Forget showers in the jungle waterfall and snakes slithering through camp — instead, think tin baths and thermal undies.
Welcome to I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! 2020-style, where contestants will be swapping the Australian rainforest for the soggy Welsh countryside.
Social distancing between contestants will be enforced by a ‘proximity buzzer’ — just one of a host of Covid-safe measures in place in order to keep the (highly lucrative) show on the road.
The crew has been whittled down to a fraction of the usual number, with many working remotely. Local sources suggest they will be staying in a caravan park in Conwy for the three-and-a-half weeks of the show.
A relatively down-to-earth local hotel will host the show’s executives, and presenters Ant and Dec are understood to be booked to stay in local cottages with their families.
Wales watching: I’m A Celebrity presenters Ant and Dec
Challenges for the celebrities may well involve swimming in freezing Colwyn Bay, abseiling down castle walls and finding their way through dark caves. It can be revealed there will be critters for the trials, even if they will mostly be non-native to the UK.
So what else is in store at Gwrych (pronounced ‘Goo-rreech’) Castle in North Wales? And who are the stars who will be taking part? ALISON BOSHOFF reports.
THE JUNGLE CREW
An Olympic hero, former soap stars and a prime-time TV presenter are all widely believed to have signed up for the show.
Mo Farah, one of the gold medal-winning stars of London 2012, is reported to be picking up £300,000 for his participation, with Vernon Kay and former EastEnders star Shane Richie netting £150,000 each.
Former Strictly dancer A.J. Pritchard, Coronation Street star Beverley Callard and ex-Eastenders actress Jessica Plummer are tipped to be among the celebrities, along with West End leading lady Ruthie Henshall, opera singer Russell Watson, broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire and paralympian Hollie Arnold.
There were early rumours that ITV was planning to blow the budget on bringing over Tiger King star Carole Baskin, but speculation seems to have moved to U.S. reality TV queen bitch Christine Quinn, from the hit Netflix real estate show Selling Sunset.
Fees paid can be as high as £500,000 — Noel Edmonds and Caitlyn Jenner both got this — but as low as £15,000.
Camp mates: Could Mo Farah and Victoria Derbyshire be heading to Gwrych Castle (far left)?
Location scouts looked at Warkworth Castle in Northumberland, Restormel in Cornwall and Tantallon, North Berwick in Scotland.
Others considered included Dunnottar Castle, on Scotland’s north-east coast and Wallingford Castle, in Oxfordshire.
However, Gwrych Castle, near Abergele on the North Wales coast, was eventually chosen.
Why? A source says: ‘If you look at aerial pictures of Gwrych Castle, you can see that it sits majestically on the side of a hill.
‘With its grey ruined walls and a forest backdrop, it visually at least almost replicates cliffs in a hillside rainforest.
The Gwrych (pronounced ‘Goo-rreech’) Castle in North Wales
‘It was really important to producers that the show remains tonally the same, so that while it’s obviously very different, viewers will recognise the programme.
‘The idea is that it will still feel the same — celebs will still forgo their luxuries, live on meagre rations and face their fears — but this will be done within a castle setting rather than a jungle one.’
The decision means a financial bonanza for the castle, which was bought two years ago by a Castle Preservation Trust which aims to restore it — ITV is apparently shelling out £1 million to take it over for six weeks.
Stage presence: Ruthie Henshall
It was once a popular visitor attraction, but closed in 1987.
As the show cannot be done ‘at home’, it will not be cancelled even in the event of a full national lockdown.
The castle is reputedly haunted, and Richard Cowles of ITV Studios promises ‘plenty of thrills and surprises’, but no rush towards the supernatural.
Instead, the theme will be more medieval and challenges will be ‘Game Of Thrones style’. A source cautions: ‘We are not making an episode of Most Haunted.’
That said, the castle has hosted ‘ghost hunt’ nights for four years, and visitors have apparently seen a woman in white, perhaps Winifred, Countess of Dundonald, who died in 1924.
Dr Mark Baker, who heads the preservation trust, says: ‘During the summer, I was walking with someone and we saw a bright light hovering above the garden, which I just can’t explain.’
FOOD & WOOLLIES
Rice and beans will be on the menu as the basic ration. Usually the beans are cannellini, but this year they will be haricot beans in a nod towards that oh-so-British cupboard staple, baked beans. Celebrities will compete to add local delicacies such as Welsh lamb to their rations.
Other returning elements include the red phone box, where campmates receive a quiz question to answer for the chance to win a treat for their campmates.
The celebs’ outfits have been adapted to suit the Welsh winter — they’ll receive a full set of thermal underwear as well as a padded gilet.
THE BIG BUILD
Aerial pictures reveal that a massive building programme has been undertaken at the castle.
