As Boy George left the Jungle last night, he explained that his motivation for participating in the series was due to the fact that he was ‘bored of sitting in the corner and being iconic’. I would imagine that the paycheque had more to do with his decision to head down under but we will afford him the benefit of the doubt. This year, music has been a defining element of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Mike Tindall has revealed his impressive rapping skills and surprising love of Vanilla Ice. Meanwhile, Matt Hancock and Boy George have duetted on the Culture Club classic, Karma Chameleon. As Boy George says, ‘music is what makes us human’. Earlier this year Boy George observed that, ‘music is the thing that has always saved me in all my difficult situations’. By any measure, he has certainly encountered his fair share of them during his rather eventful life.
It is difficult to explain the popularity of programmes such as ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. On one level it is little more than chewing gum for the eyes. Every so often earnest critics attempt to intellectualise the format. They muse upon its anthropological dimensions and argue that it provides a compelling reflection upon modern society. The presenter and sometime X-Factor contestant, Rylan Clark-Neal is one of reality television’s most eloquent and perceptive advocates. Of course, it is not a modern form of entertainment; it is simply the latest incarnation of a tradition that goes back to the theatres and amphitheatres of the ancient world.
Matt Hancock’s reasons for entering the Jungle are not just monetary; although he did receive a £400,000 fee, and recently revealed that he has a book entitled ‘Pandemic Diaries’ to plug. Alongside such earthy considerations, there is something almost religious in his stated desire for forgiveness. For him, a sojourn in the jungle appears to constitute some form of public penance. Unforgiving viewers have repeatedly voted for him to endure bushtucker trials and yet he has faced alligators, pythons, and rotting livers with a cheery equanimity that has disarmed his detractors. This is the modern equivalent of the village stocks. Tomatoes have been replaced with animal parts but the humiliating spectacle of public shame is not dissimilar. There is a thin line between harmless fun and something that is intrinsically cruel. The hapless and almost childlike Matt Hancock has carried himself well and there are signs that redemption and rehabilitation may yet come his way.
Back to music. The ability to sing and rap has sustained those in the jungle. Music is a fundamental dimension of our humanity and it is difficult to contemplate a silent world. Writing in the ‘Radio Times’ this week, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber laments the fact that the BBC’s ‘Young Musician of the Year’ competition has been relegated to BBC4, a channel condemned to be shut down in the not so distant future. There was a time when over thirteen million would watch the final but this year’s final was viewed by just 212,000 people. Following on from the news that English National Opera has had its grant from the Arts Council slashed by millions of pounds, one has the sense that great swathes of our cultural heritage are quite rapidly being consigned to dust.
The arts are not a luxury or an optional extra; they are vital for our wellbeing. Inevitably, our tastes will differ. I have never really ‘got’ ballet but I recognise that it brings joy to millions. As a modern and inclusive nation, it is important that our arts offering is exciting, diverse and enriching. Boy George is right to highlight the fundamental importance of music in our lives. However, if we are not careful, we will become a depressingly dull society increasingly reliant on Mike Tindall’s rapping ability and Matt Hancock’s strained vocals for our cultural sustenance. We should ensure that we always make space for the dazzling virtuosity of musicians and artists who are able to open up new worlds to us and give voice to emotions that we are simply unable to articulate through words. We live in a beautiful world and should celebrate human expression in all of its glorious diversity.
Headmaster of Rossall School