Crikey Moses! Stanley Johnson has been cast as the token pensioner in the new series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! At 77, he will be 27 years older than the next oldest person in the jungle-based reality show, 50-year-old ex-footballer Dennis Wise. He cheerfully admits he has never watched the programme before, which comes as no surprise. If he had known what he was letting himself in for, would he have signed up?
I don’t just mean the routine indignities, such as chewing on turkey testicles or washing down a plate of live cockroaches with a beaker of blended emu liver. Or the discomfort of enduring a three-week camping holiday in an inhospitable environment with few mod cons and not enough food. I don’t even mean having to disrobe and bathe in front of a bevy of beautiful girls strutting around in their bikinis.
No, I’m thinking of the mental challenges, like the complete absence of intelligent conversation. Poor Stanners will be unable to join in when his jungle companions, like Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, talk about who their favourite reality stars are. That wouldn’t be so bad if the ex-Conservative MEP and author of 26 books was able to catch up on his reading. But as Stanley will discover, books are verboten in the jungle.
There will also be the minefield of racial and sexual politics to get through. How will Boris’s dad avoid saying anything inflammatory? One of the striking things about orange-skinned, muscle-bound D-list celebrities is that while they may be unable to tell you who the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is — ‘Is it Prince Charles?’ — they all have PhDs in political correctness. Stanley will find his encyclopaedic knowledge of the environmental policies of the European Union will provide him with no respite here. If he uses the word ‘coloured’ as opposed to ‘person of colour’, or is foolish enough to say that someone’s gender is defined by their biological sex, he will be for the high jump.
Let us hope, for his sake, that the subject of sexual harassment doesn’t come up. Admittedly, he has two daughters, one of whom is the doughty Rachel Johnson, but his views on this subject are bound to drive at least one of his fellow cast-members — the stand-up comedian and president of the Humanist Association, Shappi Khorsandi — apoplectic with rage. Actually, on second thoughts, I’d quite like to see that, provided she doesn’t physically attack him.
On the plus side, the fact that Stanley went to an English public school (this was before they were transformed into five-star luxury resorts) should mean he can withstand a certain amount of privation. I am reminded of a story related by Christopher Hitchens which was told to him by Ian Watts, a professor of English at Stanford. Watts had been interned at a Japanese prisoner of war camp and during a particularly trying episode, when one of his companions was being beaten with rifle-butts in the guard house, his subaltern, who was feverish with dysentery, lost consciousness and started shouting: ‘No, no… please don’t… not any more, not again. Oh God please.’ Watts ordered the sergeant to slap him and when the poor fellow came to he apologised and said he had dreamed he was back at Tonbridge.
And for all I know, Stanley may turn out to be a reassuring paternal presence in the jungle. Whenever I bump into him, I always urge him to write a guide to parenting, something he must be quite good at, given how successful all his children are. How many fathers have had two sons tipped for the premiership, one a member of the cabinet, the other a minister of state? Then again, according to Rachel, Stanley’s idea of parenting consisted of getting his children to recite Latin verbs at the breakfast table, with punishments and rewards depending on how well they did. That might not go down too well with Amir Khan, the ex-champion boxer and another cast member.
I used to be asked fairly regularly if I wanted to be on shows like I’m A Celeb and Big Brother, but the calls have dried up in the past decade or so. I used to assume it was because I was too old, but, who knows, maybe the opportunities will come along again when I’m Stanley’s age. I daresay the old boy will do far better than I ever could.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.