Sunday 21 November, 9.00pm
With female contestants winning five of the last six series of 'I'm A Celebrity...', Rob Furber thinks a King of the Castle is due to be crowned this year...
"Back in 2016, Ginola collapsed during a charity football match and was clinically dead for 8 minutes. CPR saved his life and Ginola ended up having a quadruple heart bypass. That kind of traumatic experience must give a person enormous perspective on life."
Get ready for celebs being doused in gunge and critters, entombed with snakes, and being invited to eat an assortment of vile animal parts. Oh yes, joy of joys, the 21st series of ITV's reality TV staple, 'I'm A Celebrity...', will get underway on Sunday night.
For the second year running, due to Covid issues surrounding international travel, its usual location of New South Wales has had to be shunned in favour of Gwrych Castle in North Wales. In truth, it has all got a bit old hat but that doesn't prevent it from being a cracking TV betting heat.
A key theme of this year's IAC looks like being 'soap wars', with three famous actors from Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale set to take centre stage.
The Outright market on Betfair considers Adam Woodyatt (53) to be the least likely winner among the three of them. Tabloid headlines such as 'Eastenders' Adam Woodyatt buys 100k campervan as estranged wife struggles for money' don't read well for him but he is likely to be central in the edit and the market has perhaps over-reacted in pushing him out to 21.020/1 in the Betfair Winner market ahead of the launch show.
Simon Gregson (47) has played Steve McDonald in Coronation Street for 32 years. He has had some well-documented drug and alcohol problems but is now back on a more even keel. Back in 2019, it looked as if the show was doing its utmost to help fellow Corrie actor Andy Whyment to win. We might see similar production support afforded to Gregson after Whyment fell agonisingly short.
It is a show that can be won by doing very little. Two years ago, Eastenders actress Jacqueline Jossa managed to monopolise the Mumsnet vote by highlighting how much she was missing her kids.
It was a similar story last year with Tom Fletcher's wife Giovanna taking the crown by doing little more than creating the 'Mama G' brand for herself in the castle and being compassionate towards her fellow contestants.
A Bridge too far?
This is probably why Frankie Bridge (32), wife of ex-footballer Wayne, has been made the pre-lives favourite around the 5.59/2 mark on Betfair. A former member of The Saturdays, Frankie has had past battles with depression.
As a mother of two, a Loose Women panellist, with good looks that do not lean too far into green-eyed territory among female viewers, Frankie has some of the key ingredients to do well on IAC. But it seems unlikely the show will push for another Jossa/Fletcher type winner which looks the main negative with her.
Louise Minchkin (53) recently retired from presenting duties on BBC's 'Breakfast' show. A keen triathlete, she will no doubt be a strong competitor when it comes to any physical trials. Broadcast journalists often end up with question posing duties on the show, and can be slightly hamstrung by that role.
Minchkin and friend of the show Richard Madeley (65) will be acting as grand inquisitors throughout. Given he has been a past regular on the spin-off IAC show on ITV2, and recently landed a presenting job on Good Morning Britain, he will likely enjoy a degree of favour.
But there is also the cringe factor Madeley carries around with him, and he loves the sound of his own voice a little too much. Madeley is essentially Alan Partridge incarnate, with some dubious political views he will probably find hard to resist airing.
It won't be a surprise if he dominates the early edit but his shtick will likely wear thin over the course of the series, and there is always the chance he will put his foot in it. Unsurprisingly, he has been installed as odds-on favourite by some betting firms to do the first public-voted trial.
The last two IACs have been insanely close affairs, with Jacqueline Jossa beating Andy Whyment (Coronation Street's Kirk) 50.61% to 49.39% in 2019; and Giovanna Fletcher defeating Jordan (happy place, happy place...) North by an even narrower margin last year, 50.27% to 49.73%.
Having been on the wrong side of those two photo-finishes, this year's IAC feels like unfinished business.
Ooh Aah Ginola
Intriguingly, women have won 'I'm A Celebrity...' in five of the last six years with only Harry Redknapp in 2018 breaking the all-female streak. This year's field does look skewed towards seeking a male winner, and the one who appeals most, available to back on Betfair around 9.617/2, is former French international footballer David Ginola (54).
Ginola has prospects of cornering the housewife's vote. Eye candy for the ladies, full of Gallic charm, chivalrous and possessing that certain je ne sais quoi.
