There was Jill Scott, scooping a cockroach from her ear, drinking liquidised spiders and picking hair from a cocktail of blended goat testicles.
How does one explain the concept of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to the uninitiated?
Scott has spent three weeks doing the above in a jungle with Boy George and Matt Hancock and along the way become the most-loved former footballer in the country. Her ‘luxury item’ was three plays of Sweet Caroline, the anthem that soundtracked the Lionesses’ success this summer. Is that everything? For those who have missed out on the past three weeks, a long YouTube wormhole now awaits.
It may be difficult for our international readers to understand that all of this, in the UK, is a byword for a certain level of celebrity.
Four months on from winning the European Championship at Wembley, Scott, according to one newspaper, could make £2million a year from a subsequent media career. To put that figure into context, Companies House lists the total annual wage bill for Manchester City Women in its latest set of accounts as £3.3million.
Enough people know who she is now.
Scott won the I’m A Celebrity… final on Sunday in front of a peak audience of 11.5 million viewers – six million fewer than the peak BBC One audience for the Women’s Euros final in July.
Of the 12 million votes cast in the 24-hour voting period for the final, Scott won 47 per cent in the first round of voting and 57 per cent in the second. One Facebook post from Ant and Dec, the show’s presenters, with the newly crowned Queen of the Jungle has garnered 141,000 likes.
Scott, 15 years on from the days when her pre-match diet would consist of a petrol station meal-deal, because women’s football was so underfunded, has gone mainstream.
I’ve always found I’m a Celeb... a weird watch through the years, given its peculiar brand of sadism and public torture. I can’t say I derived much joy from seeing Scott in a tomb filled with rats, or Harry Redknapp four years earlier fumbling with a giant crab, probably named Sebastian, who foreshadowed this ending for himself when in his breakout role in 1989 he warned the Little Mermaid that “the human world is a mess” and life under the sea is where it’s at.
What I did enjoy was the aftermath.
Each night, ‘Jill Scott’ and ‘Queen of the Jungle’ trended on Twitter. A quick scroll on Monday afternoon unearthed the following highlights: “I‘m telling my kids that Jill Scott is the Queen. No better role model for my girls.” See also: “Such a deserving winner. What a beautiful person. Jill is beautiful on the inside as much as the outside. So down to earth.”
Keep scrolling for your Monday serotonin boost. There are a few to get through.
Why does this matter? There was a moment, away from the ghastliness of the bushtucker trials, when Scott told journalist Charlene White and TV presenter Scarlette Douglas the story those who knew of Scott before this summer will have heard scores of times: of how, growing up as the only girl on boys’ football teams, parents would point at Scott and roar at their sons from the sidelines: “Kick her! Kick her!”
White and Douglas were visibly shocked and offended on Scott’s behalf. Scott told the story with the nonchalance of someone who is not only used to being on the end of those kinds of jibes – she’s had 35 years of them – but managed to have the last laugh. Of the Lionesses of Scott’s generation, the majority will have similar stories.
Beth Mead isn’t even 30 and she recalls the same kinds of parents frothing at the mouth because she had the temerity to play football.
White then explained how her three-year-old daughter is about to start football training. Those words were more shocking to me than Scott’s. Why? Because I grew up facing similar words to Scott.
I still do.
Only this summer, someone told me the Lionesses’ win didn’t count because women’s football is nothing like men’s – a view that holds even less weight when you consider the person who said it hasn’t watched football in so long they still believe Arsenal play at Highbury.
I faced nothing so vicious on the field – it’s often the way with these things that the parents are far more intolerant than the kids – but I could have kept a scrapbook of all the comments I was on the receiving end of as a girl who grew up playing football in the late 2000s.
There was the adult who warned me, after FA rules meant I could no longer play for my mixed-sex team once I turned 11, that I shouldn’t join a girls’ team because they’re full of lesbians and I might turn into one. No matter, that is not how sexuality works and it wouldn’t be such a crime if I did. Fitting, then, that 14 years on, Scott and Boy George were hailed by the pool for discussing their sexualities so candidly.
There were the adults who would tut when I wore football shirts out in public, or the girls at school who would never understand why I wanted to play football, and the feeling, all the time, that I was other, other, other. That I was taking up a space that was never meant for me in the first place. That I would never be liked, or accepted, for being who I was: a kid who, in many ways, was probably just like Jill Scott, doing all the things girls are told never to do.
This month, I watched comedians Babatunde Aleshe and Seann Walsh almost wet themselves with excitement at being in the jungle with an! actual! Lioness! The TV soap actor Owen Warner, 23, gushed over how the game of football he shared with Scott while in the jungle was one of the best of his life. Inevitably, there were questions about the run to Wembley from the entire camp. My heart soared each time I saw a TikTok reaction to the line-up announcement and Scott was one of the few celebrities that viewers routinely recognised.
What we have learned from the above is that my standards, clearly, are low. But too many comments from too many people for too many years have made them that way.
What would it have meant to teenage me to see someone like Scott – someone like me – not only accepted but embraced and adored on a national level by the same kinds of people who might have scorned both her and her sport 15 years earlier?
I will never pretend that the most garish parts of I’m a Celebrity… constitute high art, but for the past three weeks, Scott has been unapologetically herself and been loved for all the things that girls, even now, will be bullied for. Somewhere today, some teenage footballer is walking a little taller, their gait a little more defiant, because of the love for Scott.
This is not to suggest that Scott has somehow cured women’s football of all its ills. I did not watch every episode, but I wonder if Scott could have gotten across a little more clearly just how much it takes to make it at the top, even today; spoken of her former Aston Villa team-mates playing without boot deals in deserted stadiums, with their post-playing careers uncertain. Such is the current landscape of women’s football. So it will be for some years.
With Scott’s win, though, it has taken a significant leap into the future.
Loved and adored, why Jill Scott’s Euros success means so much to so many
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