Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale believes Matt Hancock has been both “brave and naive” after signing up for I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in the Australian jungle.
Dugdale took part in the 2017 edition of the ITV programme alongside celebrities including Dennis Wise, Rebekah Vardy and series winner Georgia Toffolo.
Her decision sparked uproar and she was formally reprimanded by Labour for flying to the other side of the world while working as a Lothian MSP.
She says Hancock should expect a similar reaction, with the former UK health secretary having already been stripped of the Tory whip and heavily criticised by party colleagues.
Dugdale told STV News: “He’s far more high-profile than I ever was, a lot of people have a much stronger opinion of him now and not necessarily a positive one, so I definitely think it’s a riskier decision for him than me at the time.
“It’s a nice experience for him, he’s going to earn a bit of money, but there’s going to be a lot of people very angry with him, particularly in the current environment.
“A lot of people have paid a heavy price for [Covid] decisions he’s taken, that his party has taken, that are not going to think too fondly of him spending his time in this way.”
Hancock was a surprise extra name added to the list of contenders and allies said he would use his appearance to promote his work on dyslexia.
But it will mean being away from parliament and the Tories suspended the whip, while campaigners for families bereaved in the Covid-19 pandemic accused him of trying to “cash in on his terrible legacy”.
Dugdale said: “I think, first of all, he needs to be really honest about why he’s doing it, how much he’s getting paid for it, and I think he also has to be really upfront, authentically himself, when he’s in the jungle.
“I struggled with that, I definitely acted like a politician when I got there. I froze a bit, I didn’t feel like I could fit surrounded by all these celebrities like Jamie Lomas and Dennis Wise and Rebekah Vardy, I felt quite lonely.
“He needs to think about all those factors before going in, it’s definitely a brave and risky decision that he’s taking, particularly in the current environment when so many people are really, really struggling and really feeling that life is quite hard.”
During her time in the camp, Dugdale struggled to down a foaming smoothie made of bull’s penis and another of ostrich and pig’s anus.
She also survived exclusively on rice and beans for the first three days, waded through fish guts on her arrival and had to use a barrel of cold water and a chute as her shower.
“I think he’s definitely likely to face a lot of challenges, to be sent to do some of the worst things in the jungle,” said Dugdale.
“Remember, they’re not all food-based. Everybody thinks it’s about eating something bad or drinking something bad – but a lot of them are quite physical, a lot are games or quizzes just covered in bugs and not very pleasant things.
“But I think he’s ripe to be called up for many of those and I think a lot of people want to see him squirm, right?
“To be honest, it’s quite dull most of the time because you’re watching an hour-long programme that takes 24 hours to film – you’re not on trials the whole time, you’re not out and about a lot.
“You are just sitting around the camp and it’s actually cold and wet. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had a great time and I earned a bit of money that really helped me at the time, I’m not looking for any pity, but it’s really cold and really wet. Don’t expect it to be hot and tropical and come back with a suntan, that’s not going to happen.
“You spend a lot of time sitting around and that’s what I struggled with because I didn’t have a huge amount in common with the other celebrity guests and I suspect Matt might find himself in the same position.”
Hancock was forced to quit as health secretary in June 2021 after breaking coronavirus social distancing rules by conducting an affair in his ministerial office with aide Gina Coladangelo.
He was among supporters of Rishi Sunak who welcomed the new leader to Conservative headquarters last week, but was overlooked for a ministerial job under the new prime minister.
Furthermore, he had also reportedly been considering a run to be chair of the treasury select committee, but pulled out of the race on Monday.
His decision to enter the jungle drew criticism from political opponents, union chiefs and campaigners.
Lobby Akinnola, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said: “Matt Hancock isn’t a ‘celebrity’, he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules.
“The fact that he is trying to cash in on his terrible legacy, rather than showing some humility or seeking to reflect on the appalling consequences of his time in government, says it all about the sort of person he is.”
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: “It speaks volumes that Matt Hancock would rather be stranded in a remote jungle eating kangaroo testicles than spend a moment longer on the Tory benches at Westminster, as Rishi Sunak’s government lurches from one crisis to another.”
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “To be fair to Matt Hancock, I’d sooner eat wallaby anus than be a Tory MP too.”
Among the growing backlash at Westminster, Dugdale warned there was a “danger sometimes for politicians to take it a wee bit too seriously”.
She said: “Of course, it’s a problem that he’s away from his work and he needs hard to think what he’s going to do with his salary and how he’s going to make peace with his constituents, but actually a lot of people would do exactly what he’s doing and are egging him on and are certainly going to be phoning up getting him to some of the nastier stuff on the show.
“I know I angered a lot of people when I went into the jungle, a lot of them my close friends and colleagues, and there’s no doubt that that will happen to him, and that will be very difficult.
“But actually, in the broader community I represented at the time, my constituents, when I went out to do surgeries, and I did a lot of them when I came back, the vast, vast majority of the regular public were desperate to talk about it and I would say to them ‘would you do it?’, and they would say ‘oh, yeah, definitely, for that money and for three weeks, of course I would’.”