I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has been hit by 1,100 Ofcom complaints over Matt Hancock’s appearance on the show.
The new series kicked off last week, with its grand return to Australia after three years, due the coronavirus pandemic.
The first episode got an audience of over 10 million people at its peak on Sunday night – up two million from last year’s launch.
Unhappy: I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has been hit by 1,100 Ofcom complaints over Matt Hancock’s appearance on the show
But not everyone was pleased, with Ofcom receiving nearly 2,000 complaints in total over the first week.
The majority of the complaints stem from the arrival of Matt in the jungle, around 1,100 in total.
Other complaints were surrounding viewers’ concerns about how the MP, 44, was being treated by the other campmates.
The West Suffolk MP has faced backlash from viewers after reportedly earning £400K for his appearance while parliament is still in session.
Matt defended his decision to appear on the reality show, writing in The Sun that it’s his job as a politician ‘to go where the people are’ and that he wants to ‘engage with voters’.
Unimpressed: But not everyone was pleased, with Ofcom receiving nearly 2,000 complaints in total over the first week
He said: ‘While there will undoubtedly be those who think I shouldn’t go, I think it’s a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren’t always interested in politics, even if they care very much about how our country’s run.
‘It’s our job as politicians to go to where the people are – not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster.
‘There are many ways to do the job of being an MP. Whether I’m in camp for one day or three weeks, there are very few places people will be able to see a politician as they really are.
‘So, the truth is, I haven’t lost my marbles or had one too many pina coladas. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.
‘I was elected by the people, and it’s important to engage with voters, especially younger voters, no matter where they are, and show the human side of politicians.
‘I want to raise the profile of my dyslexia campaign to help every dyslexic child unleash their potential – even if it means taking an unusual route to get there… via the Australian jungle! I’m A Celebrity… is watched by millions of Brits up and down the country.
‘I want to use this incredible platform to raise awareness, so no child leaves primary school not knowing if they have dyslexia.’
It comes after friends of Matt’s estranged wife Martha revealed their shock at his decision to star on I’m A Celebrity – a move that got him kicked out of the parliamentary Tory party.
One friend of Martha’s was searing in their condemnation of the father of three today, branding him a ‘total halfwit who’s making some unwise career moves’.
The news drew a rapid rebuke from Number 10, with Rishi Sunak’s spokesman saying the Prime Minister believes MPs should be ‘working hard for their constituents’ at a ‘challenging time for the country’. Mr Sunak is ‘unlikely’ to watch Mr Hancock in action, the spokesman added.
Chief Whip Simon Hart announced he had removed the whip from Mr Hancock – the same fate that befell fellow Tory MP Nadine Dorries when she went on the ITV show in 2012.
‘Following a conversation with Matt Hancock, I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect,’ he said.
Mr Hancock will stay as MP for West Suffolk but serve as an independent. While he will be able to keep his party membership, he will not be able to stand for election as a Conservative party candidate, vote in party contests or stand for committee chairman posts.
A source close to the MP said he would donate some of the appearance fee to St Nicholas Hospice in Suffolk, but would not say how much.
Today, a political ally said he had accepted he was unlikely to become a minister again and wanted to connect with ‘younger generations’.
‘Politicians like Matt must go to where the people are – particularly those who are politically disengaged,’ they said.
‘Matt’s of the view that we must embrace popular culture. Rather than looking down on reality TV, we should see it for what it is – a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations.’
Mr Hancock first turned down the opportunity to appear on the show because of ‘instability’ the government was facing at the time, according to the source.
However, he now believes the administration is ‘stable’ and views his stint on the show as an ‘amazing opportunity’ to talk about issues he really cares about, they claimed.
‘When he was first approached to take part – while he was flattered and naturally curious – it didn’t take him too long to turn the opportunity down because of the instability Government was facing at the time,’ the ally said.
Not happy: The majority of the complaints stem from the arrival of Matt in the jungle, around 1,100 in total
‘Now, though, the Government is stable. Rishi Sunak has made a great start and the whole of the Conservative Party is united behind him.
‘Rishi has a big majority, so he can get his agenda through Parliament. Matt’s talked to the whips, in the same way any MP would when going on a foreign visit, which happens all the time.
‘As I say, Matt doesn’t expect to serve in Government again, but he can support Rishi and the Government in different ways.
What antics have MPs been up to in the I’m A Celebrity jungle?
With the news that Conservative MP and former health secretary Matt Hancock will enter the Australian jungle for this year’s series of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of
Here, we take a look back at the antics of previous political figures who have taken part in the ITV reality show.
Edwina Currie: Edwina Currie, the Conservative MP for South Derbyshire from 1983 until 1997, entered the jungle during the 14th season of I’m A Celebrity.
The 76-year-old, who also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2011, joined the reality show as a late entry alongside X-Factor star Jake Quickenden.
The former junior health minister finished fourth in the competition, but not before becoming involved in a couple of heated situations.
During the series, Ms Currie found herself in a number of bust-ups with her fellow campmate, American reality star Kendra Wilkinson, and memorably shocked the other contestants with her prolonged shouting of ‘Mel’ in an attempt to get the attention of campmate Melanie Sykes.
Stanley Johnson: Former Conservative MEP Stanley Johnson braved the Australian jungle as part of the show’s 17th series.
The father of former prime minister Boris Johnson formed an unlikely friendship with Made In Chelsea star Georgia ‘Toff’ Toffolo, who went on to be crowned Queen of the Jungle that year.
