Belfast Telegraph

Why I'm A Celebrity dances rings around Strictly Come Dancing

By Jane Graham

I don't get Strictly. I understand in theory the appeal of a show that's full of sparkle and glitter and bright colours and comes on telly just as the clocks go back and things are getting dark and gloomy outside. But I find the show itself interminably dull.

I think it's the lack of psychological insight. Strictly is all about surface. It's quite literally a celebration of surface, the impact of transforming one's awkward, messy self into something visually startling and flawless, with the aid of the accoutrements of artificiality; fake tan, costume jewellery, hair pieces, and false eyelashes.

This seems to be what millions enjoy, the escape from the drudgery of real life – plain people, daily worries, introspection and disappointment. For me, it offers such a flat, shiny alternative, with so little depth or interest in human beings, that I get bored very quickly. I think I might be addicted to the soap opera of real life after all.

Which may be why I love I'm A Celebrity..., which kicked off this week. I'm a Celeb is the opposite of Strictly. Instead of a glitzy, warm, flatteringly-lit ballroom, the participants have to rough it in an inhospitable jungle. Instead of a team of make-up artists and stylists, they have nothing to hide behind except their regulation camp outfits, a hairbrush (which most seem to stop using after two days) and the odd smuggled lipstick.

The pampered, expensive life they know can't be bought here. They can't go to the gym, bronze their skin, or nip off for a quick spot of Botox. They're exposed to the elements and to each other, to hunger and discomfort. Out of that comes more truthful communication, a reversion to the self, a revelation of instincts hidden or PR'ed out of public existence for years.

Under such circumstances, we've discovered that snooker ace Gentleman Jim White is actually an irritable, ungracious whiner, football hero Rodney Marsh an unbearable, sexist grouch and stiff royal reporter Jennie Bond a big-hearted tough cookie who's game for anything. And we've discovered such things while laughing a lot. Win-win.

The show works best when the contestants settle quickly into a hierarchical surrogate family, as they almost always do. Often the oldest woman becomes a maternal central figure, who dishes out hugs, comfort shots, and confidence boosts. So far this year though, there's little sign of Laila Morse accepting this role; she's a more naturally anti-establishment figure. The kids will have to go to nice sensible Steve Davis for their weekly confession.

The one who's intrigued me is Rebecca Adlington. She's a fêted Olympic champion – once dubbed Britain's Golden Girl – yet seems riddled with self-doubt and worries about her appearance. She's spoken before about the "awful" things that have been said about her looks, and instead of telling her detractors to sod off, felt urged to point out: "I don't look good in post-race interviews. My hair is wet, and I'm bright red from racing."

We've already seen her gaze with awe at Amy Willerton's perfect hourglass form and standardly pretty face, so obviously desirable to the young Joey Essex (he's not subtle) and fret, "I haven't seen her look bad once yet". Her body won her two gold Olympic medals, and she trained and suffered and sacrificed to get it. It should be a totem of great pride to her and envy to her fellow female camp mates. But instead the others, like her, gaze jealously at Amy Willerton, who won a beauty contest once. It's an honest reflection of the world we live in. But it's just a little heartbreaking.

'They have nothing to hide behind except their camp outfits, a hairbrush and a smuggled lipstick'

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