Why Matt Hancock’s SAS: Who Dares Wins PR stunt is pointless

Matt Hancock as part of the line-up for Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins
A second reality TV outing is about to force the former health secretary’s actions back into the spotlight (Picture: PA / Channel4)

On last year’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, Matt Hancock managed the seemingly unthinkable and boosted his reputation.

Over a year earlier, he’d quit his job after being caught kissing a colleague in his office – sparking rage from the public who’d been diligently following the rules he set on social-distancing. 

And yet, a few weeks in the jungle facing questioning from campmates and becoming the main breadwinner worked wonders for public opinion. 

He even ended up finishing third.

Now, a second reality TV outing is about to force the former health secretary’s actions back into the spotlight. 

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Threatening to undo the clever PR work that changed the minds of so many ITV viewers last winter.

Having been forced to quit his cabinet role when he was caught breaking his own Covid-19 guidelines, Hancock made the high-risk move of seeking forgiveness via reality TV. 

He entered the Aussie jungle late – arriving with Seann Walsh, who was also hoping to get back in the public’s good books after his infamous Strictly infidelity.

What’s more is Hancock did so while parliament was sitting, having seemingly deemed his own bid for retribution more important than the constituents he was supposed to represent. 

Down Under, Walsh surely couldn’t believe his luck. I imagine he’d assumed he would be the campmate with the most divisive romantic past, but probably soon realised Hancock’s CCTV snog overshadowed his Strictly kiss. 

Matt Hancock finished in third place 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!'
By the finale, opinion polls revealed a high proportion of fans had done a U-turn on the ex-health secretary (Picture: James Gourley/ITV/Shutterstock)

The other campmates were visibly uncomfortable in Hancock’s presence; talking about him behind his back and, in the case of Boy George, outright refusing to be civil. 

As expected, viewers wasted no time in voting for him to do six Bushtucker trials in a row – but somewhere along the way, things began to change. 

A grilling from newsreader Charlene White saw Hancock deploy his ‘I’m just a man who fell in love’ defence, complete with a few tears (the jury is still out on whether they were genuine).

Soon, a ‘say what you like about him, but he’s done well winning food’ sentiment emerged online. 

By the finale, opinion polls revealed a high proportion of fans had done a U-turn on the ex-health secretary – backing him to win.

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It was a change I’d sensed coming and I wasn’t surprised – a well-timed and executed reality show stint can work wonders for someone’s reputation.

Ed Balls bounced back from losing his seat in parliament with an unforgettable run on Strictly, while controversial characters Jim Davidson and Katie Hopkins came first and second respectively on their separate series of Celebrity Big Brother. 

Since I’m A Celeb, Hancock has largely been laying low (let’s not talk about the ‘I’m just Ken’ video) but tonight, Hancock will unceremoniously return to our screens on a show that makes I’m A Celeb look like a five-star spa break…

If you’re not familiar with Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins then don’t worry, the concept is simple. 

Channel 4 takes 16 famous faces and drops them in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle where four members of directing staff (boasting decades of special forces experience) push them to breaking point.

Matt Hancock falling in a river in Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins
Celeb SAS was filmed months before last year’s I’m A Celeb (Picture: Carl Palmer/Channel 4)

All to see who might have what it takes to join the SAS. 

It’s physically gruelling, mentally torturous and there are only three ways to leave; you can voluntarily withdraw, suffer an injury so bad that production removes you, or make an embarrassing exit as the staff decide you’re done. 

Throughout the process, recruits are brought in for grillings from staff who are keen to get under their skin. Understand their motivations and explore moments from their pasts that they’d probably rather forget. 

What makes this so interesting – and, if you’re Hancock’s media advisor, probably a little concerning – is that Celeb SAS was filmed months before last year’s I’m A Celeb, when public anger towards him was arguably at an all-time high.

When we saw him in Australia, navigating a group of well-known stars who were less than thrilled by his presence, he’d secretly done it all before. 

Do you think Hancock’s appearance on SAS: Who Dares Wins could backfire?Comment Now

And now, we finally get to see how it went. 

The former health secretary gets a particularly tough time in episode one, being called ‘Hancock… with a silent Han’, by Jason Fox and punched in the face repeatedly by Jermaine Pennant during a ‘milling’ challenge – an SAS test that sees rivals effectively fight.

‘I get the impression he’s got a bit of an attitude and he thinks he’s above everyone,’ deduces Fox.

I’ll be honest, I’d kind of forgotten Hancock existed in recent months. 

But watching Who Dares Wins served as an immediate reminder of his transgressions and heralded the return of a sense of dismay at his actions. 

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He doesn’t come across as particularly repentant during questioning, and his attitude problem is palpable as he tells the DS: ‘Well I handled the pandemic, didn’t I?’ 

Hancock focuses on the technicalities – such as the fact he broke guidelines not laws – and his penchant for answering back sparks a swift ‘shut the f**k up’ from Chris Oliver.

To be honest, it’s really satisfying to watch… though, obviously, it won’t be for Hancock himself who recently described the show as ‘one of the toughest things I have ever done’.

He skipped last week’s press launch for unspecified reasons and in his absence, he was labelled ‘hard work’ by DS Billy Billingham. Ex-marine Rudy Reyes then admitted: ‘We did notice quite quickly that he can’t take criticism, and we don’t like that.’

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All in all, he doesn’t get off to a great start, and unless he has a sudden attitude transplant, it’s difficult to see how Hancock could come out of this well.

If he fails to make a decent impression on SAS: Who Dares Wins, it could undo the reputation-boosting work he pulled off in the Aussie jungle. 

Could his hard work chowing down on a camel penis in the Aussie jungle have been for nothing? It looks likely. 

And there won’t be a lot of sympathy from the public if that is the case.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Ross.Mccafferty@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.

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