account at Coutts, albeit he remains at odds with their brand values. You’ll note also that, so far, there is no news of old cane toad face giving any cash to, say, Help for Heroes. Which reminds me, even better than boycotting the show because of Farage’s presence would be to make a donation to the brave, selfless volunteers who run the RNLI’s boats, or “taxi service for illegals” as Nigel likes to call the distinguished charity. Some £1.5m raised by small donations would be enough to save the lives of some refugees and upset Farage.
In the coming days, we shall discover whether ITV, Ant’n’Dec or the viewing public will be getting full value from Farage in this series. He’s not going to be covered in creepy crawlies. It’s unlikely we will get to see his beer-and-fag-ravaged face contorted in terror. Because of Farage’s medical exemptions, we might never witness the man himself sweating at “breaking point” with fear. That, by the way, is what definitely would happen if he was told that a perfectly normal and decent Romanian family was moving next door to his home in Kent. That, surely, would be a reality ITV show worth watching. It would be far better than ITV conniving in a clumsy attempt to detoxify the Farage brand, prior to an attempt by him to take over the husk of the Tory party, post-Labour landslide. Any chance, ITV? Or do we have to look forward to the inevitable arrival of David Cameron next year? He is quite desperate these days. He even lost to Farage, after all.