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Boris Johnson was I’m a Celebrity producers’ first choice

Nigel Farage was only unveiled after the show’s producers were told the former prime minister had “too many other contractual obligations”

Boris Johnson got stuck on a zip-line during BT London Live in Victoria Park back in 2012. Photo: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

With #BoycottImACeleb trending on social media and Ant and Dec taking a lot of flak after Nigel Farage was unveiled as an I’m a Celebrity… contestant, Mandrake hears intriguing whispers that the former Ukip leader only got the gig after the producers of the ITV show failed to land their first choice, Boris Johnson.

“They’ve wanted Johnson to do it ever since he left Downing Street, and this time around they made him an offer they thought he couldn’t refuse, but in the end he just had too many other contractual obligations,” says my informant.

“Farage was announced late in the day because they only resorted to him late in the day. He had them over a barrel as they needed someone with notoriety and there wasn’t anyone else at that notice. He got almost all of the £1.5m fee that had originally been intended for Johnson.”

Johnson has always denied any interest in appearing in I’m a Celebrity, but it’s clear from other jobs he has accepted that he will do almost anything. Sir John Major said he was always mindful that former prime ministers should have regard for maintaining the dignity of their former office when they received job offers, but Johnson has made maximising income his over-riding priority. His existing commitments include speaking engagements, a book deal with HarperCollins, his Daily Mail column, and, in the new year, he is due to begin broadcasting for GB News.

Theresa May, meanwhile, accepted £108,600 for a speaking engagement at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania last month that took up five hours of her time. May made around £1m last year, but her outside earnings are unlikely to amount to much more than half that this year. The big money, as she is finding to her cost, is the preserve of politicians on the extreme right.

The latest round of redundancies at the New Statesman – announced in two online briefings last week after no consultation with staff representatives – prompted speculation that City player Mike Danson, who took full control of the title from Labour grandee Geoffrey Robinson in 2009, was reducing costs ahead of selling off the operation.

My informant at the Staggers tells me it’s more a spot of internal housekeeping after the editor, Jason Cowley, had been given a big-budget increase to expand the title’s overseas audience – especially in the US, Germany and France – and failed to make the necessary headway.

Stephen Bush, one of the magazine’s former writers who now works for the Financial Times, said on social media that the proposed job losses represented a “colossal failure of leadership”, and added that if the leadership wanted to make savings, “the first place they should look is the mirror”.

Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a deputy foreign minister in Poland’s outgoing Law and Justice Party (PiS) government, has called for the New European to apologise for “defamatory statements” after an online article by Denis MacShane that described them as “anti-EU, anti-women, homophobic”.

When MacShane responded with a tweet beginning “Sorry… you will now have time to reflect on why Poland’s voters said goodbye to PiS”, Mularczyk replied, “Thank you for your apology”.

For the avoidance of doubt, if Mularczyk genuinely thinks that was an apology to a party whose Family Charter included pledges to prevent gay couples from marrying or adopting children, which opposes a woman’s right to choose on abortion and which regularly clashed with Brussels, claiming the EU was being turned into a “German Fourth Reich”… it wasn’t.

Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere has decided against holding his customary Christmas party at Claridge’s in London after a miserable year of declining print sales and redundancies. Normally a buoyant, upbeat figure who enjoys socialising, Rothermere has been cancelling a number of get-togethers, downcast by Mr Justice Nicklin’s decision to give Prince Harry, Elton John and five other high-profile individuals the go-ahead to bring their lawsuit against his company alleging widespread unlawful behaviour.

The Daily Mail may have reported that it amounted to a “major setback” for their accusers – on the basis that they cannot use confidential information supplied to the Leveson Inquiry – but Rothermere at least appears to understand the potential reputational cost to his business.

When it was discovered that journalists from the News of the World had hacked the phone of Millie Dowler, the schoolgirl who was murdered more than 20 years ago, Rothermere had written to his senior executives – including the then Mail editor Paul Dacre – to make it clear this kind of “unethical journalism” would never be tolerated on his titles.

Rothermere has lately ruled out using Qatari cash to help fund his bid for the Telegraph Media Group as he knows with the case hanging over him it will be hard enough for him to acquire it without questions, too, about overseas funding. Already a group of Conservative MPs have expressed concerns about the Barclay family using Middle Eastern cash to try to repurchase the titles.

As feelings run high over the Gaza crisis, senior staff at the Guardian are watching with interest the X/Twitter account of Owen Jones, who last weekend called rival columnist Dan Hodges of the Mail on Sunday “a nauseating apologist for mass murder and war crimes”, adding, “if you had an ounce of humanity the tortured dying screams of Palestinian toddlers would haunt you every single day until the day you die”.

That was in response to Hodges calling “embarrassing” a tweet by Jones that read: “What’s the claim here? That Al-Shifa hospital is a Hamas command and control centre because injured hostages were taken there for medical treatment?”

A senior Guardian journalist said of Jones: “He has always divided opinion, but lately he is very much seen as a potential liability. The word twerp is being used with alarming frequency.”

Stronger words for Jones were used by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lee Kern, who called him “a shit weasel with a rat’s intellect… universally loathsome”.

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