Belfast Telegraph

Jungle Buerk's 'midlife crisis'

Veteran broadcaster Michael Buerk has joked that heading into the jungle as a contestant on I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! could be a form of "late midlife crisis".

The 68-year-old newsman is one of the 10 contestants who were confirmed to be heading into the Australian jungle for the ITV show, along with figures such as former Premier League footballer Jimmy Bullard and TV presenter Melanie Sykes.

Buerk, who famously focused world attention on the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 with a series of reports for the BBC, will follow other news veterans such as Jan Leeming and Jennie Bond as a contestant in the jungle.

The Radio 4 Moral Maze host said: "I'm a frightful snob and perhaps it's time for me to take myself less seriously. I am very sniffy about reality TV and when they first approached me, I thought they were joking. Why on earth would I want to do something like this?

"And then I went through a phase of thinking 'what the hell.' You are a long time dead and I'd rather be pilloried for what I did than be disappointed of what I didn't.

"I do think it will be good fun. I like to think of myself as a serious journalist and for that, you did have to suppress your personality - and rightly so. Maybe doing this is some kind of late midlife crisis."

And the former BBC newsreader accepted his colleagues would poke fun at his decision to take part: "They will be beside themselves when they find out."

The programme - which has its launch episode for the latest series on Sunday - will also feature BBC Radio 6 Music presenter and Coronation Street star Craig Charles, as well as The Only Way Is Essex's Gemma Collins.

Former 'Allo, 'Allo actress Vicki Michelle, motorcyclist Carl Fogarty and model Kendra Wilkinson - a US TV star and former girlfriend of Playboy boss Hugh Hefner - are also taking part along with Irish model Nadia Forde.

Rap act Tinchy Stryder, who recently performed a track with the Chuckle Brothers, is another taking part.

Many of the stars were pictured arriving at Brisbane airport to prepare for the series before ITV had confirmed who would be taking part and facing the usual challenges and bushtucker trials involving an array of nasties.

Michelle will be missing panto for the first time in almost a quarter of a century to take in I'm A Celebrity.

She said: "It will be weird not doing it but I am really looking forward to spending Christmas with my family.

"I am going to be totally me in the jungle and I think the only time I might act is when you have to do something you don't want to do like a trial," she added.

Bullard emerged as the early favourite today, with bookmaker William Hill putting the former Wigan Athletic and Fulham midfielder at 9/4.

He is followed by Charles at 6/1, while Buerk is at 8/1 and Wilkinson, Sykes and Forde are all at 10/1.

Hill's spokesman Joe Crilly said: "Jimmy has been one of football's biggest characters over the last 15 years and his antics are bound to keep the viewers entertained over the coming weeks."

The return of the show prompted wildlife presenter Chris Packham to write an open letter to hosts Ant and Dec - calling for the pair to step in and end the "abuse of animals" on the show.

The jungle contest sees participants facing spiders, snakes and cockroaches in regular bushtucker trials.

Springwatch host Packham, 53, described the tasks as "barbaric" and "silly" and said the hit show was undoing the work of natural history programmes.

In his letter, published in Radio Times, he suggested that neither of the Geordie presenters would want the "shame" of teaching young viewers that killing for "exploitative 'entertainment' is acceptable".

He went on to say that the trials "undermined a respect for life, which ... impacts negatively upon conservation ... and ... spoils the show because it's simply out of date, some would say barbaric."

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