Joey Essex on his travels in Africa: "I'm not an idiot abroad am I?"

Ahead of his new ITV show, the I'm a Celebrity star talks about flying chickens, being face to face with a gorilla and comments on being the new David Attenborough and his unfortunate new moniker – 'an idiot abroad'

Joey Essex on his travels in Africa: "I'm not an idiot abroad am I?"
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The Only Way is Essex and I'm a Celebrity star Joey Essex has always been fascinated by monkeys. After his stint in the Australian jungle, TV bosses at ITV thought it would be a good idea to take him to Africa, so he could learn more about the wildlife and culture there.

Known for his incredible innocence and severe gaps in knowledge (for example, he never learnt to tell the time), Joey will discover the wider world as he visits the Kruger National Park in South Africa and treks in Uganda.

We chat to Joey ahead of the show to find out what he's actually learnt from the experience...

Why did you take on this show?

It's an interesting country, I wanted to learn more about animals. It was just an idea really, I knew it would work. I would never do anything I didn't think would work. They told me the concept of the show, looking for a monkey. They say on the show that I've always wanted a monkey, but realistically would I be able to handle a pet monkey in my house? I don't think so. Especially as you've probably got to get it a passport and all that, it's long. I found out that they are much happier in their natural habitat. I got bitten by a pet monkey out there. I thought I had rabies, it was mad.

You also sleep in the wild and get up close to gorillas, what was the scariest part of making the programme?

Right at the end, a gorilla came out of the bush. It held back as its family, 13 gorillas, went up the hill. It was lying down and didn't know that its family had gone, and we all walked up the hill to get to the other gorillas. We looked around and there was a bush shaking, and I saw its head pop out of the bush. It was right next to my hand.

Do you know how dangerous it is to be that close to a gorilla?

Yeah, they said we shouldn't be within seven feet of a gorilla because they can hit you and beat you up. 

What did it feel like being right next to a gorilla?

I thought that my life could end there.

What else did you learn from your time in Africa?

By the end of it I'd learn a lot, and I felt like I was educated. The most I learned out there was gorillas and them sort of – what they called again? Primates, that's it. Primates are definitely better in their natural habitat. When I met one that was a pet it bit me. Every other gorilla or monkey I met in the wild, none of them touched me at all.

How do you feel about your new show being compared to Ricky Gervais' An Idiot Abroad?

I don't really care. It is like An Idiot Abroad, but it's not. It's nothing to do with An Idiot Abroad. Urmm, I'm not an idiot am I? No way.

What do you think the viewers get from the show?

People will learn from it 100 per cent. There are so many things people think they know but they don't. I know I'm not the cleverest kid in the world, but [Educating Joey Essex] is perfect for a young audience. When you are watching David Attenborough, and he's going "oh my god, look at the fish swimming though the sea". Kids are going to look at that and think "what?" but in my [show] I'm sort of having a laugh with it. I'm having a joke and I think people can relate to that. Relate to me and what I'm doing, but at the same time I'm actually learning things.

Would you ever do a serious David Attenborough style show?

I could never be serious – I'm Joey Essex! 

When you first got to Africa, the producer took you to a local dance off and you were a bit intimidated by it all, what was going through your head?

I don't know why they took me there. I think it was because it was the most uncomfortable position I could be in. I'd just landed and I thought I was still in Essex and they just threw me straight into that 'hood. At one point I went up to the producer and said "I can't do this," but I pushed myself through it. It made me realise how lucky we are in life. We've got families and money and a roof to live under – they haven't really got that.

Has it made you realise that you don't need the bling and glamour of Essex to make you happy?

No you don't need any of that to be happy. Money doesn't bring happiness, no way. Everyone out there [Africa] always had big smiles on their faces, we have to learn to appreciate what we've got back in England.

Was any of the show set up? For example you go to Kruger National Park with a leopard print shirt on. Did you actually choose to wear that on safari?

That leopard print is sick. Don't you like it?

It's nice, it's just an interesting choice for safari...

It's funny you say that, because I remember we did a scene where the cab driver drove off with my suitcase on the roof. I said "what the f," but he just about stopped. But oh my god, what would I have done if I'd left that on his roof? The producer said "it looks like that has been set up," so I looked at the camera and said "if you're watching this at home, that was not set up." But what you're talking about, I bought that jacket in New York – that's a really expensive jacket. It's cool. It's made by people called 10Deep – it's a proper sick brand. It's like a £300 jacket that one – I swear.

What was the strangest thing you ate in Africa?

I ate a bird that tasted like steak, you'd never think a bird could taste like steak would you? It was a baked bird. It was massive. I thought it was a cow, but they told me it was a bird. 

Like a chicken?

No, like an actual bird that flies in the air. Chickens don't fly do they? They've got wings but they don't fly do they?

It depends on the chicken...

Do chickens fly?

Chickens can fly, but battery farmed chickens don't tend to. 

Would you like to do more travel documentaries? 

I would like to go away again, but being out of my comfort zone like that is ridiculous. I'd love to do a show around here [London] and learn something. I'd love to do a show about the war, and I'd love to go back to school. The war's quite interesting, I'm not sure when it was though.

I'm not sure a funny show about the war would work...

No I want to do a serious show, I want to know about Hitler and why he was so evil.

You and Mark Wright have done a lot of similar shows, both on TOWIE, both on I'm a Celeb and now you're both doing travel shows. Are you trying to copy him? 

No not at all. We've both got different audiences and stuff. His show's alright, he's doing alright.

If you could choose anyone to travel with, who would it be?

Phillip Schofield. I think he's really funny and really cool. I like his hair colour. It looks silver.

What do you never leave home without when you travel?

I have to wear a watch. I don't know why, I feel naked without a watch. Not a designer one, but anything. Even if it feels like there is a bit of rope around my wrist. I have to wear something there. I've always worn watches since I was a kid. It's like wearing no clothes, it feels weird.

What's your next travel destination?

Probably Japan. It interests me, there are loads of like weird gadgets out there. I'd also love to go back to school, but that's not a country. I'd love to go to a Spanish school. 

Can you speak any Spanish?

A little bit. "Hola," "gracias," por favor" "fleshe" that means strawberries, I think. [Joey means "fresa"]

What's your best piece of travel advice?

In Africa – make sure you don't get bitten by a monkey.

What's your favourite destination and why?

I'd say Australia [where I'm a Celebrity was filmed], it's one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. It was so unique. Not a lot of people get to do that. Being in that jungle with other celebrities, it was really enclosed and different and loads of fun.

Are you still in touch with Amy Willerton from I'm a Celeb?

I'm not really in touch with her, I'm friends with her and I talk to her, but I'm not really...

In touch in a romantic way?


Are you back together with TOWIE's Sam Faiers?

We're not back together but I still care about Sam.

What are you up to next?

I'm bringing out a book, that's been taking months. I'm also bringing out a CD. It's called Joey Essex Essex Anthems. That comes out the day after my show [which airs on the 16th March]. The advert for [the CD] will be on in between my show, which is quite cool. The first track will be Clean Bandit – Rather Be.

Watch Educating Joey Essex at 9pm, Sun 16 on ITV

Visit Africa with Radio Times Travel see here for more details

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