An oft-repeated joke in the run-up to the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union ran that, by voting to remain, Nigel Farage’s political career would be consigned to history and he’d be eating creepy-crawlies in the jungle within months.

As it turns out, saying that Brexit would deny us the chance to watch the former MEP munching on witchetty grubs was all part of Project Fear as this Sunday the 59-year-old will indeed make his debut on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here having accepted what is reported to be a record fee.

While the sight of Mr Farage is sure to spur many to immediately Take Back (Remote) Control, he’s sure to dominate the headlines and, as many before have done, even change a few minds in the process.

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Andre 2004

The path from slightly odd reality television programme to chief launderer of reputations has been a lengthy and odd one.

The premise – as if anyone could be unaware – is simple: a group of minor celebrities are dropped into the Australian jungle with the bare minimum of creature comforts, and are voted off one-by-one. To win meals and other luxuries for camp, a nominated player – first by public vote and later by camp ballot – or players compete in a ‘Bushtucker trial’, usually involving rats, snakes, bugs and other such Antipodean delights either taking a bite out of an Emmerdale cast member or being munched on themselves.

Debuting in 2002 it’s a regular ratings winner for ITV and despite its madcap premise it’s easy to see why. Hosts Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly (aka Ant & Dec) have parlayed their easy chemistry and cheeky Geordie charm from Byker Grove, through SMTV: Live to primetime stardom. The programme is probably the only venue in which you’ll get to see Shaun Ryder call a snake “you dirty b*****d”, John Lydon react to Peter Andre’s song compositions or TV ‘doctor’ Gillian McKeith effect a full-on swoon to get out of a trial. Also, let’s face it, watching D-list celebrities eating kangaroo anuses is just funny.

The Herald: I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here

Tony Blackburn was the first ‘King of the Jungle’ in 2002, but it was the third series which really captured the public imagination. As well as watching the romance between Katie Price and Peter Andre blossom in real time, viewers were ‘treated’ to the Australian singer’s camp compositions. One memorable ditty was followed by Mr Andre earnestly telling the camera: “sometimes I’ll wake up with a melody in my head and think, ‘where have I heard that before?’ and find I’ve never heard it before, it’s new. I love it’. Cut to Mr Lydon: “It’s awful. It really is very, very bad, innit?”. Another, ‘Insania’ became a running joke for Ant & Dec though it’s not clear the singer quite caught the irony – he released it as a single shortly after leaving the jungle.

While it was former Atomic Kitten member Kerry Katona who was crowned Queen of the Jungle, it was Mr Andre and Ms Price who became the first beneficiaries of ‘Celeb-washing’, a term Spotlight has just coined and which will never catch on. Previously a one-hit wonder and tabloid tramp respectively in the public eye, the pair cashed in with a showbiz wedding, a fly-on-the-wall documentary and even an album – their cover of ‘A Whole New World’ from the Aladdin soundtrack really has to be heard to be believed.

Subsequent series ensured the show would remain a tabloid fixture. Myleene Klass showering in a white bikini – literal celeb washing, there – ensured the jungle scrub would be a red top fixation every year, while ITV was forced to apologise after chef Gino D’Acampo killed and cooked a rat which had wandered into camp – quite why this was a red line in a programme which frequently features the ingestion of live animals is unclear.

Not all made the most of their post I’m A Celeb fame. Carol Thatcher was crowned Queen of the Jungle in 2005 but was later sacked from her gig on The One Show for describing French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as a “golliwog frog”, while the aforementioned Gillian McKeith so enraged the watching public they voted for her to do every trial.

Still, the template had been set: go into the jungle, choke down the kangaroo testicles, emerge a beloved figure.

Let’s get political

The history of politicians mixing with popular entertainment is a fraught one. From a baffled Tony Benn telling Ali G he was frequently “caned” at school, through George Galloway pretending to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother, to Jonathan Ross asking David Cameron if he “ever had a wank thinking of (Margaret) Thatcher”, stepping outside of the political bubble can be fraught with difficulty.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale came and went from the jungle without causing much of a splash, while Nadine Dorries was suspended by the Conservative Party for her unauthorised appearance. The template Mr Farage will be hoping to follow, is Matt Hancock.

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In 2022 – the series returning to Australia after a Covid-enforced sojourn in Wales – the former health secretary joined as a surprise late arrival. Mr Hancock’s stock was not high. He and the government’s handling of the pandemic was widely criticised, and the MP had been forced to resign after being caught breaching social distancing rules by kissing aide Gina Coladangelo, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

Unsurprisingly given the public mood, he was voted to do six trials in a row but perceptions soon began to change. If one had to pinpoint the moment it was probably when Mr Hancock was eating ‘Willy con Carne’ – camel penis – opposite Boy George, with the general tenor of social media conversation changing to variations on “I never thought I’d say this, but Matt Hancock is coming across well”.

He finished third while Boy George, who was convicted in 2008 of assault and false imprisonment, came eighth.

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Farage foray

Cynics might suggest Mr Farage’s stint in the jungle is designed to have a similar effect. Though he remains one of the UK’s most recognisable politicians, his views have never been compatible with electoral success – he’s tried and failed to be elected as an MP seven times.

Whether it’s standing in front of a poster featuring the phrase ‘breaking point’ and a line of mostly non-white immigrants, stating he wouldn’t want to live next door to Romanians, saying people speaking foreign languages on the train made him “uncomfortable” or being accused of singing the Nazi ‘Horst Wessel song’ as a teenager, Mr Farage’s particular brand has proved toxic outside of EU elections.

The former UKIP leader is widely expected to re-join the Conservative Party – he himself says he’ll be leader by 2026 – and the laundering of his image on reality television combined with what seems certain to be a thumping Tory defeat in next year’s election could help pave the way.

Nor is Mr Farage the only celebrity looking to do some image management: it’s surely no coincidence that Jamie-Lynn Spears is appearing after being very publicly criticised in her sister Britney’s recent memoir.

The reality TV gods – otherwise known as producers and editors – can be capricious though, and neither can be guaranteed coming out of the experience with their reputations burnished.

Still, Mr Farage might actually get some votes for once.