The question on everybody’s lips today is: has Matt Hancock lost his marbles?
The former Health Secretary (he resigned after it emerged he was having an affair with his paid advisor, ââGina Coladangelo) and former Tory whip (suspended due to his upcoming I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! appearance) is quick to defend his imminent reality TV stint.
“Although some may think I’ve lost my marbles”, he wrote in an op-ed for the Sun, “It’s as clear as day that politicians like me must go to where the people are - particularly those who are politically disengaged. We must wake up and embrace popular culture.”
It appears not everyone is in agreement. Covid campaigners have started a petition which has so far gained 15,000 signatures, to stop Hancock appearing on the ITV show, accusing him of trying to “cash in on his terrible legacy”. Ian Houlder, a Conservative councillor on West Suffolk Council, even went as far as to say that Hancock has “no shame”.
“Everybody knows what he did during the Covid pandemic and he seems to want to rehabilitate himself all the time in the public eye,” said Houlder.
While Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper said Hancock was “choosing to feed his ego” by heading to the jungle – calling his decision to appear on I’m a Celeb “selfish and shameful”.
However, that’s precisely why producers – who asked Hancock twice over the summer to join the show, but were refused due to the instability in Parliament – want him so badly.
“Matt is a sensational signing for the show, as producers love a star with a story to tell – and they always hope they’ll spill the beans round the campfire,” an insider told the Sun.
As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care during the global coronavirus pandemic, Hancock quickly became a household name. Throw in an extra-marital affair, a PPE scandal, and a highly publicised resignation, it’s no wonder producers chased the politician down in hope of some juicy insight around the infamous campfire.
So what swung the deal for him the third time I’m a Celeb came knocking? Perhaps the viral snub from Rishi Sunak, who appeared to noticeably blank Hancock while he was celebrating his appointment as prime minister, outside the Conservative HQ — or the fact he wasn’t part of any cabinet reshuffle. Or perhaps it was to promote his upcoming book, Pandemic Diaries, out December 6? Either way, fans of I’m A Celebrity have already pledged to vote for the politician to do every Bushtucker Trial.
From his struggles with dyslexia that almost cost him his career before it even began, to his eventual fall from grace, here’s how Hancock swapped cabinet meetings for Bushtucker Trials.
A Cheshire upbringing and how a spelling mistake nearly cost him his career
Born in Cheshire, the 44-year-old was educated at Farndon Primary School and the King’s School in Chester before studying computing at West Cheshire College.
“I grew up in Farndon, and I went to school at King’s Chester, so this is my stomping ground from back then when I was growing up,” he told local newspaper the Chester Chronicle earlier this year, a publication he first appeared in as a teen.
“I was first in the Chester Chronicle when one of the sheep that my mum had, had four lambs at once, quads, and somebody from the Chester Chronicle found out and put my picture in it holding these lambs, so it’s nice to be back,” he told the site in 2019.
Hancock went on to study philosophy, politics, and economics at Exeter College, Oxford, where he achieved a first. After graduating, he briefly worked for a Tory backbench MP – a time that almost halted his political career before it began, thanks to a simple spelling mistake.
During the 2001 election, the then 22-year-old Tory campaigner in Guildford wrote in an election leaflet that the candidate Nick St Aubyn wanted to “untie the community” rather than “unite” it. Unfortunately for him, the tiny mistake was spotted after it had already been posted through 50,000 letterboxes, leading to a huge debacle, where St Aubyn was defeated by 538 votes.
Hancock told the cringe-inducing tale to the Telegraph because he didn’t want other people with dyslexia growing up thinking they are “useless” like he did.
“I wish I had been diagnosed earlier,” he told the publication, before stating that he focused on numbers-based subjects, taking A-Levels in maths, physics, computing, and economics.
Knocked by the blunder, Hancock joined the Bank of England as an economist before completing an MPhil in Economics at Cambridge. On his return, he was plucked out by George Osborne in 2005 to join the Conservative economics team, later becoming the future chancellor’s chief of staff.
His move into politics means that he is the only Hancock sibling not to have started his own business. His sister started an equine business, his brother-in-law, a business in document storage, and his brother, a tech startup.
From MP for West Suffolk to Health Secretary (via some controversies along the way)
In 2010, he became an MP for West Suffolk, where he balanced his time between his weekday flat in London and his weekend home in Little Thurlow, in his Newmarket constituency.
He admitted that, at the beginning, the work-life balance was a challenge, explaining in an interview with the Financial Times in 2014, “I pay a lot of attention to timetabling. Both my professional and social and family time gets booked up a long way in advance and then you have to be strict about it.”
