Former U.K. Health Secretary Gets a TV Gig, Then a Suspension

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LONDON — Best known as the former British health secretary who quit after breaking Covid distancing rules when he was caught in a steamy embrace with an aide, Matt Hancock now has another claim to fame. He is joining the cast of a TV show whose previous contestants have been filmed eating insects and animal testicles.

Mr. Hancock is now set to spend up to three weeks filming “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” — a reality show that will feature celebrities including pop stars, actors and TV hosts undertaking arduous, sometimes repellent, tasks in the Australian jungle.

Whether or not Mr. Hancock is a celebrity, his decision to do the show has gotten him out of one place: the Conservative Party’s parliamentary group. He was suspended after news of his new adventure emerged.

At a time when Britons are feeling a squeeze on living costs, Mr. Hancock’s decision to join the filming thousands of miles from Parliament and his constituency in West Sussex, angered his political bosses. He will now have to sit in Parliament as an independent after losing party support.

“Following a conversation with Matt Hancock, I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect,” the government chief whip, Simon Hart, said, referring to membership of the Conservative parliamentary party.

There was a rebuke, too, from Downing Street where the spokesman for the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said members of Parliament “should be working hard for their constituents, whether that’s in the House or in their constituency.”

Never shy of publicity while a minister, Mr. Hancock seems to have judged that the opportunity to appear in front of a big TV audience outweighs the damage to any further political ambitions he may harbor.

He resigned last year from his job as health secretary after CCTV footage appeared showing him canoodling with an aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his ministerial office, a breach of the very strict social distancing rules in force at the time, rules he helped implement.

Mr. Hancock supported Mr. Sunak in the race last month to succeed Liz Truss when she quit as prime minister. But there was no return to the government ranks for the former health secretary whose exclusion suggested that his prospects of winning another top job in politics are fading.

Although Mr. Hancock’s participation in the show has been reported by ITV News, “I’m a Celebrity …. Get Me Out Of Here!” has not commented, saying only that the identity of “late arrivals” to the camp where filming is based “will be announced in due course.”

Nor have the show’s makers disclosed how much the cast will be paid though some British media speculated that Mr. Hancock’s fee could be as much as £350,000, or about $400,000.

He will not be the first lawmaker to appear on the series. In 2012 Nadine Dorries, a fervent support of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was suspended from the Conservative Party for her appearance on the same show. Her challenges included eating camel’s toe and ostrich anus.

She was readmitted to the party in May 2013 and was later promoted to the cabinet by Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Hancock’s decision provoked anger from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice U.K., a campaign group that wrote on Twitter that Mr. Hancock was not a celebrity but “the former health secretary who oversaw the U.K. having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 whilst breaking his own lockdown rules,” and accused him of trying “to cash in on his terrible legacy.”

There was mockery from some political opponents, including Pete Wishart, a lawmaker for the Scottish National Party who said that it “speaks volumes” that Mr. Hancock “would rather be stranded in a remote jungle eating kangaroo testicles than spend a moment longer on the Tory benches at Westminster” — a reference to the Conservative Party’s contingent in Parliament.

And some of his Conservative lawmaker colleagues were critical, including Tim Loughton, who told Times Radio that he was disgusted that Mr. Hancock had “put his self and a so-called celebrity career ahead of serving his constituents,” describing the former health secretary as an “absolute prat.”

Mr. Hancock did not respond directly to a request for comment. A political ally, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the former minister did not expect to serve again in government, and that the show as an incredible opportunity for Mr. Hancock to engage with the millions who tune in to the show.

The ally said that reality TV is a powerful tool for reaching younger generations and added that Mr. Hancock would be making a donation to a hospice in Suffolk and would declare the amount he receives in line with the rules for lawmakers.

On Tuesday Downing Street said that it was unlikely that Mr. Sunak will be tuning in to see how Mr. Hancock performs in the tasks he faces in the Australian jungle.

But one person who probably will is Andy Drummond, deputy chairman of the Conservative Association in West Suffolk, the area that Mr. Hancock represents. “I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis,” he told the Press Association news agency.


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