'We want to see our politicians humiliate themselves on reality TV'

Is reality TV the best chance for MPs to reinvent themselves in the public eye?

Matt Hancock - Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. (Channel 4)
Matt Hancock is currently on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. (Channel 4)

This week MP Matt Hancock makes the final of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins while shamed tractor porn ex-MP Neil Parish stars in prison show Banged Up and even controversial Nigel Farage is considering I’m A Celeb. So why is there so many of our politicians and former MPs on reality TV?

PR and entertainment expert at Press Box, Lynn Carratt, thinks it offers them a chance to show another, potentially more popular, side of themselves.

"Many MPs often find themselves unpopular with the British public. They see reality TV as a golden opportunity to rebrand their image and share their real-life persona with the viewing public, rather than the side of them that has to toe the political party line. Ultimately, MPs see appearing on reality shows as a PR platform to sell themselves as likeable individuals.

"Viewers enjoy seeing our politicians humiliating themselves on TV; it worked for Ed Balls because he went from has-been to national treasure because he understood voters what viewers wanted to see - Ed Balls performing the Salsa to Gangnam style is one of my favourite Strictly moments of all time," she added.

Ed Balls dancing to Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing
Ed Balls dancing to Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing. (BBC)

With reality TV formats on the rise, entertainment media bosses continue to secure appearances from politicians past and present – and there are no signs on this slowing down.

"Love it or hate it, the trend of MPs appearing on reality TV is one that isn't going away anytime soon," Carratt said.

"The merging of reality TV and politics isn't just a UK phenomenon; it's also massive on the other side of the Atlantic. Former US president Donald Trump was the face of The Apprentice in the USA, and Caitlyn Jenner became the governor of California candidate."

We take a deeper dive into the phenomenon of MPs and ex MPs appearing on reality TV...

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock starred on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here last year (ITV)
Matt Hancock starred on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here last year (ITV)

When working MP Hancock starred on I'm A Celebrity last year, it got everyone talking about whether he should have been on reality TV.

PR mastermind Carratt shone a light on the controversial subject matter, saying: "Politicians appearing on reality TV or unscripted TV always sparks a lightning rod for debate, especially working ones.

"When Matt Hancock headed into the Australian jungle last year, it left many of his West Suffolk constituents furious, as he was still earning his £84,000 MP salary for representing them.

"Whilst his stint on I'm a Celebrity did lose him his Tory whip, it banked him a whopping £320,000; defending his reasons for appearing on the show, Hancock said it was a 'great opportunity for him to talk directly to the people who aren't interested in politics.'"

Matt Hancock in Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins (Channel 4)
Matt Hancock has made the final of Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins. (Channel 4)

The MP for West Sussex has been on reality TV again recently with his appearance on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.

Of making the final of SAS: Who Dares Wins, Hancock said: "It was really one of the most difficult things I've ever done and a very unpleasant experience.

"The only way through it was to have the same attitude that I had during the whole course, to just keep sticking around for a few more minutes all the way through, even when the interrogators were trying to rile me."

One stand out moment of the series saw Hancock in his pants being interrogated by a Liz Truss lookalike – much to the delight of viewers at home.

Plus people were fascinated to see him receive a message from his love Gina Coladangelo.

Their love story has courted attention after a CCTV leak revealed they broke COVID-19 guidance by kissing and it later saw the breakdown of both their marriages.

Neil Parish

Former MP Neil Parish signed up to spend eight days behind bars (Channel 4)
Former MP Neil Parish signed up to spend eight days behind bars (Channel 4)

Also appearing on reality TV this week is Neil Parish, who resigned as an MP in April last year after watching tractor porn in parliament twice.

The British farmer signed himself up to be locked up for prison show Banged Up alongside stars including Sid Owen and HRVY as well as Tory MP Johnny Mercer.

Former Tory MP Parish lifted the lid on his reality TV experience where he spent eight days behind bars.

Given his past in politics and how he resigned after being caught watching porn in the Commons, Parish expected the ex-inmates would give him "hell" but he laughed it off.

