Who needs New South Wales when you’ve got actual North Wales? The upcoming 20th run of reality survival contest I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! is set to be a series like no other, thanks to some virus called Covid-19.
So how will the new-look series work? When does it kick off? And how will ITV recreate the extreme conditions of a jungle camp Down Under in a draughty Welsh castle? Here’s everything you need to know.
When is it on?
The campfire fun begins on ITV on Sunday November 15 at 9pm with a 90-minute launch show. Thereafter it airs nightly on ITV, mostly at 9pm but occasionally switching to 9.15pm. The series runs for three weeks and is expected to climax with the grand final on Sunday December 6.
Viewers warmed up a week in advance with a one-off special, I’m a Celebrity: A Jungle Story, which aired on Sunday November 8. This looked back at highlights from the previous 19 series – and saw the tables turned as presenters Ant and Dec finally took on their very first Bushtucker Trial.
Where is it happening?
Due to pandemic-enforced travel restrictions, ITV confirmed in August that this year’s series would not be held in Murwillumbah, Australia as usual and instead would be switched to a top secret rural UK location.
This was soon revealed to be atmospheric Gwrych Castle, near the market town of Abergele in Conwy. It’s a Grade I-listed, Gothic-style estate, set on a tree-lined hillside overlooking the Irish Sea, sprawling across 250 acres of gardens and grounds. Its name translates as “Hedged Castle”. There have even been claims over the years that it’s haunted.
For the first time, celebrities won’t compete to be crowned King of Queen of the Jungle. They’ll become King or Queen of the Castle instead.
How are they making it Covid-secure?
The new location prompted some concern among fans last month when the Welsh government announced its “fire-break” full national lockdown and imposed strict rules preventing travel into the country.
Gwrych Castle’s official Twitter account soon cleared things up, posting: "The overriding message is that filming CAN continue in Wales, providing related activity cannot be undertaken from home, and there is full compliance with Welsh law.”
ITV also issued its own statement, adding: “I’m a Celebrity continues to adhere to all relevant guidelines as well as our own strict Covid protocols.”
Further eyebrows were raised when AJ Pritchard, one of the putative contestants, tested positive for Covid-19 a week before the show began. According to a source quoted in The Mirror, however, Pritchard was still expected to take part.
“AJ has had a positive test, but is not in hospital or seriously ill, and instead has been isolating in a cottage in Wales, which is the correct thing to do.”
They added that the contestants would not meet in person “until the end of the week, with the show likely to start filming late on Friday or early Saturday.” All the contestants, crew and presenters had already been asked to self-isolate for two weeks to ensure that social distancing will not be needed once the show starts.
ITV Studios entertainment director Richard Cowles recently outlined the technological precautions being undertaken by the production crew: “Everyone’s got proximity monitors on them, so they can’t come within two metres of each other without it buzzing, flashing and reminding them to step away.
“With the castle itself, we’ve mapped that completely remotely so we can get all our camera positions and do everything off-site without having to go there. We’ve created a whole virtual walk-through, so the set can be built remotely, then transported up there. We’re even going to have our editing suite in London to reduce the number of people travelling to Wales who could potentially spread Covid.”
Who’s taking part?
Of the famous folk set to descend on Gwrych Castle, the most tantalising signing is Olympic hero Mo Farah.
TV presenter Vernon Kay is another intriguing prospect, since he’s the husband of Strictly Come Dancing’s Tess Daly and the shows will overlap in the primetime schedules.
There’s the usual selection of soap types, notably Coronation Street’s Beverley Callard, and ex-EastEnders stars Shane Ritchie and Jessica Plummer. The latter’s character, hairdresser Chantelle Atkins, was dramatically killed off two months ago, which seems like handy timing.
Other recognisable names include journalist Victoria Derbyshire, Paralympic javelin champion Hollie Arnold, vlogger Giovanna Fletcher, Radio 1 DJ Jordan North and former Strictly pro AJ Pritchard.
Among the pre-show rumours had been an appearance for former House of Commons speaker John Bercow. He would have followed in the reality TV footsteps of wife Sally (who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2011) but he reportedly priced himself out of contention by asking for a £1 million fee. Order, order indeed.
Are Ant and Dec still presenting?
Cheeky Geordie chipmunks Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly will be at the helm as usual. The beloved duo have co-hosted the show for all but one of its 20 series.
McPartlin took a year off TV duties in 2018 to undergo rehab for addiction issues in the aftermath of his drink-driving conviction. Holly Willoughby deputised at Donnelly’s side, before McPartlin returned last year.
Meanwhile, spin-off show I’m a Celebrity: Extra Camp has been axed. Instead Vick Hope will present the latest behind-the-scenes news and gossip in I’m a Celebrity: the Daily Drop. Unlike its late-night predecessor, this will air on ITV2 and ITV Hub the next morning, rather than directly after the main show.
What happened last year?
Memorable contestants last year included athlete-turned-reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner (who coined catchphrase “Rise and shine, it’s another day to excel”), former footballer Ian Wright (who admitted he displayed “anger issues” during his grumpy stint) and rugby player James Haskell (who was accused of “bullying” campmate Andrew Maxwell).
Former EastEnders actress Jacqueline Jossa was eventually crowned winner, with Coronation Street’s Andy Whyment as runner-up and radio DJ Roman Kemp in 3rd place.
The series averaged an impressive 10.6m viewers, with ratings peaking at 13m for the launch show. With the nation under a second lockdown, ITV execs are hoping for even higher figures this year. Every cloud and all that.
What can we expect this time?
ITV have also booked nearby Manorafon Farm Park for use on the show. It's home to llamas, meerkats, farm animals and a reptile hut. This second location might provide a clue as to the type of Bushtucker Trials we can expect to see.
Celebrities will likely have to swap shorts and bikinis for thermal long johns but they can still look forward to a basic diet of rice and beans. It was recently reported that the grisly eating challenges that stars undertake could have a British twist, with tripe and trotters potentially on the menu, rather than the usual Australian bushcraft delicacies.
Comedian Joel Dommett, who finished runner-up on the 2016 series, has said: “I think it’ll be really tough. They are guinea pigs. They’ll have no idea what to expect and because it’s different, producing are going to throw everything at them.
“It’s going to be cold, they’re going to be hungry, and the Welsh countryside can be unforgiving. I assume there will be heights, caves and zip-lines involved, too.”
Now the show is closer to home, there’s also potential for Anglo-Welsh controversy. The promotional trailers have already attracted criticism for stereotyping (sheep, wet weather, unpronounceable place names), patronising locals and deploying South Wales accents, rather than geographically accurate North Welsh tones.
Abergele residents have also become disgruntled at how the production has taken over the area and closed down footpaths. One angry local tweeted: “Do us a favour and get yourselves out of here. We don’t need you.”
But others have welcomed the production team to their streets, with local shops and businesses decorating their windows in celebration.