The new season of I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! (Virgin Media One, Sunday, 9pm) opens with Nigel Farage, buccaneering baron of Brexit, stranded in a barren wilderness while other competitors have the real fun at a separate location. Any nods towards Britain’s departure from the EU are, one assumes, entirely coincidental.
Farage is the second controversial politician to grace I’m A Celeb. Last year, former UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock provoked outrage among his fellow jungle luvvies when he walked in. Boy George considered quitting outright, so outraged was he over Hancock’s handling of Covid. He may also have overheard Hancock singing an Ed Sheeran song en route to the camp – who would stick around after that?
Given Farage’s contribution to UK politics, it might be reasonable to assume he would receive a similar reception. Not a bit of it. There’s backslapping when he finally arrives, in the company of YouTuber Nella Rose (who says she is overcome at meeting actual celebs) and breakfast television presenter Josie Gibson.
“I didn’t see that coming – I am living in camps with Nigel Farage,” exclaims Made In Chelsea’s Sam Thompson. He adds Farage’s pants are hitched super-high – but apparently regards that as a positive.
Farage, for his part, maintains an implacable force field of jolliness. He turns up in Union Jack socks and maintains his dignity in the first challenge – involving snakes and confined spaces – while Rose loses hers.
“It’s like a camping adventure,” he says, stiff upper lip potentially visible from outer space. “That’s how I’m viewing it. I’m up for that.”
It is an underwhelming opening instalment. Of the 10 contestants, only the screaming Rose and Jamie Lynn Spears seem discommoded by the setting and the signature avalanche of bugs. In the case of Spears – younger sister of Britney – there is also the issue of her not entirely understanding what she’s signed up to.
“I’m so scared,” she says. “I don’t want to have to eat weird things.”
Her time in the jungle will probably be helped by her having no idea who the other contestants are. She won’t be confronting Farage about the Northern Ireland Protocol or EU fishing laws. Indeed, when Josie Gibson tries to give Spears the lay of the land, celeb-wise, she discovers her new acquaintance has much catching up to do.
“You know Nige?” says Gibson. “She’s a food critic,” says Spears. “No, Nige,” insists Gibson. “Josie?” says Spears. Monty Python at their peak could not have written dialogue so surreal.
The episode ends with First Dates maître d’ Fred Sireiex rustling up a kangaroo paella. He tells Farage to gather some water, and the UKIP man snaps to it. Nigel Farage taking orders from a Frenchman is a novelty even more delicious than fried marsupial. But as ever with I’m A Celeb, it’s only when the facades crack, the positivity evaporates, and the celebs start to share what’s really on their minds that the fun will begin in earnest. After a stodgy first episode, viewers will hope the figurative gloves come off sooner rather than later.