LONDON (Reuters) - Former British health minister Matt Hancock defended his decision to join "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here" on Wednesday, saying that appearing on the reality TV show was a "great opportunity to talk directly to people".
Hancock was suspended by Britain's ruling Conservatives after news broke that he would be swapping parliament for the Australian rainforest to face challenges such as eating insects and being trapped with snakes and spiders.
Hancock, who was at the centre of Britain's fight against COVID-19 as health secretary, said in the Sun newspaper that he hadn't "lost his marbles or had one too many drinks".
The 44-year-old quit government last year after he was filmed kissing an adviser in breach of the lockdown rules that he had helped devise.
"While there will undoubtedly be those who think I shouldn't go, I think it's a great opportunity to talk directly to people who aren't always interested in politics, even if they care very much about how our country's run," he told the newspaper.
"It's our job as politicians to go to where the people are — not to sit in ivory towers in Westminster."
The reaction to Hancock's bid for prime-time TV stardom in Westminster and in West Suffolk, the area in East England that Hancock represents, ranged from anger to ridicule.
Chief Whip Simon Hart, who handles party discipline, said he believed it was "a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect", while Andy Drummond, deputy chair of the local Conservative association, said he was "looking forward to him eating a kangaroo's penis".
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak believes lawmakers should be working hard for their constituents while Britain faces a cost of living crisis, his spokesman said.
Hancock, who will continue to be paid as a member of parliament while he is thousands of miles from Westminster, said politicians "must wake up and embrace popular culture".
"Rather than looking down on reality TV, we should see it for what it is — a powerful tool to get our message heard by younger generations," he said.
Hancock will join pop singer Boy George, ex-England rugby union player and husband of one of the late queen's granddaughters Mike Tindall, England soccer player Jill Scott and other celebrities in the hit ITV programme.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Hugh Lawson)