The Handbook
The Handbook

The countdown for “I’m a Celebrity 2020” has begun. In just five days we’ll be able to see 10 ‘celebrities’ (we use this term pretty loosely) face insect snacks, campfire arguments, emotional meltdowns and questionable life choices. Unfortunately, the global pandemic didn’t stop the show in its tracks but merely relocated it. The ITV bosses have moved the humiliating Bushtucker trials from the sweaty jungle of Australia to the cold, wetlands of Wales. And they’ve chosen Gwrych Castle in Abergele, North Wales, as the location for this reality TV car crash.

If you don’t really care who will be crowned king or queen of the jungle crumbling castle, there’s a story far more interesting than the reality show. It’s a tale that would make a fascinating documentary in its own right, if people weren’t so obsessed with watching failing TV presenters try and earn some extra cash by snorting spiders out of their nostrils.

Built in the early 19th century by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, the double-barrelled High Sheriff of Denbighshire, the castle was passed down through generations of countesses and heirs, until it was gifted to King George V and the then Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VIII, the one who ran off with Wallis Simpson). But the gift was rejected. Rejected. The gift of a castle was rejected. Talk about finding it difficult to buy for someone who has everything!

Anyway, this rejection became part and parcel of the castle’s turbulent history. After many different uses, from housing 200 Jewish refugees during the Second World War to staging medieval jousting competitions in the 70s, the old pile fell into disrepair. In 1989 it was bought by American businessman Nick Tavaglione for £750,000, who, instead of fixing it, left it to be looted.

Seven years later, in stepped local 11-year-old Mark Baker (who would go on to become an author and architectural historian). Shocked by the ramshackle state of this once very impressive building, he founded the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust at the age of 12. The trust forced Tavaglione to sell the castle in 2006 to a hotel group, who then passed it on to a property developer, who then put it up for auction. Finally, through various campaigns and fundraising efforts, the castle was purchased by Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, on behalf of the nation. But of course, this nation is desperately in debt (we’ve lost count of how many billions it is now), so the castle needed a little bit more help.

That’s when ITV approached the trust to host “I’m A Celeb” within the castle’s crumbling walls. Reportedly, the TV channel has pledged £1 million for four months of filming, which includes fixing the roof, floors, stairs and making the building slightly habitable.

So when you’re reclining back on your sofa with some lockdown takeaway food (see our suggested list here), and you’re wondering how on earth life led you to watch Ant and Dec narrate Vernon Kay’s challenge to scoff maggot pizza, remember this story.

Hundreds of years of history, secret medieval battles sites and Roman shrines are now playing host to the camping ground for Mo Farah and various miscellaneous Corrie and EastEnders actors. We wonder if Mo knew when he collected his gold medals at the 2012 Olympics it would lead to this … piecing together a bit of British history, one kangaroo testicle at a time.


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