Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
In recent decades the once very separate fields of politics and entertainment have fused into something dubbed ‘politainment’ that has made it near impossible to divine where one begins and the other ends. And nowhere has this trend been more in evidence than on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Across 22 years the show has had a record of fielding ghastly, blood sucking creepy-crawlies against innocent parasites and the former has included Veritas founder Robert Kilroy-Silk, the Lib Dem’s Lembit ‘Cheeky’ Opik, latter day Dr Frankenstein Stanley Johnson, egg-botherer Edwina Currie, peerage-hopeful Nadine Dorries and Matt ‘hands’ Hancock.
Jungle politainment appeals to TV producers and politicians alike. Watching a member of parliament getting slimed plays to the basest instincts of the public and thus makes good TV. For the contestant, there is both the lure of the fee and the hope that such primetime appearances will raise their profile. Some – most notably Matt Hancock – are also engaging in a latter-day act of performative penitence that they hope will wipe the political slate clean.
This season Nigel Farage has added his talents to the fray and after a lifetime of spouting bollocks the former UKIP leader has pitched up in the jungle to ingest them instead. Man of the people Farage is being paid £1.5 million to appear – the largest fee in the show’s history.
Loathe him or detest him, Farage is one of Britain’s best known political players and one of its most divisive. His very appearance was likely calculated to stir controversy, grab headlines and spawn amusing interactions at the work water cooler. To that end, the producers have afforded him a lot of screen time and over the last week viewers have been subjected to Nigel Farage bathing naked (twice), eating a pizza covered in cows udders and telling the ‘bush telegraph’ that he would ‘never say never’ to being Prime Minister, much as I haven’t ruled out one day playing test match cricket on the Moon.
His very presence has led some Remainers to call for a boycott and while it is impossible to judge how effective that has been, figures appear to be down on last year. On opening night, GB News’ man on the ground the Ben Leo, having mistakenly read last year’s press release – reported the exact opposite – generating much hilarity. But having been obliged to watch hours of the show while researching this piece, I can report that laughs have been thinner on the ground than a jungle celebrity.
There has been trauma too. Witnessing Nigel Farage’s naked torso once might be considered a misfortune, viewing it twice left me scrambling for the telephone number at the Hague. And as I’ve watched him, and the other contestants go through mind-numbing hours of repetitive tasks, challenges and pots boiling on a fire, I’ve come to conclude that those boycotting Remainers have nothing to worry about. Indeed, the only people who should be worried are the producers and their star signing – Nigel Farage.
I’m not one of those who thinks that ‘Farage doesn’t matter’ or that we should ‘simply ignore him’. As a great political thinker, the former UKIP leader might rank as a minnow in a land of Lilliputians but his simple, dangerous, brand of ‘common sense’ populist politics cuts through, with the result that we are all now living in a Faragist Brexit Dystopia. Hate him all you like, but he has a ‘common touch’ and one which has unleashed dangerous, downright stupid, ideas into the mainstream.
Farage has got a well-practiced act. He knows how to play a crowd, when to deploy that disarming cigarette infused laugh and his well-worn catchphrase ‘wouldn’t you agree’ that makes it almost impossible for anyone talking to him not to.
So, whether standing before a home crowd of Brexiters, or sharing a pint with Jacob Rees-Mogg on GB News – it works. He comes across effectively and for some – even impressively. But put him in the jungle, away from that context, alongside Jamie Lynn Spears, or the charismatic Italian jockey Frankie Dettori, or the enigmatic YouTube sensation Nella Rose and the whole act not only falls flat – but apart.
In the promo for the show Farage told the cameras: “I’ve dealt with snakes in the European parliament, I think I can deal with this too…(and) in the jungle you’re going to find the real me.”
And sure enough, we have. But behind the curtain there is no mighty Wizard of Brexit but rather a meek, middle-aged man who worries about the shape of his bottom. He might get away with that if he had something else to bring but the architect of Brexit can’t even list any proper Brexit benefits. On Sunday night’s show, Nigel was challenged by French-born maître d’hôtel Fred Siriex to ‘list three’ and his answer, which included ‘self-government’, ‘taking back control of our territorial waters’ and the ‘nuclear submarine deal with the Australians’ was thinner gruel than even that on offer on the campsite stove.
Don’t miss a story
Farage has few interests beyond fishing, pointing at the English Channel and a very narrow knowledge of military history – and unlike many of his fellow contestants, he lacks an interesting backstory and comes across as anything but charismatic. Tellingly, come Sunday the public was no longer voting for him to do tasks – not because they had warmed to him but rather, I suspect, because he brings nothing to them.
In short, I’m A Celebrity… has revealed Farage to be the worst of all things – boring – and ‘boring’ does not make good TV. He might well make it to the end, but in retrospect I suspect that both he and ITV will come to rue the day he ever agreed to appear.