While we now know it as ITV’s sure-fire ratings smash, that wasn’t always the case: no one was sure of what I’m a Celeb would become when it initially launched in 2002.
In I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! The Inside Story published in 2014, executive producer Richard Cowles explains, “This was something I had spent a year of my life working towards. The first series was about to begin. There was fear mainly because ITV had invested a huge amount of money in I’m a Celebrity… Now we had to deliver.
“None of us really knew what was going to happen.”
The budgets may have been smaller but the stakes were no doubt higher for the show and its first foolhardy celebrities. In the end, radio DJ Tony Blackburn – and his collection of logs – pipped socialite and favourite to win Tara Palmer-Tomkinson to be crowned the first King of the Jungle.
While the show’s winning formula has largely remained the same, the inner workings of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! have been finely tuned in order to create the show fans know and love.
Here are just some of the ways the show has changed over the past 16 years…
1. I’m a Celeb was a summer show – and it was very short
We may all now know I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! as the reality show that counts us down until Christmas, but when its first series launched in 2002, it was broadcast during the summer; 25th August to 8th September to be precise.
The show was shunted around the schedules until the fourth series in 2004, when it was broadcast in November. It has stayed there ever since.
It was also a much shorter run in the jungle, with the eight celebs only having to cope with 15 days in the wilderness compared to the three weeks our campmates now endure.
2. The jungle camp was in an entirely different location
The entire presenting team and crew meanwhile – including Ant and Dec – were holed up in the Mission Beach Hotel for the duration of the shoot.
3. The Bushtucker Trials were far less frightening…
Producers were reportedly initially unsure at how cruel they could be when making the Bushtucker Trials. One initial prototype, which saw the picked celeb having to muddle their way through a jigsaw, was scrapped early on for being too tame.
The first ever trial (named Jungle Shower) saw a heap of cockroaches and grubs dumped on Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s head while she stood beneath a tree. Initially they had planned to strap her to the tree in a head brace, before producers decided that was too mean.
The end result just saw Tara duck out the way – which sort of missed the point of it being a trial.
However, despite the producers’ tentative attitudes, the Bushtucker trials still claimed their fair share of victims: blood was drawn after former boxer Nigel Benn was bitten by a snake in the fourth ever trial fro example, the aptly-named Snake Disaster.
4. …But the camp was far harsher
I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! was first and foremost a survival show in series one, with the celebs well and truly slumming it.
Speaking around initial discussions for the first series, executive producer and co-creator Natalka Znak explained, “At one point, we were going to ban toilet roll. The celebrities would have had to use leaves.
“I remember one of the biggest arguments was about pants. I was convinced we should only allow people to bring in a single pair of pants each – literally the ones they were wearing. It was meant to be tough after all. They’d have to wash them every day or go commando.
“In the end, after months of discussion, we settled on three pairs each. I still think one pair would have been plenty.”
Znak added there were initial talks of getting the chosen celebrities to “forage for food” in the jungle.
While none of these suggestions made the first series, there was evidently far less to keep the celebrities occupied. With no Dingo Dollar challenges or brain teasers, it’s little wonder Tony Blackburn turned to logs for company. Watch the clip above to remind yourself…
5. The jungle was a smoke-free zone
The first series of I’m a Celeb saw cigarette-sucking celebrities go without their regular nicotine fix after producers forgot to cater for smokers.
“We tried to think about absolutely everything when we were creating that first series, but inevitably a couple of details slipped through the net,” explained former executive producer Alexander Gardiner. “The biggest one by far was cigarettes. We hadn’t given smokers any thought at all. Our failure to provide fags goes some way to explaining just how bad-tempered the cast were”
6. There really was nowhere to hide from the cameras
Another detail producers unfortunately glossed over in the first series was the jungle’s ultimate lack of privacy for the celebs when they had to get changed, with no changing rooms or private areas away from the prying eyes of the cameras.
The celebrities were reportedly so irate at this, several complained to producer Richard Cowles in the Bush Telegraph.
“They demanded more privacy,” he explained. “I wasn’t about to build them a dressing room, so I invented what I called a ‘modesty smock’. I got the Art Department to design it. It’s basically a sheet with a hole to put your head through.
“Turns out, it was exactly what they wanted. We’ve used them ever since.”
7. Even deodorant was banned
Deodorant was originally banned, and the infamous jungle shower was but a distant dream in series one – meaning the first cohort of celebrities utterly stank.
“We just told them to wash in the creek,” producer Natalka Znak explained. “Deodorant was banned. It was all part of the drive to make it completely natural.
“But the drawback was the celebrities absolutely stank. It was awful. The camera crew were complaining about it, it was that bad. So we allowed deodorant from series two onwards; more for our benefit than theirs.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news