Picture the scene. It’s the end of November. Matt Hancock has been named king of the jungle. After a month of tears, torture and tepid banter, he has obliterated all competition. Boy George has made zero impact. Mike Tindall is in the dust. Jill Scott is no one. The public have voted to humiliate the former health secretary, and he has eaten it up. Literally: he has eaten every species of testicle. But at some point during this process there came a moment when the tide started to turn. When, exactly, is hard to say: when he taught Chris Moyles how to do parkour? When he played truth or dare round the campfire and admitted he thinks Dominic Cummings is a “gimp”? Or when, on his ninth bushtucker trial, he was finally broken, weeping into a bath of eels? No one knows. But this much is true: he may have lost the Tory whip, but he has won the nation’s hearts. The Matt Hancock redemption arc is complete.
You think I’m joking, obviously. This is a guy who presided over the worst Covid death toll in Europe. Who made lockdown rules that prevented people from saying goodbye to their loved ones, and then broke them simply because he had the horn. Who has recently started wearing turtlenecks in a way that screams “mid-life crisis”. The British public would never tolerate a Tory has-been’s cynical attempts to rehabilitate his reputation or expose his bare chest on TV. Ed Sheeran is already suing for damages, after Hancock sang one of his songs with his eyes closed within five minutes of arriving on screen. Be that as it may, you simply can’t deny the content. The man is a televisual car crash. He brings the kind of cringe that rattles your bones. He seems... scared of swearing? (Oh no, not “slurry”!) He is – there really is no better way to say it – a prat.
So, when victory comes – which it won’t – what will freshly minted national treasure Matt Hancock do with his newfound influence? Well, become an influencer, surely. Don’t forget, we’re talking about a person who made an app with his own name. He has apparently accepted that his political career is over, but after fronting the nation’s Covid briefings and fielding questions from Britain’s hardest political hacks, he is comfortable on camera and can deal with the media. And he has a unique gift for communicating: boy, does he have apocalyptic levels of Partridge.
The opportunities will be endless. In fact, they will come so thick and fast that Hancock will have to employ Ekin-Su’s agent in order to field them all. The soft launch will begin with an agony aunt column in a national newspaper, “Hancock Helps You”, in which he will provide motivational advice about bouncing back. His byline, inexplicably, will show him leaning on a countryside fencepost. This will coincide with a tearjerking appearance on Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail podcast, for which he’ll be lauded for his vulnerability and contrition.
One failure: not showing “the real me” until he was paid a large sum by a long-running reality TV series. After all emails pre-I’m a Celeb were ignored, finally his pitch to launch a human-interest series, Hancock: Hunting for Health, will be picked up by Channel 5. Next will come his podcast on love and relationships, Hancock, which will rocket to the top of Apple’s podcast charts. Interviewees will include Esther Perel, Michael Gove and Rita Ora. And then, the jewel in the crown – launching his own turtleneck brand, which will also have a line of gilets. All clothing will say MATT in capital letters on the front. ASOS will go big with it.
Like the bleak, relentless nightclub-appearance schedule of a middle-ranking Love Islander, Hancock will know that this moment to make hay from his newly recovered rep will have to be rocket-charged. He will need to make #sponcon while the sun shines. The sequel to his pandemic diaries, Matt Hancock: Let Me Be Clear, will be a Sunday Times bestseller, but it won’t stay in the charts for long. His children’s book series about personal hygiene will go to a smaller publisher. And the fly-on-the-wall documentary about his attempts to launch his own political party will fall through after backers pull out as interest wanes. The guest presenterships of Good Morning Britain will become thinner when Richard Madeley comes back from annual leave. But Hancock will have revarnished his legacy, and he will have paid for his divorce.
Reality TV shows have often provided the ideal backdrop to public redemption. Peter Andre would never have got “Mysterious Girl” back in the charts without his jaunt in the jungle. Ed Balls can get telly work for ever thanks to his heavy-footed “Gangnam Style” galloping on Strictly. Even Jim Davidson won a series of Celebrity Big Brother once. But, of course, it can go the other way. You could be George Galloway, forever burning into the public’s memory the image of you pretending to be a cat while wearing a leotard. Hancock is a no-hoper. He is the cat, the milk, and the leotard. And he’s going to scorch our retinas in the process.