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Are Politicians Celebrities? A Brief Analysis of Matt Hancock’s TV Appearances

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Exeter chapter.

Like many of us, I love to watch shows like I’m A Celeb and Celebrity SAS, where a selection of mostly z-list celebrities and has-beens are grouped together to undertake a series of trials and tribulations. The shows are very fun to watch, and great to watch to unwind from the stresses of everyday life. 

However, in the last year, both of these shows have featured Matt Hancock, notorious former Tory MP and cabinet minister. Despite the laughs he has brought to the audiences and his fellow candidates, there is something deeply unsettling about the presence of politicians, those who are entrusted with dealing with public issues, being broadcast as ‘celebrities’ on such programmes. 

Following Matt Hancock’s abysmal handling of the coronavirus pandemic whilst being health secretary in the UK, as well as his scandalous affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo, the public were quick to critique his breaching of his own rules, and rightly so. However, both ‘I’m A Celebrity’ and ‘Celebrity SAS’ have edited him in a favourable way, with clips showing him taking on the challenges without complaint. Similarly, the memes emerging of Matt Hancock add to this image of him being a bit of a loveable buffoon, who despite being a bit useless is causing no harm. Collectively, this highlights how the media, in particular these shows, have given Mr Hancock a way to worm his way into a favourable public view and rebrand himself as a down-to-earth, funny celeb. This is most clear in him making it to the I’m A Celebrity final through public votes, which I don’t think was simply due to a slightly sadistic desire to see him suffer, and more of a genuine affection developed by the British public.  

Not only has Matt Hancock gained exposure and public favour through such appearances, but he has made extortionate profits through them too. I’m A Celebrity paid £400,000 before tax (source: https://www.itv.com/news/2023-02-14/hancock-was-paid-400000-for-im-a-celebrity-appearance) for his role on the show and he continued to receive his MP salary whilst on the show, and Celebrity SAS reportedly paid him £45,000. These are numbers most of us can only dream of making over the course of a year, and it feels unfair that he can make such profit in spite of his failures during the pandemic and whilst being incapable of carrying out his ministerial duties whilst on the shows.  

Crucially, and perhaps most worryingly, Matt Hancock is brought onto these shows as a ‘celebrity’, a word which brings connotations of entertainment, stardom, and most importantly, not someone elected into government. This blurring of boundaries between politician and celebrity is worrying and encourages us to view politicians as entertainment sources rather than elected representatives with public responsibilities.  Whilst it is amusing to see Hancock be ruthlessly questioned and interrogated by other contestants on these shows, I just don’t think prime time TV is the place to do so; this is not mild celebrity gossip, but political failures which have a multitude of other ways of being scrutinised. 

I understand that the term ‘celebrity’ in both shows’ titles is a fairly vague, and maybe I’m being too pedantic in picking it apart. However, I just cannot reconcile the concept of a politician – somebody who aims to protect the public’s interest – with the glitz and glamour of a celebrity. Moreover, Matt’s infamy has only developed due to his incompetencies during the pandemic, and I find it abhorrent that he can profit from this further through his involvement in these shows. Politicians should not be a source of public entertainment, and I believe that Matt Hancock’s presence on these shows distracts from his political failings, and prevents him from being held truly to account when the public grows to see him as a regular, albeit washed-up celebrity rather than a failed politician who was incapable of carrying out the very job he was hired to do.  

Personally, I don’t think somebody like this should be classified as a ‘celebrity’, and had the world been told that during the lockdowns, or when Hancock was exposed for his affair which breached covid regulations, I expect public response would have been very different to the warm welcome Hancock has received following this newfound ‘celebrity’ status.  

With Nigel Farage’s recent admission to the 2023 I’m A Celeb lineup, I’m curious (and slightly concerned) to see how this plays out, and whether his experience will be similar to that of Matt Hancock’s.

Abi Manley

Exeter '25

Hi, I'm Abi! I'm a Sociology student who loves reading, music and cooking.