Why cool, collected Nigel Farage was the true King of the Jungle

Sam Thompson is crowned King of the Jungle
Sam Thompson is crowned King of the Jungle - Shutterstock

Accompanied by tears, cheers and thousand yard-stares, Made In Chelsea star Sam Thompson has been crowned winner of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! 2023.

It’s been a long road for the enthusiastic Thompson, who has endured three weeks in the jungle, numerous Bushtucker Trials and a lifetime supply of Ant and Dec jokes. But the toil and trouble paid off as he crossed the rope bridge of victory and took his place on the hallowed, if rickety, I’m A Celeb throne at the end of a drawn-out, 100-minute finale.

It is less certain whether all the blood and sweat has been worth it for ITV. I’m A Celeb ratings have tumbled this year. Two million fewer watched the launch episode compared to 2022, and the season is on course to be one of the least successful since 2015, with the exception of the 2021 series filmed in Wales.

ITV had gambled big by paying Nigel Farage a record £1.5 million to venture beneath the canopy. He put in a shift, dodging a week of nightly eliminations to reach the final.

Tony Bellew, Sam Thompson and Nigel Farage
Tony Bellew, Sam Thompson and Nigel Farage - James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock

Farage finished third and proclaimed himself satisfied at lasting all 23 days in camp. “The legs are a bit weary,” he said after a leisurely stroll over the bridge, where partner Laure Ferrari greeted him. “I came into it with a positive attitude. Haven’t been camping as a teenager. I loved it.”

He’d been approached by I’m A Celebrity previously. With his 60th birthday on the horizon, he felt he should finally say “yes”. “Now was the right time to do it. I did my best to show no fear at all. I gave you nothing.”

Nigel Farage finishes third and is met by Laure Ferrari
Nigel Farage finishes third and is met by Laure Ferrari - Shutterstock

Ant and Dec wondered if, as a “divisive” figure, he was surprised to reach the final. “Not everyone likes the stuff I’ve campaigned for,” said Farage. “At the end of the day, I’m a human being like everyone else. Would I do it again? I think I probably would.”

Still, for all his enthusiasm, there was no big “Nigel Moment” to give I’m A Celeb the viral buzz producers craved. Even mobile cringe unit Matt Hancock managed that in 2022 when he butchered an Ed Sheeran song before being voted off.

Sam Thompson in the Bushtucker Bonanza
Sam Thompson in the Bushtucker Bonanza - James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock

Farage, by contrast, has played a sensible game. The architect of Brexit got on reasonably well with his camp-mates – including arch-Remainer Fred Sirieix, with whom he politely agreed to disagree about Britain’s place in Europe.

If ITV had hoped three weeks in the tropics would amp up Farage into a cartoon villain, its dreams were dashed. “I had no screaming arguments,” he told Ant and Dec. “I hope the other camp mates respected my points of view. No big fall-outs.”

The final was fun but hardly spectacular. Farage, boxer Tony Bellew and Made in Chelsea reality star Sam Thompson had gelled in the jungle and supported each other through their last-ever Bushtucker Trials.

Here, the prize was a dinner of their dreams – provided they endured the traditional rite of passage of snakes and bugs (and eating “pig’s vagina” in the case of the chipper Thompson).

Tony Bellew
Tony Bellew - James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock

They breezed it despite Bellew’s protestations. “Why am I picked for this?” he complained as he was doused with mealworm. “This is a joke…Disgusting!”

Farage, for his part, stayed cool when lowered into the “panic pit”, where snakes were keen on a cuddle. “A lot of people might like the snake to strangle me, I suppose,” he joked.

Nigel Farage in the Panic Pit
Nigel Farage in the Panic Pit - ITV/Shutterstock

Dinner for three was a banquet featuring roasted duck, chocolate milk and red wine – a mouth-watering contrast to the rice on beans they’d subsisted on since November 19. They were going out on a high – especially the overjoyed Thompson, who joins Scarlett Moffatt, Harry Redknapp and Christopher Biggins in that exclusive club of I’m A Celebrity winners.

He grinned from ear to ear as he parked on the throne. But as the final credits rolled, it was hard not to suspect that for ITV, difficult questions over the show’s future had only just begun.

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