During a Q&A at a press screening of Banged Up, Parish said: "It was a hell of an experience."

He later added: "In my position, you do know that moment you put yourself into having done what I've done they were going to give me hell weren't they? But I have got a great sense of humour, I can laugh at myself, thank god.

"I just laughed it off to be honest. There was no point getting hoity toity. My days of getting hoity toity after what I've done are over. I took it on the chin. That part of it wasn't half as bad as I thought."

History of MPs on TV

Neil Hamilton and wife Christine and Louis Theroux leaving Barkingside police station
Neil Hamilton and wife Christine pictured with Louis Theroux leaving Barkingside police station (Alamy)

While many MPs and former MPs are appearing on reality TV at this moment in time, it really is a phenomenon that has gone back decades.

Neil Hamilton

It goes all the way back to former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton – who has been the leader of UKIP since 2020 – and his wife Christine trying to craft a celebrity career.

Carratt said: "At the moment, it might seem like there has been an influx of MPs appearing on reality shows, but in the past 20 years, UK politicians have been no stranger to appearing in these programmes."

The Hamiltons invited the cameras into their home when they filmed with Louis Theroux for the first series of his When Louis Met in 2001. They used the show to relaunch themselves as media stars.

Rhona Cameron (centre) with Christine Hamilton
Rhona Cameron (centre) with former Tory MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine at London's Heathrow Airport after they all appeared on I'm A Celebrity. (Getty)

The following year his wife jetted Down Under for an appearance on the gruelling I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here in 2002 and the former MP's wife later won Celebrity MasterChef in 2010.

Of the Theroux show, Carratt added: "Reality TV can undoubtedly impact the audience's perception of a politician. Who can forget the toe-curling fly-on-wall documentary in 2001 when Louis Theroux spent time with disgraced MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine?

"Only two days into filming, the couple were arrested and charged with sexual abuse - while these allegations afterwards turned out to be false, it was still caught on camera.

"Needless to say, the show was fascinating to view, especially to see the story from the inside."

George Galloway

MP George Galloway leaves Durley Hotel
MP George Galloway after he was evicted from Big Brother (Getty)

George Galloway also made a memorable appearance in Celebrity Big Brother in 2006.

Carratt added: "Who can forget one of the cringiest reality TV moments of all time when then MP George Galloway imitated a cat by crawling on all fours, purring and pretending to lick cream from the hands of actress Rula Lenska as part of a task while she stroked his head on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006."

That jaw-dropping moment has been mocked on TV, including by comedian Alan Carr and David Tennant.

David Tennant (left) as George Galloway, with Alan Carr as Rula Lenska during a Celebrity Big Brother parody
David Tennant (left) as George Galloway, with Alan Carr as Rula Lenska during a Celebrity Big Brother parody. (Getty)

Post-politics career

Some politicians have gone onto carve careers in the spotlight while others have not been so successful.

Carratt explained: "Many MPs who appear on these shows have left office and are trying to build a new career in the public eye like Ed Balls successfully did and Ann Widdecombe not so successfully."

She added: "Over the years, we've seen former Conservative culture secretary Nadine Dorries compete in I'm a Celebrity in 2012, Tory MP Edwina Currie perform on Strictly in 2011, and former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe has participated in a hat-trick of shows, including Strictly, Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Big Brother.

Ann Widdecombe was less successful on Strictly Come Dancing
Ann Widdecombe was less successful on Strictly Come Dancing (Getty)

"It was Ed Balls' appearance on Strictly in 2016 which made him extremely popular with the viewing public and helped land him a presenting gig on ITV's GMB."

And while reality TV can have a bad reputation at times, the PR expert explained that these TV stints don't always have a negative impact on those individuals who still have political careers.

She added: "In 2014, Tory MP Penny Mordaunt made waves when she appeared on the celebrity diving show Splash! And her belly-flopping antics were hilarious. However, it didn't harm her political career, as she took part in the Tory leadership battle to become Prime Minister last year."

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