I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! is back – and as Declan Donnelly put it in the opening minutes of the launch show, “One of the most gorgeous presenters on British television has been joined by Holly Willoughby”.
Yes, as Dec’s perennial other half Ant McPartlin takes a sabbatical after 16 years co-hosting the series, we have a new presenting duo, Hol and Dec, coming live at us every night on ITV for the next three weeks.
Ant and Dec have always been one of the biggest draws for I’m a Celebrity fans – even compared with the sight of grown men shrieking at eels or retching on bulls’ penises, their live links are often the funniest parts of the show, so however strong the line-up of celebrity contestants, and the critter-strewn trials they face, the chemistry between the hosts is crucial.
So, what are Hol and Dec like together? Does their partnership work? And how much are we going to miss Ant?
First things first, I’d give Holly 10 out of 10 for her opening “I’m a Celebrity… Get Meeee Out of Heeeeeere!” scream. Every bit as good as Ant’s. So a seamless start there.
And despite her obvious excitement, it’s not as if she’s going to be fazed by walking on to the I’m a Celebrity set – yes, it’s one of the biggest shows on UK TV, so a step up from her day(time) job on This Morning, but the latter stands her in good stead when it comes to live TV, and anyway she’s a consummate pro.
More important is exactly how she and Dec bounce off each other. Ant and Dec quite often swapped the straight man/funny man roles as they went along but, judging by this first episode at least, it looks as if Holly is going to set them up while Dec knocks them down.
Having said that, a lot of the best jokes see Dec setting himself up – “let’s give you a first taste of this year’s camp: his name’s John Barrowman”, “John will be facing his biggest challenge: not making a joke about a big Australia chopper”, and Harry Redknapp is likely to encounter “a different kind of dead ball situation”.
And when Dec does some of his patented mock-innocent, innuendo-laden gags, such as his remarks about the new presenting set-up – “I’ve never done it with with a girl. Always with a bloke. Every night. And the people watching seemed to enjoy it”– Holly’s flat responses – “shall we just get on with it?” – sometimes kill it slightly.
But if that seems like a bit of a surprise coming from someone who is a regular on Celebrity Juice – one of the smuttiest shows on TV – and is often reduced to laughing fits over double entendres alongside Phillip Schofield on This Morning, it’s worth remembering that I’m a Celebrity is a different beast to both of those. It doesn’t work if both presenters are in on the joke. If Ant had been here, how would he have reacted to the same gag from Dec? Probably with similar exasperation – possibly holding his head in his hands – before throwing to the next VT. So we’re talking about subtleties here, rather than any fundamental issues.
These minor niggles don’t really take much away from the show anyway. For me, Dec has been the stronger and funnier of the Ant and Dec I’m a Celeb partnership for a few years now, and with his jokes as on-point as ever it’s an entertaining start to the new series – even before you factor in the celebrity contestants themselves, buttock-clenching challenges such as the 100-foot cliff trial and parachute jumps, along with creepy crawlies and capsizing canoes.
Holly herself is likeable as always and the basic chemistry between Hol and Dec is good. If it’s not instantly as good as Ant and Dec’s, it’s hardly a criticism – those two have been working together for nearly 30 years, and Ant has done 300-odd days of I’m a Celebrity. This is day one for Holly, and she’s already looking good – even alongside one of the most gorgeous presenters on British television.
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! is on ITV at 9pm nightly