Just before Christmas 2013 Matthew took part in the hit ITV reality show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – it turned out to be one of the highlights of his career – at one point drawing an audience secondly only to Andy Murray’s historic Wimbledon win that year.
For 19 days (and 18 terrifying nights), Matthew hung out in the Australian bush with fellow contestants including double gold medal Olympian Rebecca Adlington, designer David Emanuel, Westlife star Kian Egan, Emmerdale’s Lucy Pargeter, model Annabel Giles and snooker legend Steve Davis.
Matthew’s never described his first two days in the bush, only a fraction of which was ever shown on TV. It’s a good yarn and makes sense of those tears before the first trial.
“I was gobsmacked when ITV first asked me to have a go and initially refused for one simple reason: I was a very fearful person at the time and had been carrying a lot of intense phobias with me from early childhood. The last thing I really wanted was to do a gig as big I’m A Celebrity and come out looking even more scared than royal butler Paul Burrell did – well I do have some pride – but my agent John Noel urged me to reconsider and I eventually agreed but only on condition that he sorted out some sort of therapist to help me deal with my creepy crawly demons.
I spent the next two weeks having daily two hour sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Psychologist Andre Symeou kept telling me we’d get there, even if we didn’t have the luxury of time to fix my head. At the end of our first week I touched my first dead spider. I went home that weekend and placed dead spiders all around the house to help with the desensitisation and finally during our final session on day 10 I not only touched a spider – a tiny one – but had a dozen or so dumped on my head. I thought I’d cracked it. But I was only half right.
24 hours later and I was on the plane, quietly confident that my terrors were now, if not banished, then under control. When you first arrive in Australia they put each of the contestants in separate hotels. I was on my tod and fairly bored cooped up in my room for four days and nights. It’s a bit like being under house arrest with a chaperone on your case 24/7 to insure you didn’t go outside and get papped. Or have any fun.
So when producers eventually told me the night before kick off that I could hit a bar or two, well, I did and in some style, I can tell you. This detail is important because as a consequence when I first arrived in the jungle I was seriously lagging. Hanging. I was in pieces. Tatters. The first person I met was Amy Woolyton. I had no idea who she was. The first thing she said to me was, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution, do you?” Wow. Maybe she’s an evolutionary biologist who makes nature programmes, I pondered to myself. “Well, have you got a better theory then?” I asked at which point she fell silent. And then suddenly all the other celebs appeared running manically from all different directions towards me. “Come with me,” Lucy Pargeter screamed between breaths. Everyone was running. Kian was bleeding. Steve Davis looked like he was going to explode. No, just leave me here and let me die in peace is what I wanted to say but “Ok” was the only word my cracked lips could offer. It turns out I was now in a team – along with Lucy, Kian, Alfonso and David. Not surprisingly, and quite possibly down to my own dismal effort, our team finished last in whatever it was were doing, some kind of orienteering I think. While Rebecca Adlington, Laila Morse, Joey Essex, Steve and Amy Woolyton went off for a night of luxury, we were told we were camping where we were standing.
The next 24 hours were a living hell. No paracetamol. No whisky. No sleep. All my old terrors came flooding back during that first night camping on the dirt in a zone I later dubbed Shit Island. While a few of my team like David were not just asleep but snoring, I could bring myself to lay my head down for fear of critters. Negative vibes, of course, tend to lead to negative experiences as I was soon to discover because at one point I did manage to pluck up the courage to lay my head down. I even closed my eyes and started to breathe more slowly. Maybe I could drift off when I suddenly heard a rustling just behind my head. Don’t look, I told myself, it’ll just be a camera guy. I heard it again and stayed calm-ish but then I felt him tap the back of my head – I assumed with his shoe. I snapped my head around Exorcist-stylee but instead of eye-balling the expected steel toe-capped boot I came face to face with a monster. A monster with a huge, hideously deformed nose. A monster, I was later told after I finally stopped screaming, that was known as a bandicoot. Sounds cute. Even looks cute in photos but that’s before it starts tearing your throat out with its massive teeth in a blood-splattered, violent rampage.
Whatever, I was by now so rattled, hungover, freaked, hungry and wired, that further sleep was out of the question and I stayed awake for rest of the night. By the time everyone else woke up I reckon I’d only slept four hours in the past 48. And it was only now that the I’m A Celebrity adventure was really beginning: we went up for a helicopter ride to the camp, the pilots pulling some serious G force in the process. As soon as we landed we were led off for a short trek before we were finally told that the two teams had to battle it out to see who’d get to stay in the proper camp, the one familiar to fans of the show, and who was going to carry on sleeping on the dirt.
How? Well it transpired that we were going to take turns being locked in a Perspex coffin and then have a load of jungle nasties dumped all over us, the nature of the nasty decided by a spinning wheel of misfortune: spiders, snakes, cockroaches, rats, all the usual I’m A Celebrity fare. Well, the sight of the spiders was the final straw for my fragile mind. Bear in mind by this point I’ve been awake 56 of the last 60 hours, I’m running on a mix of adrenaline and terror so it’s not such a surprise that my brain then suddenly flipped on me. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” I said the panic clearly audible, not helped be having several cameras shoved inches from my face to capture those wussy tears as various well-meaning types start shouting at me: YES, YOU CAN!
Gawd bless Alfonso Ribeiro! While the rest were trying to bully me into submission, Alfonso noticed that I’d buttoned up my shirt wrong. He grabbed hold of me and said calmly, “I don’t care if you do this trial or not, Matthew, but I’m telling you there’s no way you’re going out there dressed like that!” It was a magic moment, one I shall be forever grateful for, because I burst out laughing and that in turn helped snap me out of my psychosis and I was soon lying in a see-thru coffin full of snakes. It was the most comfortable lie down I’d had for days. And it was then that I could fear my terror starting to receed. From that moment on there was no looking back. No more fear – and a lot more fun!