After meeting on the show, 82-year-old Mr Johnson, and Ms Toffolo, 28, went on to star in a number of other reality shows together, including Celebrity Hunted and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.
Nadine Dorries: Nadine Dorries took part in I’m A Celebrity in 2012, the first sitting MP to appear on the show, but was suspended by the Conservative Party for her appearance.
She later apologised to the House of Commons over the fee she was paid for appearing in the popular programme, which saw her become the first contestant voted out of the jungle by the public.
Lembit Opik: In 2010, former MP Lembit Opik became the second campmate to be voted off I’m A Celebrity. The Liberal Democrat survived for two weeks in the Australian jungle, during which time he was bitten by a snake while completing a task.
The 57-year-old has also appeared in celebrity versions of The Apprentice and Come Dine With Me.
Robert Kilroy-Silk: Former Labour MP and MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk had an unsuccessful stint in the I’m A Celebrity jungle in 2008.
The ex-chat show host survived just 12 days in the jungle after going up against former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick in the public vote.
Kezia Dugdale: The former Scottish Labour leader made an appearance in the jungle in 2017 – joining Conservative MEP Mr Johnson.
After being eliminated second, Ms Dugdale, 41, admitted she knew her appearance was a ‘political gamble’ but said she wanted to tackle the ‘myth’ that all politicians are ‘old, white, male, pale and stale’.
She was initially denied permission by political bosses to take part but did not ultimately face suspension from the party.
‘This is an amazing opportunity to engage with the public and talk about issues he really cares about – including his dyslexia campaign.’
The ally said producers of the show have agreed Mr Hancock can communicate with them if there is an urgent constituency matter. But former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe told Sky News it was wrong for a serving MP to be away ‘for weeks on end’ and asked what would happen ‘if there’s an emergency’.
Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of West Suffolk Conservative Association, said he was looking forward to seeing Mr Hancock ‘eating a kangaroo’s penis’ on the show – a reference to the notorious bushtucker trials in which contestants compete in a series of gruesome challenges to win stars. ‘Quote me, you can quote me on that,’ he added.
Who takes part in each trial goes down to a public poll, and today bookmaker Ladbrokes suggested voters’ desire for ‘payback’ had seen Mr Hancock become odds-on favourite to set a new record for the most bushtucker trials ever carried out by an I’m A Celeb contestant. It is unclear whether Mr Hancock has already arrived in Australia.
Today’s news drew mockery from political rivals, with SNP MP Pete Wishart tweeting: ‘It speaks volumes that @MattHancock would rather be stranded in a remote jungle eating kangaroo testicles than spend a moment longer on the Tory benches at Westminster, as @RishiSunak’s government lurches from one crisis to another.’
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne added: ‘To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.’
After playing a central role in coordinating the government’s response to Covid, Mr Hancock’s political career has flagged of late.
He was not awarded a post in Rishi Sunak’s new government, and the new Prime Minister appeared to snub his attempt to offer a handshake outside Tory HQ last week.
He had also reportedly been considering a run to be chairman of the Commons Treasury committee, but pulled out of the race on Monday.
Andrew Smith, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, said he could see why Mr Hancock might want to appear on I’m A Celeb ‘given what’s happened to him and his personal life and his career’.
‘I can see why he might want to do it, given what’s happened to him and his personal life and his career,’ said Mr Smith, who represents Bardwell ward.
He continued: ‘If I was him I wouldn’t have done it, to be perfectly truthful, but I’m not him.
‘It’s not a show I would watch or indeed I would personally do – I don’t like eating things that I don’t know where they’ve come from, if you get my drift.’
Fellow West Suffolk councillor Carol Bull said she hopes Mr Hancock had made the ‘right decision’.
‘He’s made the decision, presumably he’s thought about it carefully and hopefully it will be, for him, the right decision,’ said Ms Bull, who represents Barningham ward.
She continued: ‘At the end of the day, it depends how he does and how he’s perceived. There will be some who think it’s really good and others who don’t.’
But councillor Ian Houlder was less sympathetic, saying Mr Hancock ‘has no shame’. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he goes back on bended knee to whoever’s in charge of the Conservative Party after his book comes out or whatever in the winter,’ he said.
‘And say, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake, terribly sorry, can you let me back in, we’re going to need every seat we can get, I’ll do my best,’ all that sort of thing. Because he’s thick-skinned, he’s got no shame at all.’
Mr Houlder, who represents Barrow ward, continued: ‘Everybody knows what he did during the Covid pandemic and he seems to want to rehabilitate himself all the time in the public eye. He’s got a skin as thick as a rhinoceros, quite frankly.’
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Sarah Olney said: ‘Yet again we see a Conservative MP taking voters for granted. At a time when MPs should be supporting their constituents with the cost-of-living crisis, Matt Hancock is choosing instead to go to the jungle to feed his own ego.
‘Matt Hancock should declare how much he is earning from appearing on the show and forego his MP’s salary for the duration. The taxpayer should not pay him while he refuses to do his job.’
Mr Hancock was criticised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, with its spokesman Joe Ventre saying: ‘Matt Hancock’s plans to wriggle out of his responsibilities are shameful.
‘This grubby spectacle will leave a bad taste in the mouths of his constituents, who will have no one representing them for the fortnight he is off pursuing his TV career.
‘Hancock shouldn’t be entitled to a penny of taxpayers’ money in salary or expenses while he’s living it large in the jungle.’
Defence: Other complaints were surrounding viewers’ concerns about how the MP, 44, was being treated by the other campmates