With time and deception, a man can even be a middle-aged pony.
I’m sure the intention of the producers of “I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!” is noble. But such honest intentions do not preclude knowing how to help pull the wool over your eyes. That is the type of stupid people do.
When I was 23 and a self-proclaimed student of sports and celebrity history, I was happily a senior in college and employed as a copyeditor in the Sports section of the London Evening Standard, when I was approached by the Guardian’s copy editor, who told me that he would make a great guest on the ABC television show that had so stunningly disappeared from the British networks for the last 13 years, a program that ran for less than one season.
The program featured A-list celebrities attempting to survive on jungle and outback creeks, jungles and booby traps while being led by a man they never knew, then made public.
So off I went to Australia in August 1997, where I was placed as a right-hander in the batting order with Dick Van Dyke, Christopher Biggins, John Barrowman, Chris Thompson, Kieth Chegwin, Pamela Anderson, Bob Dylan, Miriam Margolyes, Jim Davidson, Kenny Everett, Keira Knightley, Ted Heath, Nick Manning, Crissy Rock, Frank Bruno, Paris Hilton, Jane Horrocks, Magdalena Kozena, Amanda Barrie, David Gest, David Hasselhoff, David Icke, Liz Hurley, Leonard Rossiter, Ricky Martin, Teri Hatcher, Vanessa Feltz, Kev Gage, Freddie Starr, Neil Morrissey, Rowan Atkinson, Rowena King, Paul Michael Glaser, Tom Conti, Telly Savalas, Tim Wonnacott, Tommy Franks, Gordon Gibson, Richard Madeley, Tim Minchin, Bonnie Langford, Danny Wallace, Holly Willoughby, Rob Brydon, Tony Robinson, Danny Dyer, Shelley and Rose McGowan.
And of course, the queen of TV and movies.
Having received loads of mail from family and friends abroad who could not believe my involvement in such an unlikely program, the single most-likely scenario unfolded. I not only learned no information about the others I’d been placed with, but was sent free, unopened copies of e-mails sent home to America by writers in London and other American cities. I was offered a pay job taking photos and holding a microphone while the contestants held my shirt and painted their faces, and then throwing my shirt across the sand so their larger personalities would be accentuated. Then, I was told, I would be voted out, be paid a small fee and then told I would be given a platform to do a half-hour one-man show about living in Australia for television studios in America. That is an unattainable dream for many professional entertainers.
The whole setup, as you can see, was predicated on the illusion of paranoia, deception and secrecy.
And it wasn’t just me. I discovered that morning the first of my three fellow contestants was dying of a heart attack a few hours after I’d been placed with the body of a very elderly lady from Scotland. She was in her 80s, overweight and diabetic. We also discovered that Dick Van Dyke who was in the high stone lumps of thick white skin of his torso, was one of the five contestants riding on a very expensive blue bike. He later collapsed and died during a bush tucker trial in which two contestants crawled through bars with a snake and frog in their mouths, all without any water. He was not an alcoholic or otherwise unwell at the time of his death.
We were later informed that in the 2000s, when we were all removed and the show shifted to CBS and Paula Abdul, I was sitting with Robin Williams and John Travolta. And then we were informed that Ricky Martin had been playing music between meals for much of our time together because he thought of it as boxing. (He was also clearly too young to know about the existence of cocaine, or more likely, used that shit as an excuse to go a little “downstairs.”)
There was one thing that did not surprise me.
Here I was with all these distinguished, highly-educated, highly-talented American celebrities who had traveled to Australia to show us all just how tough the bush can be, and I got sent away to watch this bullshit, and now here was Dick Van Dyke in the pits of hell.