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ITV paid Nigel Farage £1.5m to launch his political comeback on I’m A Celeb

A year after former health minister entered the jungle, Nigel Farage has now also been paid to take part in I'm a Celebrity

“There will be another insurgency in British politics,” predicted Nigel Farage darkly, speaking to Beth Rigby of Sky News in May. “Whether it will be Reform [UK], whether it will be me, whether we get a new [former BNP leader] Nick Griffin…”

Asked by Rigby if he was considering a political comeback, the former UKIP leader said: “If I stood again it would be a much more revolutionary agenda than just Brexit.” By October, he was being swarmed by admirers as he strutted around the Conservative conference in Manchester.

Farage’s celebrity status is not in doubt. With Boris Johnson, he is one of the UK’s two most-recognisable political figures. He is a TV presenter and, in his unique way, an accomplished one.

That does not mean Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, is right to help him promote his agenda for filling “the gap between Westminster and where people are” with a more revolutionary brand of right-wing politics. Or that it should underwrite his plans with £1.5m, the fee he is receiving for the chance to court potential new supporters on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Here.

“I think he has gone on there with the ambition of broadening his base, broadening his appeal,” observed Patrick O’Flynn, a former UKIP MEP, after watching his friend’s debut on the reality show last week. Farage has “big things politically in mind next year”, he said.

“He’s very clever at identifying his opportunity. I think he is so interested in the TikTok generation – he went to the Tory conference, he was mobbed by the teenagers there.”

O’Flynn was talking on GB News, the right-leaning news channel that is Farage’s main outlet. Colleagues there are delighted with the mainstream exposure their star presenter is receiving from ITV.

“It brings a lot of eyes onto Nigel and a lot of eyes onto us,” commented presenter Mark Dolan, thrilled that jungle hosts Ant and Dec had cracked a weak joke at GB News’s expense.

What is ITV playing at? A year after it trolled the British public by inserting the disgraced former health minister Matt Hancock onto its flagship entertainment show, it is platforming the UK’s most divisive politician, and with the same motive – to generate premium rate phone votes.

Just as Hancock benefited from his appearance on I’m A Celebrity, “jungle-washing” his reputation as a serial incompetent with a few bush tucker trials and finishing a creditable third, so I expect Farage to exploit the show by polishing his image.

Unlike the preposterous Hancock, who recently undermined his TV career prospects with a dire appearance on Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, Farage is a skilled performer in this medium. “He’s goood!” purred a senior figure at a rival network after watching Farage’s first shows on GB News.

Farage’s prospects of a long run of primetime jungle exposure are helped by the anonymity of the so-called celebrities alongside him. He is, unquestionably, the star of the show. Last year, Hancock’s derring-do was helped by producers giving the West Suffolk MP “secret agent” status within the camp. This time, Farage is getting special treatment and exemption from some trials.

But, as he revealed on camera, the Reform UK co-founder has realised that swallowing indigestible body parts is key to maximising eyeballs. “If you do challenges, it’s 25 per cent of the airtime. I’m looking at reaching a whole new audience,” he told a fellow contestant.

For all his carefully-honed old-school persona of a late middle-aged bloke in the saloon bar with a pint of bitter, Farage is an enthusiast for social platforms and has a sophisticated understanding of the media’s influence on modern politics.

He closely watched the exploitation of social media by his friend Donald Trump and has experimented with Gettr, a platform popular with Republicans, During his spell in the jungle, he has ensured his account on X (formerly Twitter) remains active, with his 1.8 million followers updated on his exploits and the reactions they provoke.

But for all his “revolutionary” talk in news interviews, Farage will not want to come across as a firebrand. ITV has given him the perfect opportunity to play the everyman, charming his campmates with affable good humour. That is the whole point of I’m A Celebrity, after all.

Farage can do this because he is supremely self-assured on camera. Jungle conditions are not suddenly going to give us fresh insight into the most outspoken man in British politics. This is someone who already has a nightly TV platform on a channel that embraces his political agenda.

While GB News and Farage are mocking public service providers such as ITN by testing the boundaries of impartial broadcast news, ITV has chosen to put him centre stage.

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