I'm a Celebrity - the show where some of the country’s most treasured and beloved stars - seems to be an unlikely place for a fallen politician to seek grace. Many were surprised to find that Matt Hancock, former Health Secretary and political pariah, has joined castmates Boy George, Charlene White, Chris Moyles and more in the depths of the jungle.
His appearance has been met with skepticism - a quickstop attempt to win back favour in the public eye. Fellow members of the I’m a Celebrity Cast thought as much. Since being on the show, he has been grilled by campmates about the actions that led to his resignation during the Covid lockdown measures. He has also been criticised for entering the jungle while parliament is sitting. In addition to the ethical debate about whether or not Matt Hancock should have been given the opportunity to set foot in the jungle in the first place, his inclusion has also created an issue for the show itself: turning it into something it isn't.
Fans love I'm a Celebrity because it offers an opportunity to escape: to be entertained and to get some light relief from the increasingly relentless news of the day. But this time around, viewers are no longer just a fly on the wall. Instead we're witnessing what almost feels like a fourth-wall break, with a direct and very personal stake in the drama of modern day politics.
Still a Member of Parliament, his inclusion in ITV's flagship reality show breaks out of the entertainment space and seeps into current affairs. Hancock, who had the Tory whip suspended after joining the ITV series, was forced to resign as health secretary in June 2021 after CCTV footage emerged of him kissing aide Gina Coladangelo while social distancing guidelines were in place.
Over the weekend, campmates shared their own experiences of lockdown with the former health secretary. Charlene White told him: "My aunt died from Covid in the first wave. So, we couldn't go to the hospital to go and visit her. I had to sit by myself in the church at her funeral.
"We couldn't hug each other because we were following guidance. And I get that you fell in love, I understand all of those things, but sorry for a lot of families like mine doesn't really cut it."
Hancock expressed regret over breaking Covid guidelines, and defended his overall record as health secretary. When asked about the affair on Friday's episode, Hancock explained he was not fined because he "didn't break any laws, guidance is different".
"But," he added, "the problem was it was my guidance."
Asked by TV presenter Scarlette Douglas why he broke the guidelines he helped put in place as a cabinet minister, Hancock responded: "Because it was a mistake, because I fell in love with somebody."
In reality, there's always been something very heartfelt about watching a group of near-strangers – who may only know each other by name or media persona – band together, bonding over the extremity of the experience.
The overarching narrative surrounding this year's show has become dominated by Hancock's campsite admissions. Certainly, he has much to answer for; and the cynics among us might see his appearance on the show as a platform to win back Britian. However, what cannot be denied is that the show has allowed for those who have loved, and lost, some room for more of the inspirational moments and candid stories we've come to expect from a visit to the I'm a Celeb jungle. His appearance in the jungle is a reminder to us all that mistakes were made, regrets were felt. And, as he has stated countless times during the show, he is “just human”. Only time will tell if the public will accede to this and forgive the politician.