I'm a Celebrity … Get Me into Wales! Fans flock to Abergele as TV show comes to town


When the Welsh firebreak lockdown ended this week, friends Jane Powell, 53, and Melanie Knill-Ives, 55, did not hesitate. They packed their bags, loaded a car and drove for almost four hours from their home in Caerphilly, south Wales, to the town of Abergele in the north.

On Wednesday morning, they were giddy with excitement as they took selfies outside the gatehouse of Gwrych Castle, where their favourite TV reality show, I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! was being filmed.

“We’re huge fans,” said Powell. “The end of the firebreak means we are allowed to travel around Wales. This was the only place to be as far as we were concerned.”

“I like it because of the scary things they get the celebs to do,” said Knill-Ives. “They are laid bare to the bone. You see them as they really are. And to think it’s taking place in God’s country this year. It’s brilliant.”





Melanie Knill-Ives, left, and Jane Powell had driven across Wales in the hope of seeing Ant and Dec.



Melanie Knill-Ives, left, and Jane Powell had driven across Wales in the hope of seeing Ant and Dec. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The hugely popular ITV show, in which the stars take part in a series of gruelling challenges, is usually filmed in the Australian jungle. The Covid crisis means that this year it is unfolding within the 250 acres of Gwrych Castle.

Rather than dealing with heat and humidity, the contestants, including the multiple Olympic champion Mo Farah and the EastEnders actor Shane Richie, will face the cold and damp of a Welsh autumn and winter.

The first programme airs on Sunday but already the market town of Abergele is enjoying something of a boom on the back of it.

“It’s been fantastic for the town,” said Tracey Brennan, who owns a veg shop and gift store in the town and is the chair of Abergele Association of Traders.

“It’s brought in about 20% more business. I think people are coming from surrounding villages to drive past the castle to see what’s going on and then coming into the town to do a bit of shopping.”

The lockdown across the border means that English residents are not allowed to travel into Wales at the moment unless they have good reason to do so, but Brennan hopes the show will prompt more visitors from across the UK, and perhaps the world, when it is legal and safe for people to travel. “The most important thing is that it has lifted everyone’s spirits,” said Brennan. “The whole town is excited.”

It certainly is. Many of the shops have I’m a Celebrity displays in their windows. There are cutouts of the hosts, Ant and Dec, everywhere. Countless shops have tried to crowbar the name of their show into a slogan. Not all work. “I’m an optician. Get your eyes tested here!” does not have a ring to it. Nor does the one outside the artificial grass showroom: “I’m a celebrity. Get your ready grass out of here!”





Dawn Marie Williams



Dawn Marie Williams: ‘This has given some good vibes back to the town’. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Dawn Marie Williams, the owner of barber shop A Cut Above, spent hours with her staff creating an extravagant homage to the show including snakes (a staple of the Australian version of the show) and ghosts (yes, the castle is supposed to be haunted). “It’s been such a bad year, this has given some good vibes back to the town,” she said.

The betting shop is doing a brisk trade in people wanting to place a wager on the winner, the school is doing a project on the castle, and an arts trail is about to be launched involving huge bugs attached to buildings.

The Aladin’s Cave junk shop was selling a couple of Ant and Dec books plus a signed photograph of the pair. Its owner, Keith Rowlands, refused to say where the picture had come from. “That’s a closely guarded secret but it is genuine,” he said.

The Pen-y-Bont Inn is offering its take on the “bushtucker trials” the celebs usually have to face, offering mini-locust burgers and cricket cocktails. The creatures were sourced online and if people manage to consume a £5 “bushtucker platter” they get a free glass of house wine.

It is not known yet whether the bushtucker trials will be part of the show this time. If creatures are used in the Welsh version of the show, animal rights protesters may well turn up.

Security is tight. The castle ground are surrounded by miles of fencing to keep the media and public out – and celebs in.

Trevor and Esther Salmon, who are in their early 80s and whose bungalow is close to the castle wall, have been watching on with bemusement. “We haven’t seen the programme before but we may have a look this year,” Esther said.

Meanwhile, super-fans Powell and Knill-Ives were chasing up a lead on the whereabouts of Ant and Dec. “We’ve heard they might be in a spa hotel,” said Knill-Ives. We may have to pop to Primark and get some swimming costumes.”



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