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Matt Hancock’s appearance on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’: a surreal moment for British television 

It’s safe to say that the announcement of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the line-up of British television staple ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ was met with a resounding sense of disbelief. A politician, fallen so far from grace, that the only route to mending his career is to partake in TV’s infamous Bushtucker trials. Yet, with a political career already spent so firmly in the limelight following a high-profile affair, why did Hancock decide to appear on one of the UK’s most-watched reality TV shows?  

Hancock is not the first politician to attempt to make a name for himself as a celebrity on British television. He comes from a long line of politicians, from Anne Widdecombe to Ed Balls, who have viewed reality TV as a route to reinvention. Even fellow Conservative party member Nadine Dorries signed up for ‘I’m a Celebrity’ in 2012, although a cold reception from the public meant that she was the first to be voted off the show. While each politician may have their own reasons for braving the scrutiny of reality tv, arguably their main aim is to humanise their evasive political caricature. In this way, television offers a metamorphosis of sorts; the opportunity to become a likeable, relatable human being instead of an enigmatic politician. One could argue this was exactly Matt Hancock’s aim.  

In a moment Hancock most likely would have wanted the public to view as tender, he confesses to fellow jungle campmate Charlene White that he is looking for ‘a little bit of forgiveness’. Yet, exactly what he asks the public for is ambiguous; his audacious affair with colleague Gina Coladangelo during the Covid-19 pandemic, his simultaneous breach of social distancing rules that he implemented, or the excess deaths incurred during the pandemic? 

On several occasions the former Health Secretary also discussed his struggle with dyslexia: a cause that he had cited as a reason for entering the jungle in order to raise awareness. Despite cancelling an appearance with the British Dyslexia Association to appear on the show, Hancock finally broached the topic of dyslexia two weeks into the series. Yet his reserved discussion of a personal subject does little to curry favour with his fellow campmates, as throughout the show Matt is seen as an outsider infringing on an otherwise tight-knit group of celebrities.  

For this reason, Hancock’s struggle to integrate into his group of celebrity counterparts is symptomatic of the unrelatable politician that will always be at his core. The awkward undercurrent in each of his interactions and his blundering attempt at learning the Electric Slide with fellow campmates only highlighted Matt’s otherness. His time on the show ultimately became a social experiment; an excruciating exhibition of the inextricable political background that will ultimately inhibit the seamless transition to the endearing, relatable celebrity that he had hoped for. 

While Matt came third overall on the show, there is no doubt that his efforts to blur the line between ‘celebrity’ and ‘politician’ were unsuccessful. The British public seemed to take his attempt at redemption as an opportunity to make him suffer. After all, nothing expresses a genuine dislike for someone like voting for them to partake in six consecutive Bushtucker trials. However, for the MP of West Suffolk, ‘I’m a Celebrity’ may have provided the necessary exposure to resuscitate his career. With plans to release a book about the Covid-19 pandemic in time for Christmas, Hancock’s ploy for ‘forgiveness’ arguably reveals the self-serving agenda that is at the centre of his desire for celebrity status.  

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