Back in 2016, Ginola collapsed during a charity football match and was clinically dead for eight minutes. CPR saved his life and he ended up having a quadruple heart bypass. That kind of traumatic experience must give a person enormous perspective on life. It is also quite a story to tell around the campfire, and a timely one at that after Christian Eriksen's collapse back in the summer during the Euros.
Having fully recovered since, hopefully Ginola is not a sicknote for a lot of the trials, and he can bring that all-important, eye of the tiger determination when it comes to eating kangaroo penis or lying underground having cockroaches poured over him.
Another key element potentially in Ginola's favour is, as a former Newcastle United footballing legend, he should enjoy the support of Ant & Dec, the pint-sized duo who present the show.
They are lifelong members of the Toon Army, and have plenty of previous for getting behind those who appear on the show with a strong Geordie connection, including 2015 winner Vicky Pattinson.
Matty Lee (23) is best known for winning men's 10-metre synchronised diving gold at the Tokyo Games back in the summer in partnership with Tom Daley. The clear risk with Lee is, placed among big TV personalities, he might end up too much of a wallflower.
Rather than a contender for the IAC win, he could inadvertently provide a small and timely boost to Tom Daley's SPOTY 2021 chance, although Emma Raducanu looks unassailable there.
Kadeena Cox (30) is a Paralympic gold medalist, who competes in athletics and cycling. Her less able-bodied status is due to multiple sclerosis and she defended her cycling time trial title at the delayed Tokyo Paralympics back in the summer.
She is no stranger to TV having featured on the likes of Gogglebox, The Great British Bake Off, Channel 4's The Jump, and recently won Celebrity Masterchef. Cox also has an MBE but will do well not to remind the audience of this, as fellow Paralympian Hollie Arnold famously did when introducing herself in last year's series, killing her chance stone dead.
Arlene Phillips (78) will become the show's oldest contestant. She is said to be lined up to replace John Barrowman as a judge on Dancing On Ice so this is going to give her some timely exposure ahead of the new series in January. Like Cox, however, she looks an unlikely contender for the win, and Phillips is favourite to be the first elimination.
Naughty but nice
Music producer Naughty Boy (36) was supposed to take part last year but pulled out due to a family illness. Having worked with the likes of Beyonce, Sam Smith, Zayn Malik and Emeli Sande, he will likely be this year's name-dropping, pop industry story-teller.
It was a win on TV game show 'Deal or No Deal?' that enabled him to build his first music studio at his parents' house. His mum, who he lives with and looks after, has dementia and he is aiming to use his appearance on IAC to help raise awareness for the charity Dementia UK. Said to be shy and humble, he looks the liveliest outsider in this year's field and worth backing on Betfair around the 21.020/1 mark.
Snoochie Shy (29) may sound like a brand of lip gloss or the latest Ben & Jerry's ice-cream creation but it turns out Snoochie is a Radio 1 Extra presenter, model and brand ambassador. Lack of profile could prove a stumbling block for her, and similar to fellow Radio 1 presenter Adele Roberts (first elimination in 2019) she may struggle to gain traction with voters.
Among the three male soap stars, the one who seems to have most going for him at series start is Emmerdale actor Danny Miller (30). Only last month, his former school sweetheart and now fiancée, Steph Jones, gave birth to their first child following struggles to conceive.
In interview, he comes across as down-to-earth, kind-hearted and charming, and in the good looks stakes he is probably second only to Ginola, which should help earn him votes among female viewers.
The core IAC vote base is more north leaning and Lancashire-born Miller looks like he may have the edge over fellow Mancunian Gregson so the advice here is to also back Miller for the win at 6.05/1 or better on Betfair.
With an enormous bungee platform having been erected at a quarry not far from Gwrych Castle, this could be the venue for the first big challenge for contestants when the show launches on Sunday night.
Simon Gregson and Adam Woodyatt appear set to be late arrivals to the castle this year, hinting that a live trial may lie in store for the two long-standing soap stars.
The other advice for those looking to trade IAC on Betfair this year is to follow the money when it comes to the eliminations. And in the final week keep a close eye on how the Betfair Winner market orders itself as it has an uncanny knack for mirroring how the public vote is going despite the public vote percentages never being revealed by ITV until the series is over.
Sunday 21 November, 9.00pm