Matt Hancock in the jungle? A queasy mixture of death and light entertainment | Matt Hancock

IIt was the third night that the producers of i am a celebrity have finally shot their money. An emotional Matt Hancock, who had been easily grilled by fellow contestants for everything from his extramarital affair to his failure to keep Covid out of care homes, confessed that “what I’m really looking for is a little bit of forgiveness”.

Cue lots of hugs and former Coronation Street Actor Sue Cleaver – the unofficial matriarch of the camp – announces that the elephant in the room “went off”. The former health secretary had gotten what he certainly wanted, and presumably the ratings-hunters at ITV too, but not so much the nation.

Hancock entered the reality show jungle saying he wanted to reveal “the real me,” as if being caught by an office security camera snogging someone else’s wife wasn’t enough reality for a lifetime. Would he expose himself in the shower? Breaking the sobs down into a plate of kangaroos unmentioned? But it seems he meant what politicians usually mean when they call themselves just human, which is that they want everyone to stop being terribly annoyed with them.

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock entered the reality show jungle saying he wanted to reveal “the real me”. Photo: James Gourley/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

There is something intriguing about the notion that the innermost self could be a politician more more endearing than the facade erected for public consumption. Most of us are more inclined to hide our true selves — the ones slumped on the sofa in our pajamas, with chips as our staple food before shows i am a celebrity – from the world. To be fair to Hancock, most politicians are a more sympathetic company in private than you would imagine hearing them on TV today program, and he’s hardly the first to feel misunderstood or responsible for things that aren’t his fault.

He’s not the only candidate with a checkered past either – his roommate Boy George was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2009 for handcuffing a male escort to a wall and beating him with a metal chain – or a waning career that needs revitalizing is applicable. However, he is the first to attempt these things when he should be at work to help his constituents and while publicly associated with the deaths of over 200,000 people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any more real than not being able to hug your grieving mother at a funeral.

For those who don’t look i am a celebrity, it’s where famous people are said to be camping out in the Australian rainforest, while viewers decide for the most annoying to undergo bushtucker attempts – usually involving close confinement involving crawling creatures or eating something disgusting – and hosts Ant and Dec make jokes Someone eventually wins, but by then you’ve stopped watching. Before Hancock arrived, the highlight was Mike Tindall, who became the rugby player’s royal husband and admitted his first date with Princess Anne’s daughter was a boozy lunch, during which they realized they “both like to be smashed”.

Hancock was dropped late with comedian Seann Walsh, who is probably best known for cheating on his then-girlfriend with his dance partner Be sure to come dance and set a series of tasks aimed at irritating the others. Given that the former Health Secretary was known in Westminster for his ability to ingratiate himself with people useful to his career, it was probably wise not to make it too easy for him.

Most of the time, though, he drove along in second gear fairly easily. All we got from The Real’s Matt Hancock was that he likes Ed Sheeran “because I’m from Suffolk too,” but doesn’t seem too confident about the words Sweet Caroline, and that he’s stoic about eating sheep’s vagina or dipping his hands in manure in the dark. If he ever mentioned the dyslexia campaign he was supposedly hoping to promote, it was never finalized. His roommates were visibly shocked by his presence, but initially too polite to make a scene. Boy George recalled painful memories of not being able to visit his mother in hospital at the start of the pandemic but was out of earshot of the MP. TV presenter Scarlette Douglas was more direct, telling Hancock on his second day that it felt like a “slap in the face” when he was caught breaking the social distancing rules he had imposed on everyone else. He responded by thanking her for bringing that up, a reminder that he’d answered those questions a million times and learned to defuse them long ago. Then the cameras cut to Boy George gossiping about facial yoga. This was cut ‘n’ shut TV, the awkward soldering together of pointless fluff with something much darker, with little attempt to cover up the awkward connections.

By popular demand, Hancock was later submerged underwater for an experiment involving snakes and a crocodile while slowly running out of oxygen. “Want to have a laugh afterwards?” he said, slightly irritated as the moderators started firing gags at him about politics. But that was the closest he came to properly snapping under pressure. The Hancock we got – good sport, eager to please, smooth but with just a hint of an underlying spiciness – is the one that any journalist who’s spent time with him will recognize.

Does that make it more or less real than what some Tory MPs are reporting who could be all those things but also overbearing, arrogant, willing to do anything for promotion? More or less real than the one Dominic Cummings was accused of “incompetence and dishonesty” during the pandemic, who abandoned nurses who used garbage bags for protection? Or are they all real?

Matt Hancock attends a bushtucker trial.
Hancock attends a bushtucker trial. Photo: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Hancock is no cartoon monster: humans rarely are, impractical for those who like their politics without shades of gray. Watching his roommates grapple with the concept that likable people can be responsible for bad things and vice versa was somewhat interesting. But for the heartache it must have caused to some with painful pandemic memories, I honestly can’t say it was worth it.

Surely everyone knows by now that reality TV isn’t particularly real; that casts have been carefully chosen, footage edited and situations developed for juicy drama. Everyone’s emotions are being manipulated. The only difference is that participants get paid and viewers don’t. That might be a fair exchange if you watch newsreaders Strict. But it’s more disconcerting when, against the backdrop of Ant and Dec giggling, you’re serving up what should be the material of an affidavit to the Covid Inquiry.

Entering the jungle was clearly a risk worth taking for Hancock; His political career is practically a toast, he may have charmed an audience or two, and the fee helps with an expensive divorce. It’s ITV that should have known better than to attempt this queasy mix of death and light entertainment that comes so close to trauma that many are unwilling to relive it. There is no real closure; no justice, little enlightenment and no redemption. What remains is the uncomfortable feeling that some things are too real for reality TV to bear.


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