Still, it appeared his time management paid off because, by the beginning of 2014, he was being touted as a junior minister with the skills “to reach the top”.
However, commentators perhaps spoke too soon as a round of political fiascos followed that year. On July 27, Hancock was unable to name a single village that supported the introduction of fracking when challenged on his policy decision on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Then, three months later, he was forced to apologise after sharing a poem on Twitter declaring the Labour Party was “full of queers”, describing the incident as an “accident”.
And, in April 2015, he was criticised by environmental activists for hiring a private jet to fly back to London from a climate conference in Aberdeen.
His legacy as health secretary during a pandemic
In January 2018, Hancock was appointed health secretary, succeeding Jeremy Hunt. In the first two years of his tenure, Hancock was criticised for appearing to endorse a mobile-phone health app marketed by the subscription health-service company Babylon in a sponsored newspaper article, and for allowing 21 NHS contracts worth £127 million to be tendered after previously saying “no privatisation on my watch” in April 2019.
However, neither of these incidents pale in significance compared to his time helming the biggest global health scare in modern times.
On January 31, 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the UK, to which Hancock warned that the Government was considering “some quite significant actions that would have social and economic disruption”. The country was plunged into lockdown on March 23, 2020, with Hancock quickly becoming a household name.
His time as health secretary during the pandemic is remembered for several mistakes: a lack of PPE for health and care staff towards the start of the pandemic, sending Covid-positive patients back into care homes, and a lack of transparency behind who was awarded PPE contracts.
In fact, in February 2021, a High Court judge ruled that Hancock acted unlawfully earlier in the pandemic by handing out PPE contracts without publishing details on the recipients within 30 days.
In May 2021, the then-prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings told MPs that “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die” during the pandemic, due to Government blunders, and that Hancock should have been fired on “15 to 20” different occasions. However, the public couldn’t have predicted the reason for his eventual demise.
The affair that cost him his job
In 2016, Hancock married osteopath Martha Hoyer Millar and together they have three small children, a daughter and two sons, as well as a dachshund called Hercules (which Hancock will occasionally document via his Instagram).
However, their marriage broke down after he breached his own Covid-19 social-distancing restrictions with Gina Coladangelo, an adviser in the Department of Health and Social Care, with whom he was having an affair.
At the time, Hancock was in charge of social-distancing restrictions, so when the Sun released CCTV images of the pair “in a steamy embrace”, the public was outraged. Although he was backed by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, Hancock decided to resign from his parliamentary position on June 26, 2021.
It has since been revealed that, after Hancock received a call from the Sun on June 24 detailing the CCTV leak, he went home and told his wife that he was leaving her. Friends told the Times at the time that his relationship with Coladangelo was a ‘love match’ and that they were likely to set up home together.
Hancock and Coladangelo first met at Oxford University, while volunteering at a student radio station. Speaking on Dragons’ Den star Steve Bartlett’s podcast about their relationship, he explained: “I’ve known Gina for more than half of my life and we first actually worked together on student radio back in the Oxford days. So, we spent a lot of time together, ironically, trying to get me to be able to communicate in a more emotionally intelligent way.”
In his resignation statement, the former health secretary said he needed to spend more time with his children but it didn’t contain an apology to his wife.
Life post-affair and pre-I’m A Celebrity
"I’d blown up every part of my life. I concentrated on my personal life first, as you can probably imagine... I made the decision,” Hancock said of his decision to resign as health secretary. “It was clearly the right decision. I just say sorry again for the failure. I let a lot of people down. I’m sorry to the people that I hurt.”
The politician took a step back from the front bench and instead focused on repairing his personal life. He reportedly now lives with seven Ukrainian refugees, four dogs, and Coladangelo at his Suffolk home.
Despite rumours that he may be about to propose to Coladangelo, he is yet to officially divorce his current wife. However, he and Coladangleo are regularly spotted together, whether that be at the RHS Chelsea Flower show or while training to scale the tallest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc, together to raise money for a new children’s hospital in Cambridge.
As for his return to the front bench, in October 2021, Hancock announced his appointment as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s new special representative for financial innovation and climate change. However, the job offer was shortly rescinded after public uproar towards the move.
In recent days, Hancock was reportedly mulling a bid to become chairman of the Treasury Select Committee but, instead, he shocked Parliament with his announcement to go on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! instead.
He reportedly did not tell Rishi Sunak of his plans beforehand and, when asked about the West Suffolk MP’s plan to go on the show, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “The PM believes that, at a challenging time for the country, MPs should be working hard for their constituents, whether that is in the House or in their constituency.”
The spokesperson added that it was “unlikely” the PM would be watching the programme.