It was Jill Scott, pulling a cockroach out of her ear, drinking liquid spiders and picking hair from a cocktail of blended goat testicles. How to explain the concept of I’m a celebrity… Get me out of here! to the uninitiated? Scott spent three weeks doing the above in a jungle with Boy George and Matt Hancock and along the way became the most loved ex-footballer in the country. Her “luxury item” was three plays from Sweet Caroline, the anthem that propelled the Lionesses to success this summer. Is that all? For those who missed the last three weeks, a long YouTube wormhole awaits them now.
It may be difficult for our international readers to understand that all this, in the UK, is a byword for a certain level of celebrity. Four months after winning the European Championship at Wembley, Scott, according to one newspaper, could earn £2 million a year from a further media career. To put this figure into context, Companies House lists the total annual salary for women in Manchester City in its latest set of accounts at £3.3m.
Enough people know who she is now. Scott won the final in front of a peak audience of 11.5 million viewers – six million less than BBC One’s peak audience for this summer’s Women’s Euro final. Of the 12 million votes cast during the 24-hour voting period for the final, Scott won 47% in the first ballot and 57% in the second. A Facebook post from show hosts Ant and Dec featuring 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 gas station meal deal because women’s soccer was so underfunded, has gone mainstream.
I always found I’m a celebrity an odd watch over the years, given his particular brand of sadism and public torture. I can’t say I got much joy out of seeing Scott in a rat-infested grave, or Harry Redknapp four years earlier fumbling with a giant crab, probably called Sebastian, who foreshadowed this end then when, in his 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 liked was the aftermath. Every night, “Jill Scott” and “Queen of the Jungle” trended on Twitter. A quick scroll this afternoon revealed the following items: “II tell my kids that Jill Scott is the Queen. There is no better role model for my girls.” See also: “Sa deserving winner. What a beautiful person. Jill is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. So down to earth.” Keep scrolling for Monday’s Serotonin Boost. There are a few that I pass on.
Why does this matter? There was a moment, far removed from the horror of the Bushtucker trials, when Scott told journalist Charlene White and TV anchor Scarlette Douglas the story that those who knew Scott before this summer had heard dozens of times: about how, growing up as the only girl on boys’ soccer teams, parents would point fingers at Scott and yell 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 receiving end of such shenanigans — he’s had 35 years of them — but managed to get the last laugh. Of the lionesses of Scott’s generation, most will have similar stories. Beth Mead is not even 30 years old, and she remembers the same kind of parents who foamed at the mouth because she had the temerity to play soccer.
White then explained how her three-year-old daughter is about to start soccer practice. These words were more shocking to me than Scott’s. Why? Because I grew up dealing with words similar to Scott. I still do. Just this summer, someone told me that the Lionesses’ victory didn’t matter because women’s football is nothing like men’s football – a view that carries even less weight when you consider the person who said he didn’t watch football for so long that I still believe in Arsenal. play at Highbury. I didn’t experience anything that bad on the field – often as parents are much more intolerant than children – but I could have kept a scrapbook of all the comments I received as a girl growing up. played soccer in the late 2000s.
He was the adult who warned me, after FA rules meant I couldn’t play for my co-ed team once I turned 11, that I shouldn’t join a girls’ team because they were full of lesbians and would i could turn into one It doesn’t matter, that’s not how sexuality works and it wouldn’t be such a crime if I did. So it’s only fitting that after 14 years, Scott and Boy George were hailed at the pool for being so candid about their sexuality.
It was the adults who hated when I wore football shirts in public, or the girls at school who never understood why I wanted to play football and the constant feeling that I was different, different, different. That I’m occupying a space that was never intended for me in the first place. That I would never be liked, or accepted, for being who I was. A child who, in many ways, was probably just like Jill Scott, doing everything girls are told never to do.
This month, we watched comedians Babatunde Aleshe and Seann Walsh almost wet themselves with the excitement of being in the jungle with a! real! Lioness! TV actor Owen Warner, 23, said the game of football he shared with Scott in the jungle was one of the best games of his life. Inevitably, there were questions about the run to Wembley from across the camp. My heart soared every time I saw a TikTok reaction to the ad’s announcement, and Scott was one of the few celebrities that viewers routinely recognized.
What I learned from the above is that my standards are clearly low. But too many comments from too many people over too many years made them that way. What it would have meant to me as a teenager to see someone like Scott—someone like me—not just accepted, but embraced and adored nationally by the same kinds of people who might have despised both her and her sport 15 years ago? I will never pretend that the most strident parts of I’m a celebrity it’s high art, but for the past three weeks, Scott has been unapologetically herself and loved for all the things that girls, even now, will be bullied for. Somewhere today, a teenage football player is walking a little taller, with their gait a little more defiant, because of love for Scott.
This is not to say that Scott has somehow cured women’s football of all its ills. I haven’t watched every episode, but I wonder if Scott could have understood a little more clearly how much it takes to get to the top, even today: from her former team-mates at Aston Villa, who play without offers shoes in front of the abandoned. stadiums, with their post-game careers uncertain. This is the current landscape of women’s football. It will be like this for a few years. With Scott’s victory, however, he took a significant leap into the future.