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Balls-up for a jungle snake: Nigel Farage’s Celebrity odyssey

On I’m a Celebrity, Farage failed to emulate the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls by reinventing himself as a cuddly media personality

Image: TNE/Getty

All hail, if we really must, Nigel the Third. For that is the position which Nigel Farage finished in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! – the same as Matt Hancock last year, an achievement which turned the former health secretary into a much-loved national treasure (subs – check this).

ITV’s £1.5m (!) signing went into the jungle to speak to “young people”, he said ahead of his appearance. His naked aim was to reintegrate himself into the national conversation ahead of the collapse of the Tory Party at the next general election. And as it’s 2023, that is, apparently, best done via the medium of drinking blended crocodile feet in front of someone from Hollyoaks.

Viewing figures were down on previous years, an average of 8.3 million being two million down on the 2022 series – a mixture, perhaps, of a Farage-inspired boycott, a tired format and a decidedly C-list line-up.

Initially, Farage was a fringe figure in the camp, with whole episodes going by in which he barely figured. Friendly media outlets, including the Daily Express and Farage’s own GB News, muttered darkly about an ITV plot to deny him air time and thus victory and the path to his rightful place in Downing Street.

But finally, after more than a week in camp, producers found something he was actually good at: drinking. Farage’s uncanny ability to pour huge amounts of liquid down his cakehole came in a Bushtucker Trial called Down Your Sorrows in which he competed against boxer Tony Bellew. “I suspect this may be rather different to my normal tipple!,” joshed Farage, adding, entirely unnecessarily, “I like a pint.” (“It’s like he’s happy,” Bellew remarked, shaking his head, apparently unable to comprehend that Farage’s prime thirst was for screen time.)

It was the following day that Brexit first reared its head, with Farage grilled on its benefits by Fred Sirieix, the maître d from Channel 4’s First Dates. “The thing is, Nigel,” said the combative Frenchman. “You destroyed the economy.”

“That’s absolute bollocks,” replied Farage. “Have a look at the German economy, the French economy…” before Sirieix interrupted him to remind him of the £350m NHS promise on the side of the Brexit bus. “Spending’s up by £500m,” insisted Farage, apparently plucking a random figure from the backside he had previously spent much of the week flaunting on television. “So why are we struggling with hospitals, then?” asked Bellew. Answer came there none.

Later Sirieix asked Farage to name the three benefits of Brexit. “Self-government,” responded Farage. “Hopefully take back our territorial waters… the nuclear submarine deal with Australia. That could not have been done as a European Union member because France already had a contract. Simple as.” The nuclear submarine deal with Australia! It’s worth remembering at this point that it is Bellew who was the one who had spent his entire career being repeatedly punched in the head.

But it was when Farage decided to weigh in on “cultural appropriation” that ITV producers presumably started to thumb the Ofcom code. Having declared he was going in to speak to young people, when he did chat to one – fellow contestant and 26-year-old YouTuber Nella Rose – it was, er, on which ethnicities white people should be allowed to dress up as.

With the campmates for some reason discussing the Jamaican patois for water, Farage told Sirieix: “If you said that they’d call it cultural appropriation, Fred. It’s when suits.” Pressed on what he meant by Rose (who is black), Farage said: “If a white person does a black accent, that’s considered to be a crime and they should be cancelled. It’s rather like, you go to a fancy dress party dressed as something, now the press will say it’s cultural appropriation.”

“Like what?” asked Rose. “Oh, dress as a Mexican or whatever,” said Farage. “You can’t use somebody’s culture as a fancy dress,” responded Rose. “The Mexican outfit is tradition to them, that’s been in their culture for decades.” (Some historians think it may be even longer.) “I don’t know what the rules are now,” responded Farage, who may as well have shaken his fist at a passing cloud.

At one stage, Farage treated ITV viewers to a summary of his role in the 65-year history of the European Parliament. “I’m the biggest name the European Parliament’s ever had in terms of international news that I made,” he told TV presenter Josie Gibson while lying (in both senses) in the camp bus. “I put them on the map globally. I said to them one Christmas, ‘you should all be grateful to me, I’ve made you all famous’.”

Being an MEP, he told Gibson, was “an amazing lifestyle”. “You get to the airport, there’s a chauffeur-driven Mercedes waiting for you. You want to go out for dinner, the chauffeur takes you. You get €300 a day spending money, cash. The members’ dining room is just wonderful, crab and lobster buffets. Every day!

“The Ukip table was often the noisiest in there. Because we drank and we had a laugh, you know. And if you’re an MEP, the power that you have is incredible. Because you are treated like the elite. Women throw themselves at you.”

The dream of a politician entering reality TV is to “do an Ed Balls” and get an unexpected second act in life as a jocular media personality. But while those of us in and around politics knew Balls’ reputation as a Brownite bruiser, to the general public he was largely unknown and thus just seen as a sort of dad-from-the-school-run giving it a game old go on the Strictly ballroom floor.

The public already had a view of Matt Hancock, what with that whole sending-untested-people-into-care-homes thing, while Farage, for all his Bushtucker antics, remains the most divisive British political figure in two decades. He is unlikely to get a Radio 2 show any time soon.

Not that it will stop them. See you back in the jungle in 2024, as Nicola Sturgeon bickers over bean rations with Joey Barton, Vanessa Feltz and Tom from Celebs Go Dating.

God help us all.

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