Fifteen minutes of fame: I'm a celebrity... Get me in there

It's back - complete with ageing nonentities, the concocted bushtucker trials, the tedious in-camp bickering and the shameless bids for televisual glory (not to mention presenters Ant and Dec). Cahal Milmo reports
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The newspapers are full of pictures of stars who have long been forgotten. Television news bulletins are featuring the formerly famous. It can only mean one thing - a new series of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here.

The sixth outing of ITV's most successful and enduring reality television programme was due to be broadcast last night in a bid to boost ratings and revive faltering careers.

Ten contestants will spend the next fortnight in a camp in the tropical rainforest of Queensland, Australia, vying to follow the likes of Carol Thatcher and Phil Tufnell as winners of the series. They will undergo unpleasant "bushtucker trials" to win food and participants who fail to win the approval of viewers will be "evicted" after a telephone vote.

Eager to replicate the ratings success of previous series, producers of I'm a Celebrity ... have lined up a tried-and-tested mixture of television actors, former girlband and boyband members and faded superstars.

The participation of David Gest, the impresario and former husband of Liza Minnelli, has attracted the most interest in a carefully choreographed burst of pre-publicity to ensure maximum viewers for last night's show.

Gest, whose appearance on the programme recalls that of other obscure Americans such as Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from the 1970s series Starsky and Hutch), has already provided the first personality clash of the series. During recording yesterday he aimed an expletive-strewn outburst at his fellow contestant Lauren Booth, the journalist and sister-in-law of Tony Blair. Booth, who follows a number of acerbic female commentators on I'm a Celebrity ... including the Independent columnist Janet Street-Porter, said before her arrival that she would bring a ball of string as her luxury item "so I can hold David Gest's face together".

The American, who boasted of his affinity with stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly and James Stewart, told campmates: "I had one nose job. It was 1980." He added: "Liz Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers - they were all my closest friends. We used to get together once a week, all the greats."

The other contestants are the radio presenter Toby Anstis, the comedienne Faith Brown, the actor and singer Jason Donovan, the designer Scott Henshall, the pianist and former pop star Myleene Klass, Phina Oruche, who stars in Footballers' Wives and Matt Willis, a former member of the pop group Busted.

The remaining contestant, the former newsreader Jan Leeming, was the first to undergo a bushtucker trial in the new series yesterday. The 64-year-old, who has retrained as a safari ranger, was lowered down a mine shaft lined with insects, rats, snakes and toads to collect tokens which would entitle the group to a meal. Halfway through, she asked to be pulled back to the surface, complaining she had been bitten by ants. Asked by the presenters, Ant and Dec, how she felt, she said: "You bastards."

Bookmakers said Donovan was the favourite to win the contest, but the odds on Gest, 53, winning have narrowed from 33-1 to 16-1.

Season One: August-September 2002
Winner: Tony Blackburn
Runner-up: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson

Around the turn of the Millennium ITV executives received a pitch for a programme based on a "serious sociological experiment" by placing individuals in a tropical jungle and chronicling their actions.

Two years later, an unsuspecting British public had unleashed upon it the fruit of that idea: I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

What was once a sober study of human nature had become the zenith of trash television and, by the time the veteran DJ Tony Blackburn emerged victorious, an unashamedly brash ratings hit had given viewers all the voyeuristic "reality TV" pleasure of Big Brother with the added bonus of an eclectic cast of odd-ball celebrities.

The celebrity circus provided the first glimpse of what have become the stock stereotypes of the franchise. The Troubled Aristocrat (Tara Palmer Tomkinson) was seen having her backside inspected for leeches by the Strange Maverick (magician Uri Geller). The Matronly Battleaxe (Christine Hamilton) exchanged barbed comments with the Alpha Male (boxer Nigel Benn). Other contestants were model Nell McAndrew, the comedian Rhona Cameron and the actor and singer Darren Day.

The series came down to a head-to-head between Blackburn and Tomkinson. Although the DJ proved the winner, the former It-girl arguably enjoyed the greater boost to her public image.

The finale was watched by nearly eight million people. Blackburn, now 63, is still presenting the breakfast show for Classic Gold FM.

Season Two: April-May 2003
Winner: Phil Tufnell
Runner up: John Fashanu

Renowned for producing the previously unimaginable scene of an injured Wayne Sleep getting a piggy back to the lavatory from the former footballer John Fashanu, the second series propelled I'm a Celebrity ... into the light entertainment stratosphere.

