I’m writing this on the bus home from the hills of Murwillumbah, where Georgia “Toff” Toffolo has just been crowned Queen of the Jungle.

I’m delighted for her. She’s a bright girl with a very bright future. Someone universally loved by all her campmates for her cheery demeanour and her hilarious clumsiness.

We spent an hour swimming in a murky lake to win a bag of salt and vinegar crisps one day. When we brought them back to camp, she duly tripped over her shoelaces and dropped her allotted five crisps and still didn’t complain. While she’s no doubt a worthy winner, I’m sure she’ll forgive me for saying my King of the Jungle will forever be Iain Lee.

What a joy it was to spend time in his company. And how refreshing to see a grown man in his 40s talk so openly and freely about his mental health. I’ve always been a believer in the power of TV to change people’s attitudes or to enlighten the masses. In fact, I’ve written in the Record before about the power of soaps to tackle taboo subjects over the years. It’s an altogether different ball game though to achieve what I’m A Celebrity did this year – make people both laugh and think.

Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of 40. It feels like we’ve made great strides in tackling the stigma associated with mental health, but its status as a killer remains.
There’s a lot more work to do.

That’s why I love Iain and what he represents. He’s very talented, knowledgeable man. He’s not a “lad’s lad”, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He’s gentle and funny and considerate. He lets women speak and asks interesting questions. He’s not afraid to talk about his vulnerabilities and that makes him 10 times stronger as a consequence.

If there’s one person I’ll keep in touch with after this experience, I hope it’s him.

As you read this, I’m on my way home. And not before time. I’m desperate to get back to work. To thank and cherish the people I love who I have been put through the mill over the last three weeks and two days. I’m coming home wiser, with a clearer mind for the challenges ahead. I’ve learnt to put my phone down and appreciate the world and people around me more.

I hope to be more respectful and considerate. Smarter with my words and actions.

I’ve slept in a hammock for 11 nights, boiled every mouthful of water I drank and fed 11 people from a camp fire and two pans. I invented fatty bean patties, knicker sticks and instilled the camp’s first proper washing line. It was both the most surreal and real experience of my life.

I said I was going in there to talk up Labour values and only time will tell if I can successfully use the platform of the show to do that. But I do hope I’ve shown that politicians, just like everyone else, are decent people with flaws and hang-ups, happy to send themselves up in the name of a giggle. Goodness knows it’s been a while since there was anything in politics to laugh about.

 

This column first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 12th of December 2017.

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