Why Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly didn’t want to do ‘stupid’ I’m A Celebrity

Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly are as much as part of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here as the witchetty grubs.

But back when the show was just a glint in ITV’s eye, the TV duo were none too keen on fronting it, admitting they "shot each other sideways glances," throughout the duration of the pitch.

"Even as they were explaining the show, I couldn’t stop thinking about the title and how long and strange it sounded," Ant admitted in their 2009 autobiography, Ooh! What A Lovely Pair! Our Story.

Dec tried to rally the troops, assuring his sidekick, "We’ve got to do this because, if it works, it’ll be brilliant and, if someone else does it and it’s a big hit, we’ll be gutted."

But Ant admitted, "I just kept thinking, ‘It sounds stupid – and that title’s far too long.’"


They eventually did sign the contract and flew out to Australia for the very first series in 2003 with their artist manager, Ali Astall, who would become Dec’s wife 12 years later.

But the trip was a disaster from the outset, with the pair booked into an eco-lodge that was festooned with erotic statues.

"The whole place was like a hippy, sexy haven and two things we aren’t is hippes or sexy," recalled Ant, who was so desperate to leave that he almost left Dec behind.

"I’d nipped to the loo and when I got back, the place was deserted – apart from [owners] Gary and Barry, who were enjoying a pot of herbal tea while polishing their sex statues," Dec quipped.

And the show didn’t get off to a flying start, with low ratings and the duo feeling frustrated as they battled to ‘define our role’.

"That first week was really a struggle," Ant said.

"Aside from giving out phone numbers and going into camp to announce the results, it felt like we were just there to say, ‘This is what’s just happened, here’s what happened next.’

"We didn’t know whether to play it for laughs or be straight. It seems a funny thing to say now because the show is ridiculous (but in a brilliant way, obviously."

For Dec, given everyone’s uncertainty about what was supposed to be happening, he thought it was a ‘miracle’ they even managed to get it on air.

Half way in, their then-girlfriend Lisa Armstrong and Clare Buckfield arrived. And while Ant and Dec couldn’t party because they had to be up at 1am everyday, it was a different case for the girls.

"We’d leave them down at the bar every evening when we went to sleep. One night, we got up for work and Clare and Lisa were still in the bar – we went round to tell them off, shocked that people could spend all night drinking like that," Dec said.

"The moment we set eyes on them, we could tell it’d been a pretty heavy session. They were trying to hide from us by pretending to be lamps. It didn’t work."



After two weeks it was home time, and for Ant, it wasn’t an experience he thought he’d ever repeat.

"The series finished and, after two weeks of solid night shifts, we were knackered. Although the show had developed into a hit, it had been a hard slog," he said.

"We still felt we hadn’t really got into our stride and, when we left Australia, we weren’t convinced we’d be doing the second series.

But that changed once they realised what a hit it had been.

And when they realised it would mean spending a month in the sun at the height of the British winter each year, Ant joked, "We couldn’t sign that contract fast enough."

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