Producers of the show must have realised they had created a cultural phenomenon when it earned the disapproval of the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell. She said in an interview: "If they weren't mostly - save their blushes - has-been celebrities, there might be more interest. I think that if we saw many more programming hours taken over by reality TV, I hope you'd begin to see a viewers' revolt."

Ms Jowell's words went unheeded. The finale was watched by 12.5 million people, accounting for more than half of all viewers at the time.

Once again, understated eccentricity seems to have been the most attractive personality trait as viewers cast their votes for the former England cricketer Phil Tufnell, who recounted his brushes with booze and drugs to all and sundry.

Tufnell, who now presents a cricket programme for Five Live, vied with Fashanu and Linda Barker, a television presenter, in the finale.The other contestants were Daniella Westbrook, the former EastEnders actress, who walked out of the programme, Sian Lloyd, a television weather forecaster, Eighties pop star Toyah Wilcox, Catalina Guirado, a model, actor Chris Bisson and the chef Antony Worrall Thompson.

Season Three: January-February 2004
Winner: Kerry McFadden
Runner up: Jennie Bond

Arguably the finest collision of C-list egos, washed-up bad boys and inoffensive starlets served up by the franchise, the third I'm A Celebrity ... had everything that viewers, advertisers and ITV executives could have wanted.

First, there was the toe-curling romance between pop star Peter Andre and the glamour model Jordan. The model, who later married Andre, memorably explained why she had found life in the camp so hard. She said: "I can't get to sleep. I get really cold. It is from when I had liposuction. It was stupid. I didn't really have any fat anyway.

Then there was Sex Pistol John Lydon acting as both philosopher and punk rocker by offering his expletive-laden wisdom to the world before storming out of the camp. The outbursts from the Strange Maverick of the series generated 91 complaints to Ofcom.

Kerry McFadden, the working-class hero and one-time Atomic Kitten, emerged as the victor by endearing herself to viewers with her offer to lose bladder control if she won. The finale was watched by 13.5 million people. But it fell to Jennie Bond to provide proof of the ability of royal correspondents to remain diplomatic at all times when she snacked on a witchetty grub and a large fish eye to win her colleagues a meal.

The other contestants were the peer Lord Brocket, former footballer Neil Ruddock; Alex Best, the estranged wife of George; Diane Modahl, the athlete; and former disc jockey Mike Read.

Season Four: November-December 2004
Winner: Joe Pasquale
Runner-up: Paul Burrell

Janet Street-Porter was always going to break the mould of celebrity reality television contestants, if only because she treated the format as a job rather than a trial of her worth.

But with one of the dullest casts put together for the show, it fell to the broadcaster and editor-at-large of The Independent on Sunday to provide much of the entertainment for the fourth series.

From the moment she entered the camp, telling a tearful pop star, Natalie Appleton, to "can it", Street-Porter cast herself as the verbal assassin of her inmate's personalities.

Of Paul Burrell, the former confidant and butler of Diana, Princess of Wales, she said: "I wanted to see whether I could deal with torture - listening to Paul Burrell wittering on about recipes that Diana loved."

When locked in debate with Brian Harvey, the former singer of East 17, she asked: "Do you think that farting on television looks intelligent?"

Street-Porter's verbal fisticuffs did not earn her the affection of viewers, who ensured the first all-male finale by placing Pasquale, Burrell and the nightclub owner Fran Cosgrove in the last three. Pasquale, like previous victors, was judged to have won because of his ability to refuse to rise to the bait of bitching - and for overcoming constipation during a bushtucker trial.

Season Five: November-December 2005
Winner: Carol Thatcher
Runner up: Sheree Murphy

After three years in which feisty older women had entertained I'm A Celebrity... viewers but ultimately failed to win their hearts, bookmakers gave Carol Thatcher little chance of emerging triumphant.

Baroness Thatcher's daughter explained her victory in her mother's own words. Speaking after she cost betting companies an estimated £2m by winning, Carol Thatcher said: "I remember my mother saying that the Thatcher law of politics was that the unexpected always happens."

The triumph of the self-declared "no-hoper" came at the end of what critics described as the friendliest series of I'm A Celebrity... It averaged 8.9 million viewers, about 700,000 more than any other. The other contestants were the comedians Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball, the actor Sid Owen, singers Jimmy Osmond, Antony Costa and Jenny Frost, wine expert Jilly Goolden, Australian actress Kimberley Davies, antiques expert David Dickinson, and actresses Elaine Lordan and Sheree Murphy.

But with her scruffy dyed-blonde hair and slightly madcap air, Thatcher ruled the jungle with self-deprecating humour and boundless enthusiasm.