Celebs gamble reputations on TV

As ten celebrities risk their reputations on surviving life in the jungle, Maja Pawinska chronicles some of the reality show’s former hit personalities and the motives behind the contestants of the current series

Models, actors, pop stars and DJs, sports personalities, TV chefs, posh totty and John Lydon: all have graced the Australian outback with their presence.

After all, today’s B-list celeb or has-been could be tomorrow’s screaming headline if they are crowned king or queen of the jungle.

Midway through the fourth series of the strangely compelling I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, the publicists working for ITV, the contestants’ agents and the media have cranked up the buzz around the show to fever pitch.

Even the broadsheets and compacts are keeping half an eye on the Bushtucker Trials, not least because one of their own, Independent on Sunday editor-at-large Janet Street-Porter, was among the ten to enter the jungle.

Winners take all

There have been clear winners and losers from the first three series. Cheeky hosts Ant and Dec have probably gained the biggest reward, as presenting I’m a Celebrity… has seen their stock rise even higher in TV land. Linda Barker has earned a fortune from numerous advertising deals, and old-school DJ Tony Blackburn’s star sparkled bright once more after his triumph.

Heat deputy editor Julian Linley says Kerry McFadden, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Jordan have also been winners: ‘Kerry turned round the opinion that she was a glorified housewife as we saw she was good fun and just like us, and her fame eclipsed that of her husband as a result. It was also brilliant PR for Tara, who hadn’t previously come across as the lovely, funny, bright girl she is. And bearing in mind Jordan’s career is publicity, the show gave her character a new lease of life as she let [her underlying identity as] Katie Price emerge.’

The reasons given by the contestants for agreeing to do the show vary. The line from Paul Burrell’s agent Ali Gunn at literary and media agency Curtis Brown is that the former royal butler went into the jungle in the current series because he ‘loves a challenge, and his sense of adventure and fun meant that this was an opportunity not to be missed’.

But Linley says everyone on the show is there for one reason only: ‘Not all of them would admit it, but you just wouldn’t do the show unless you somehow wanted to reinvent your career or your character. The only one who does puzzle me is Janet Street-Porter – but she is a journalist and a real adventurer.’

The PR machine is now well honed after three runs of the show. A number of the celebs’ agents are out in Australia during the show’s two weeks, as are a team of three publicists and two picture publicists from the ITV press office, to look after the journalists who are on site.

Back in the UK, two publicists are on 24-hour call. ‘The team in Australia sends us a daily update and we send that out under strict embargo so the papers can run the story the next day,’ says Emma Page, one half of the London team. ‘It’s a mix of proactive and reactive media relations. We have to be prepared for the unexpected – it’s not the kind of show where you can plan a programme a month in advance.’

I’m a Celebrity… is one of ITV’s most popular shows, and Page is expecting the media frenzy this time round to be as great as ever. ‘Even before the show started, we had a story on the front page of every tabloid, and by the end of the last series there were books and books of cuttings,’ she says.

It also provides a couple of opportunities for brands to have a swing on the jungle vine. Holiday company First Choice is the programme sponsor and is running its own PR campaign around the show, including ‘Bushtucker trials’ in its stores attended by former contestant Nell McAndrew.

As well as providing the press with stacks of copy, raising thousands for charity through phone lines, and awakening the publicists and cuttings agencies of the more dormant celebrities, this year’s show will undoubtedly become a springboard for relaunching the career, or reinventing the reputation, of at least one of the contestants. Who’s your money on?

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