The ruined crenellated walls have been made structurally sound, with studio and living areas created. A bush telegraph and outdoor loo can be seen, and there is a platform atop a rampart, from where Ant and Dec may present the show.
There is also a huge marquee thought to house a production hub. Catering is being done elsewhere.
There will be protection for the celebs from the elements in the form of retractable canopies — these were also used in Australia to prevent the campfire from being extinguished in downpours.
A source says: ‘This isn’t a Bear Grylls-style survival show. Weeks of soaking wet and cold celebrities will not make for great television. That said, the place is not full of creature comforts and it will still be all about working for rewards.’
East to West: Jessica Plummer
DOWN ON THE FARM
Crew and support staff will be put up in mobile homes on a farm close to the castle.
The farm’s website shows no pitches at all are available to the public in November.
The number of crew has been minimised — in Australia there were up to 600, now it’s thought to be well under half of that.
Editing and support staff will work from home or at ITV offices in London, while the art department and much of the set build has been done elsewhere.
Some execs are thought to be staying locally at the Kinmel and Kinspa hotel.
No families will be coming along for a free holiday, as usually happens at the Palazzo Versace hotel in Queensland.
Filming will still be a 24-hour operation — to catch celebs getting up in the night (remember Carol Thatcher in 2005).
Matters will be simplified by the lack of time difference, though, with most of the team working during the day rather than through the night, as they do Down Under.
There will still be a live element each night where Ant and Dec go in to camp to announce who will do the next Bushtucker Trial.
A raft of measures will be used to maintain safety, and these may change between now and November 15, when the show is expected to start.
There will be close-contact cohorts — presenters Ant and Dec are in one of these, which means that they are able to stand side-by-side and not two metres apart.
Ant, 44, explains: ‘We’re working on Britain’s Got Talent and other things at the moment. So we get tested every four days. We can sit next to each other and stroke each other. We have to be careful as to where we go and who we see.’
Dec adds: ‘We’re like Premiership footballers . . . and that’s where the similarity ends. Our households are connected and we form a cohort.’
There will also be bubbles, and the celebs will form one of these. All will strictly isolate for 14 days before entering camp and then associate only with each other.
For the crew, there will be masks and social distancing, and proximity buzzers to ensure two-metre distances, which will go off if anyone gets too close to someone else on the set.
Everyone at the castle will be regularly temperature checked.
A source says: ‘The production team have a very experienced health and safety department, going above and beyond putting all possible measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety.
Contestants will be swapping the Australian rainforest for the soggy Welsh countryside (pictured the Gwrych Castle in North Wales)
‘The crew are used to operating under strict protocols in Australia. There were only five crew allowed on a jungle bridge at one time, for example. Here again, there will be limits to how many people can be in an enclosed space.’
THE MISSING MEDIC
There will be no Dr Bob, the Australian medic — he will be replaced by a local medical team. Previously he revived nutritional expert Gillian McKeith when she fainted and memorably pulled a cockroach out of Fatima Whitbread’s nose.
ON THE MONEY
The budget for the show is usually thought to stand at between £12 million and £15 million, making it the most costly on the network.
I hear the move to Wales has not resulted in any savings as a whole new camp had to be set up — and new challenges. Some even suggest it’s costing more to be in Wales.
A source says: ‘The show has come from a standing start. The whole infrastructure had to be put in place — creative ideas, format, location, production and that’s before we even got to Covid protocols.’
The show may return to Gwrych and some executives think it could be an idea to have it in Australia and Wales on alternate years.
GLOBAL TRAVEL BAN DID FOR THE JUNGLE
For a few months after Covid hit, executives were hopeful that by November it might just be possible to put the show on as usual in a banana plantation in Dungay, outside Brisbane.
Initially, there was a plan to get the celebs to come without their families, and quarantine for two weeks before the show. The idea of hiring an all-Aussie crew was also mooted.
However, by mid-summer, with lockdown in the UK and travel restrictions globally, ITV executives accepted Australia would no longer be possible.
Boss Kevin Lygo promised to ‘move heaven and earth’ to have the show in the autumn schedule — it is reputedly the most lucrative show in ITV’s armoury, drawing audiences of up to ten million, including the young and affluent who are almost every advertiser’s target.
A source says: ‘You can’t imagine autumn television without the jungle, and producers worked long and hard to try to make the show work.
‘They had hundreds of contingency plans in place but, by late summer, it became clear Australia wasn’t going to happen.
‘Furthermore, a decision had to be made because if the show was going to move, there comes a point where that plan needs time to be executed properly.’
Richard Cowles, director of entertainment at ITV Studios, says: ‘We pulled out all the stops to try to make the series happen in Australia — but it became apparent it just wouldn’t be possible to travel and make the show there.’