LONDON – Matt Hancock, the U.K’s scandal-prone former health secretary, sought an unlikely form of redemption Sunday: attempting to win “I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here” — a grueling, often gruesome reality show set in the Australian jungle.
Hancock led Britain’s response to COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic, telling people to stay away from others to protect the health service — then got caught breaking his government’s own rules when video emerged of him kissing and groping an aide he was having an affair with.
He was forced to resign when The Sun newspaper published the CCTV images. This time, though, he knew the camera was on, and behaved in ways many might find even more distasteful: eating the raw nether parts of camels, cows and sheep, among other things.
“I'm a Celebrity...” sends a group of famous people, often C-list celebrities, to the Australian rainforest, subjects them to trials involving spiders and snakes, and they are eliminated one by one based on a public vote.
While many Britons have been disgusted by Hancock's appearance, blaming him for apparent failings in the government’s early response to the pandemic, viewers upended expectations by voting Hancock through to Sunday evening’s final. He finished third. Former England soccer star Jill Scott won the competition and actor Owen Warner finished second.
The former health chief outlasted Culture Club singer Boy George and former rugby player Mike Tindall, whose wife, Zara, is the niece of King Charles III. Tindall body tackled Hancock in another of the show’s tasks, and has been poking fun at the former health secretary's politicking.
“He clearly wants to win,” said Tindall, adding that Hancock was constantly aiming his T-shirt with voting number at the camera. “Once a politician, always a politician. Always polling for votes.”
Fellow politicians have been less enthusiastic than the show-voting public. When it was announced that Hancock would appear, he was slated by fellow lawmakers, including many from his own party, and he was suspended as a Conservative member of parliament.
His success seems to have done nothing to ease their ire. Speaking to Sky News Sunday, Cabinet minister Mark Harper said: “I don’t think serving members of Parliament should be taking part in reality television programs.
“However well they do on them, I still think they should be doing the job for which they are paid a good salary — which is representing their constituents.”
Announcing that he was going to “step up," Australian comedian Adam Hills, host of comedy current affairs show “The Last Leg," went to Hancock's constituency in eastern England last weekend and met with locals to hear their problems.
“I reckon I can do a better job in a week than he has done thus far,” Hills said on the show.
Still, a political comeback for Hancock is not out of the question. Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries was suspended in 2012 for appearing on the same show. Nine years later, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed her to his Cabinet.