Who needs a political career when you can eat camel penis on primetime TV instead?
Former U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock turned Westminster upside down when it was announced he was heading Down Under to join the cast of long-running reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!”
And while he didn’t quite do enough to be crowned ‘King of the Jungle,’ the bewildered British public have been gifted memories that will last a lifetime.
A fixture on Britain’s airwaves for two decades, the ITV show sees a cast of celebrities dropped into the Australian jungle for two weeks of grueling camp life, forced to undertake successively awful “Bushtucker trials” to win provisions.
TV soap legends, late-career pop stars and former DJs are all typical guests. The guy who played a key role in Britain’s controversial response to COVID-19 before being fired for a pandemic rule-breaking “steamy clinch” with an aide while also married? Not so much.
Though still a serving MP, Hancock has been out of government since he was sacked last year, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stripped him of the right to sit as a Conservative for taking part in the show. Backbench MP Tim Loughton summed up the views of many in the Tory Party when he described Hancock as a “prat.”
Initially it seemed like the public saw things the same way, with over 1,700 people complaining about his presence to watchdog Ofcom. Activists from the COVID Bereaved Families For Justice organization even flew a plane over the jungle camp telling Hancock in no uncertain terms to “get out of here.”
Yet the former Cabinet minister kept on surviving public elimination votes — and he’s now primed for Sunday’s live final, alongside footballer Jill Scott and actor Owen Warner for the right to be crowned King of the Jungle.
POLITICO watched every single minute of Hancock’s jungle travails so you didn’t have to — here are some of the “highlights.”
It didn’t take long for the elephant, or kangaroo, in the room to be addressed.
Hancock was abruptly informed by TV presenter and fellow contestant Scarlette Douglas that the amorous breach of lockdown rules that led to his resignation felt like a “slap in the face.”
Another contestant had, erm, a different body part on the mind.
Hancock joined millions of viewers in looking, and feeling, very uncomfortable as comedian Babatúndé Aléshé described the circumstances that led to his resignation from high office.
“You were grabbing booty, bruv,” Aléshé said. “I didn’t expect a man like you to be grabbing booty.”
The former health secretary was soon “grabbing booty” in an altogether different sense.
Hancock chowed down on a cow’s anus during a food-themed Bushtucker trial — the reality program’s method of torturing celebrities in exchange for a nightly food parcel.
He was also presented with camel’s penis (dubbed “willy con carne”), a platter of giant cockroaches and a sheep’s vagina. Game for anything except helping his constituents on the other side of the world, Hancock gobbled it all down while hosts Ant and Dec giggled on the sidelines.
“It was soft and crunchy at the same time,” the honorable member said of the camel’s, err, honorable member. So now you know.
Hancock named snakes as his biggest fear when he embarked on his journey to Australia.
Helpfully, ITV’s producers made sure he came into contact with as many as possible.
In one trial set inside a horror-movie style dolls’ house, the MP came into contact with several snakes — none of which looked too pleased to see him.
One particularly angry snake lunged at the terrified MP twice. Hancock admitted later that he was “absolutely shitting himself.”
Still, Hancock soldiered on, winning several meals for the camp anyway and saying proudly that he had overcome his fear of slithering reptiles.
Perfect timing as he prepares to return to Westminster.
Hancock’s dogged PR team told any journalist who would listen that the MP was really going into the jungle so that he could raise awareness for his dyslexia visibility campaign.
In the event, over the course of more than 20 hours of TV time, Hancock mentioned dyslexia just twice. Even when asked multiple times by his campmates why he’d turned up in the jungle, Hancock deferred to his desire to “show the real me.”
While he struck up an immediate bond with the comedian Seann Walsh — who is very aware of the media frenzy that greets being publicly caught snogging someone you’re not meant to — others weren’t quite so sure of the real Matt Hancock.
Culture Club singer Boy George took an instant disliking to the MP, citing his mum’s experience in hospital during the pandemic and at one point proudly telling Hancock that he has “never voted Tory.”
Viewers were also left cringing after Hancock waxed lyrical about himself after a series of questions on life in politics from radio DJ Chris Moyles.
Asked if he then had any questions for Moyles on his decades on the airwaves … Hancock drew a painful blank.
Hancock was once famed only in Westminster for an energetic yet tuneless rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” but ITV ensured that a wider audience were exposed to his hapless crooning.
During a trip to pub “The Jungle Arms,” Hancock turned on his Freddie Mercury tribute act once again.
“I want to break FREEEE,” the MP warbled, channelling precisely the feelings of the POLITICO reporter forced to spend every waking minute thinking about this guy. The ghost of Mercury declined to comment.
As he made it into I’m A Celeb’s final four, Hancock got to take part in one of British reality TV’s finest traditions: the Celebrity Cyclone.
This sees celebrities tasked with overcoming a watery obstacle course and clinging on to precious, supplies-ensuring stars while being pelted with water cannons, large balls and assorted gunk.
“They call me the bronze bronco,” the formerly serious politician declared while bedecked in a cape and spandex shorts.
Never short of self confidence, Hancock eschewed the typical approach of crawling up the course in favor of a cocky stride.
He was, obviously, punished — with hosts Ant and Dec gleefully celebrating as a man who genuinely ran to be prime minister three years ago was knocked to the ground.
Despite a received wisdom that the public would opt to torment the MP for a short while before sending him back to Westminster early, Hancock outlasted nine other celebrities to make it through to the final and then come a respectable third.
“I just wanted to show what I’m like as a person,” he told the hosts as he prepared to depart the jungle. “Lots of people come to me with preconceived ideas, and I wanted to show I was human.”
A shocked Westminster has meanwhile been left wondering whether Hancock’s public career is as finished as most had assumed.
He appears to have acquired new fans on his way to the final. Hancock’s PR team said his Instagram account had gained an extra 10,000 followers since he entered the jungle, while an extra 50,000 have followed him on TikTok — all of whom will presumably stay around for scintillating chat about Bitcoin and horse-racing.
POLITICO will leave the last word to radio DJ Moyles, who spoke for England while pondering his own fate in an exit interview: “I’m gutted Matt Hancock is more popular than me. What the bejesus is going on?”