From Matt Hancock to Ed Balls – the most excruciating reality TV appearances by politicians

Matt Hancock’s appearance on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins is the latest in a long line of excruciating appearances by politicians on reality TV.

Less than a year after he took part in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! (although Celebrity SAS was actually filmed beforehand), the former health secretary is being put to the test once again in a gruelling reality show.

However, Hancock isn’t the first UK politician to get caught up in the bright lights of reality TV.

Over the last two decades, MPs from across the political spectrum have appeared on competition shows to varying degrees of success. One thing has linked them all, however: embarrassment for the viewers at home.

Ahead of his appearance, we’re looking back at six of the most mortifying political reality TV appearances of all time. Prepare to cover your eyes – it’s about to get cringe…

Matt Hancock on ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!’

Before there was Hancock: the SAS candidate, there was Hancock: the campmate! Yep, last year, Hancock faced criticism from the public, politicians and his fellow contestants after he jetted off to the jungle (for a reported £400,000 fee) to compete on I’m a Celebrity. The former health secretary lost the Conservative whip as a result, and was voted by a furious public still fuming about the government’s handling of Covid to take part in six consecutive Bushtucker Trials. However, by the end, Hancock appeared to have lightly regained some favour with the public and he finished in a respectable and surprising third place.

Hancock on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ (ITV)
Hancock on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ (ITV)

Penny Mordaunt on ‘Splash!’

It’s easy to forget about Splash!, Tom Daley’s Strictly-in-speedos diving competition series. But the ITV show brought about some gems, from the GC herself, Gemma Collins, falling into a swimming pool, to Tory MP Penny Mordaunt walloping the water in 2014. Mordaunt was the ninth celebrity to be eliminated from the competition after failing to emulate Daley’s diving prowess and landing a backwards somersault in a painful-looking splat. At the time, Mordaunt’s Labour opponents criticised her appearance on the show, leading the politician, who is now the leader of the House of Commons, to donate her £10,000 fee to charity.

Ed Balls on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’

Let’s be honest: most celebrity reality TV show appearances fall into the unwatchable category. But sometimes, just sometimes, we get a stint you might brand “so bad it’s almost good”. For this, look no further than former Labour politician Ed Balls on Strictly back in 2016. Set up to be the year’s joke contestant, Balls shocked viewers by turning out to be really not that bad at dancing. Largely this was down to his pro partner Katya Jones, who was given cheesy concepts and songs, yet packed the routines with dance content. That “Gangnam Style” salsa? Legendary.

Dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ with Ed Balls (BBC)
Dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ with Ed Balls (BBC)

Nadine Dorries on ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!’

To many, Hancock is the gold standard for Tory MPs embarrassing themselves on I’m a Celebrity. To be fair to him, though, Nadine Dorries did it first. Yep, Dorries too lost the Conservative whip in 2012 after she headed Down Under (although it was later reinstated). Unfortunately, her time in the jungle was less successful than Hancock’s – she took part in two Bushtucker trials then she was the first celebrity to be unceremoniously kicked off by the public. However, the trouble didn’t stop there, as Dorries was later forced to apologise to the Commons for failing to disclose her £82,000 fee to take part.

George Galloway on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’

Back in 2006, two years after he formed the Respect Party, former Labour MP George Galloway took part in Celebrity Big Brother. Little did the public know that the politician’s appearance would spawn one of the cringiest TV moments in reality TV history: Galloway pretending to be a cat “licking cream” from Rula Lenska’s hands. He may have been evicted on day 16, but that shudder-worthy moment stuck with viewers long beyond the final.

George Gallaway gets in touch with his feline side (Channel 4)
George Gallaway gets in touch with his feline side (Channel 4)

Anne Widdecombe on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’/’Celebrity Big Brother’/’Celebrity Fit Club’/’The Crystal Maze’/’Celebrity Antiques Road Trip’/’Sugar Free Farm’

When it comes to reality TV, Ann Widdecombe is a repeat offender. From 2002’s Celebrity Fit Club (don’t ask) to Celebrity Antiques Road Trip in 2014, the former Conservative politician has a wide range of reality TV experience. Most notable, however, is her stint on Strictly in 2010, best remembered for Anton du Beke dragging her across the floor like a corpse in their Paso Doble. In 2018, Widdecombe returned to Celebrity Big Brother, gifting the world with the much-memed clip of her trying (and failing) to straighten her hair in the mirror. During her time in the house, the politician clashed with drag performer Shane Jenek – AKA Courtney Act – over her voting record as an MP on LGBT+ issues. They reached the final together, where Jenek won.