Matt Hancock admitted in his first day on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! that he understood why people might be “angry” at his decision to join the reality TV show, though he stuck by the defence that his appearance was acceptable as British politics was stable with Rishi Sunak as prime minister.
Controversy followed the former health secretary into the jungle, as campmate Boy George was reduced to tears by Mr Hancock’s arrival, citing his mother’s serious illness during the pandemic.
Viewers of the ITV suggested they wished to punish the MP for West Suffolk, voting for him to take part in one of the programme’s Bushtucker Trials; challenges which generally force a contender to do something disgusting or frightening to win food for their campmates.
Before flying to Australia to enter the jungle, Mr Hancock came under fire for his decision to take as many as three weeks away from his duty to constituents.
He had the Conservative Party whip removed and Mr Sunak said he was “very disappointed” in his former cabinet colleague’s decision. Mr Hancock’s local party branch and constituents joined in the criticism.
Speaking with fellow campmate Charlene White, a journalist and Loose Women presenter, Mr Hancock repeated his defence that he decided to join the show because there was now “stability” in UK politics after the tumult of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s failed premierships.
Mr Hancock told White: “If I can use this to sort of peel myself back a bit and just be me, it’s better.”
She replied: “But I can imagine it would not have gone down well at all at home? You have to expect that because Parliament is still sitting, we’re not in recess, you know?”
He told her: “I genuinely think that because we’ve now got sort of stability, that is…”
Ms White said: “We’ve had stability for all of five minutes Matt.”
Mr Hancock replied: “Rishi’s great, he’ll be fine.”
Asked by White if he could understand if people were not happy about his appearance, he said: “I understand that but I also.. of course I get that, right. But I also just think that sometimes you’ve got to do things differently.”
Popstar George said he would have walked off the programme when Mr Hancock appeared if his mother had died during lockdown.
Speaking to TV presenter Scarlette Douglas, the Culture Club frontman said: “You know, beginning of the pandemic my mum was in hospital.
“I wasn’t allowed to see her. I thought she was going to die … I feel like, I don’t want to be sitting here like I’m having fun with [Mr Hancock].
“It’s difficult for me because, you know, had something happened, if my mum had gone, I wouldn’t be here now. I would have gone when he walked in.”
George, 61, continued in private comments for viewers. Speaking through tears, he said: “If I had lost my mum, I would go.
“And I feel a little bit selfish, you know, just kind of, everyone’s so nice to him and I was like, Jesus, what we gonna do?
“I don’t want to spoil this experience for myself. I’m not good at hiding what I feel. Especially when it’s something so strong.”
Wednesday evening’s episode of the reality show saw Mr Hancock, 44, undertake his first challenge – Beastly Burrows – alongside fellow late arrival and comedian, Seann Walsh.
Later on, during a live segment at the end of the show, presenters Ant and Dec paid a visit to the camp to inform Mr Hancock that the British public had voted for him to take part in a second trial, Tentacles of Terror, which will air in tomorrow night’s show.
After finding out the news, Mr Hancock said: “Do you know what, I just knew it was going to be me and I still felt nervous.”