SUZANNE HARRINGTON: It’s a jungle out there in celebrity has-been land

I’D love to have come up with something important this week, like the state of humanity or whatever, but I’ve been too glued to I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here every night, and if I miss it, I watch in on catch-up.

Initially my kids can’t understand it. Why am I watching this awful programme that makes people eat unspeakable things and do dreadful tasks involving rats and bugs and goo? But I am too busy staring at the screen, hypnotised. Shhhh, is all I can say.

And then on the fifth night, when the children have accepted gruesomely stupid reality telly must be a new thing for mum, I call to them to come quick, because it is starting. Why are you making us watch this rubbish, they moan, wanting to get back to skyping their mates or online gambling or whatever it is kids do in their bedrooms. And then the 10-year-old focuses on the screen and shrieks, “OH MY GOD IT’S ANNABEL AND SHE’S GOT A GIANT STICK INSECT IN HER MOUTH!”

So she has. There, amongst the Essex boys and the ex-Eastenders, is our friend Annabel. The one who comes around every fortnight for our tiny writing group, to drink tea and share work, and gossip about kids and dogs and our very quiet life by the sea. Now she is on telly in the jungle, up to her neck in awfulness, and maintaining immense grace under pressure (so far anyway — remember, I am writing this a few days before you read it). The kids are mesmerised. What is she doing? Why is she out there? Is she a celebrity?

Well, yes — just not anymore. Annabel used to be a model, TV presenter, pop star wife and best selling novelist. Then she had a son with special needs and everything changed — her career fell away as she cared for him, and paid his gigantic school fees. Ageism didn’t help.

And now she’s in the Australian jungle with the rest of the wannabes and the has-beens — because nobody in their career prime is going to drink cockroach smoothie for cash or publicity — and we all sit around the telly, transfixed at the trauma-bonding unfolding before us. What a bizarre feeling, watching your friend being willingly tortured on telly. It’s even weirder writing about it, because it seems intrusive to write about someone you know, yet you all know her too now, principally for spending the night in a rat-filled shack with a comedy Italian, and then holding a bunch of horror movie live insects in her mouth. On camera. For money. And not freaking out.

Being a celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it, observes the 13-year-old, as Annabel swims around in a vat of rotting green stuff. She’s right of course — like flying, it was once glamorous. And yet we swell with pride for her, and think she’s bloody marvellous.


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