Jenny Eclair: How I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! saved my career

"It proved to be career Viagra, the last 12 months has been a hoot and I'm so glad I did it..."

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Nosing through some old blogs on my website recently, (my self-absorption knows no limits), I came across a 2009 entry that states, “That celebrity jungle thing on the telly makes me feel sick”. 

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Fast-forward 12 months to November 2010 and there I was, bush hat on head, comedy shorts straining across my backside, three pairs of regulation knickers in my rucksack, striding into the I’m a Celebrity… camp. 

So why? OK, here’s version 1: I needed to stretch myself as a human being and face new challenges. I wanted a “journey”! 

And now for the truth: my career was looking shaky. 

I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was 21. I’m a stand-up comic and a writer, I’ve experienced fantastic highs and I’ve crawled through some crummy lows and the only thing I know is that no one owes you a living. 

Luck, fate, and weirdness all play a hand in the cards you’re dealt: one minute it’s packed houses and courtesy cars, the next, your phone is very quiet. 

In my case, I’d just finished a West End run of Grumpy Old Women 2 – Chin Up Britain and embarked on a solo stand-up tour, proudly titled Old Dog, New Tricks. I loved this new show and was really looking forward to showing it off. 

Unfortunately, not many people seemed fussed about seeing it. I came on stage to face rows of empty seats and my heart sank. 

Ever since the recession began, live touring has become incredibly competitive, and every night of the week loads of great comics are plying their trade up and down the country. Audiences are spoilt for choice but ticket prices are expensive, so when it comes to choosing a gig, the faces on the telly get the bums on seats. 

This is a simple truth and the only thing you can do about it is try not to get bitter, which is tricky when you have a mortgage to pay. 

At that point the profile-boosting, bugeating option hadn’t crossed my mind and, anyway, the 2010 jungle cast list had been released and I wasn’t on it. But then a friend died and the day after her funeral I got the call. I had two hours to decide. 

I said “Yes”, it’s as simple as that. I had no game plan, this wasn’t something my management had fought for, it came out of the blue and I snatched at it. I wanted to get away, I didn’t think beyond the flight, all I wanted was to escape. 

For me, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here proved to be career Viagra, the last 12 months has been a hoot and I’m so glad I did it. How else is a 50-something woman ever going to get on primetime telly? 

And it’s not just me, there’s loads of us in the same boat, old hoofers and turns who really aren’t ready to give it all up, who just want another go on the merry-go-round, so thank heavens for reality TV. And yes, there’s a lot of snobbery about it, but times change, you can opt out and ignore the phenomenon, or you can count yourself in and have a laugh. 

TV can’t be all about the young and lovely, you’ve got to let the occasional game old bird (or boy) have a go. The show I really fancy having a crack at is Dancing on Ice, but then crack might end up being the operative word. 

Hmm, on second thoughts, anyone for Celebrity Knitting?

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I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! is on ITV1 tonight at 9:00pm.