Filming new adventure show Don’t Rock The Boat made I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! feel like a holiday. That’s according to singer/songwriter Fleur East. She went into the jungle in 2018, and is also one of 12 famous faces who recently rowed the entire length of Britain – all in the name of television.
“I have never seen so many people break all at once,” recalls the London-born star, 32, describing her experience of making Don’t Rock The Boat. “Every single person that took part in this reached their breaking point.”
Airing across five consecutive nights on ITV, the epic series is presented by Top Gear’s Freddie Flintoff and The Voice’s AJ Odudu. We will see them help guide the two teams of rowers as they are pushed to their physical and mental limits over the 500 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End. And guess what? There are gruelling challenges on-shore too.
Joining Fleur in the red team is supermodel and broadcaster Jodie Kidd, Olympic, World and European cycling champion Victoria Pendleton CBE, politician and author Tom Watson, and actors Craig Charles and Adam Thomas.
The opposing blue team consists of The Chase’s Dark Destroyer Shaun Wallace, The Pussycat Dolls singer Kimberly Wyatt, YouTuber Joe Weller, actress Lucy Fallon, sports presenter and Olympian Denise Lewis OBE, and Love Island winner Jack Fincham.
Here, East, Lewis and Thomas tell us more about the “terrifying” competition…
An unforgettable experience…
Rough seas, sleeping on the boat, a bucket for a toilet: it’s fair to say none of the celebrities quite knew what they were getting themselves into when they signed up to Don’t Rock The Boat.
“I like to think I’m quite a tough character,” notes 48-year-old Lewis, who was born in West Bromwich and won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “I thought I’d seen it all. And there were moments when I thought, ‘This is not right, we shouldn’t be going through this’.
“But there was just something about that camaraderie, about that need to keep digging deep, that just didn’t let you quit.”
Within the teams, they split into pairs, taking it in turns to row for a couple of hours at a time – including through the night. “When you’re rowing at 2am, rowing into nothing, into just blackness, your oars in the air… Honestly, there were moments when we thought we were going to die, moments when your dignity was just completely out of the window,” reflects East, who was runner-up in the 11th series of The X Factor, in 2014. “Sitting on a bucket, in the middle of the ocean… It was humiliating at times and really testing. But honestly, the most rewarding thing ever at the same time.”
During the nights they were rowing, they would stop to sleep for a couple of hours. But “when we say sleeping, the cabin was literally like the length of your body, and you had to be sleeping in there with your rowing partner, so you got to know each other pretty well, very quickly,” says East, with a chuckle.
“It was really tough, it was like sleeping in a little coffin,” continues Mancunian Thomas, 32, known for roles in Emmerdale and Waterloo Road. “And because of the sea, as well and the rocking and everything, it was so claustrophobic.”
“You’ve reminded me about the cabin… It took a while for me to go in there,” says Lewis. “I do have a little bit of claustrophobia and the smell in there – it wasn’t the best!”
Asked about the impact the challenge had on their bodies, East exclaims: “Oh my god – blisters! We had bruises, we had muscles that were just so tight, we literally had to just stretch out constantly.”
They were all given a rowing machine before filming to use for training, but East scoffs this was “pointless”. “It’s completely different to when you’re in the boat. Action, discipline, everything. All that training just went out of the window and we were basically starting from square one.
“But there were moments where it was absolutely incredible, to see the sky at night, all the stars. We saw meteor showers, we saw Saturn, Jupiter, Mars – so bright. Honestly, you can’t get that anywhere else, or doing anything else. Those moments made it worthwhile. It was magical seeing that.”
“You should have been focusing on rowing!” quips competitive Lewis, which sets them all off laughing.
Ones to watch
The big question is, did anyone in their teams surprise them by really stepping up to the challenge? “Tom Watson, who I thought was completely out of his depth, he was amazing!” enthuses East. “He had such a good stroke and his tenacity was unreal, he just never gave up.”
“I thought Lucy was going to be a bit light, I have to be honest,” says Lewis. “I thought she was going to be a bit flaky and I saw that girl just go to places that you just don’t want to go to and survive and keep coming back and not quit; that was a big moment for me to witness.”
Being in such a confined environment, and with so many big personalities, you’d predict there’d be some clashes – and East confirms this was true. “We had to do a lot of mediating, which you’ll see,” she teases. “But, actually, after we had those little riffs, we got closer.”
There are lots of jokes throughout the chat about how Lewis didn’t hide how badly she wanted to be on the winning team. And Thomas elaborates that it did get “really competitive at times, which I didn’t see coming. I just thought, we’re all going to be friends, we’re all going to get on, but as soon as we were separated into two teams, that’s where the journey really began.”
“You know, the show was sold as a competition,” reasons Lewis. “It wasn’t a pleasure boat thing, it wasn’t a sightseeing expedition, it was a competition and so that literally just sparks the Olympian again. It’s about trying to get to the destination as quickly as possible, and yeah, once we had our colours, that was it. Game on!”
Don’t Rock The Boat starts on ITV on Monday, November 2.