‘It put us on the map’: Abergele residents hail the return of I’m a Celebrity | I’m a celebrity …

The letterbox just off the main street tells the story of the contrasting reactions that the arrival of the I’m a Celebrity… Jamboree provokes in the market town of Abergele, North Wales.

The Rhyl Toppers, a group of yarn bombers (street performers using colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarns rather than paint), lovingly crafted a woolly take on the show’s hosts, Ant and Dec, in as knights in shining armor to crown the mailbox.

But, a little less artfully, someone stuck a creaky, swearing note on the box suggesting the ITV show is “total shit” and urging McPartlin and Donnelly to “come home.”

“There’s always a review or two,” said Tracey Brennan, who runs a gift shop and a fruit and veg shop in town as she removed the offensive sign. “But the vast majority of people love the show. and what he does for the city.

“It has been great for Abergele – I think the number of visitors has increased by 50% in the summer. It has been good for the mental health of people at a time when we need it and it even means housing prices have gone up. It put us on the map.

The reality show, in which celebrities take on grueling challenges and are tormented by close encounters with creepy crawlers, arrived in the city last year when Covid took its usual backdrop, the Australian jungle, out of town. limits. In an era of lockdown and firewalls, fans experienced the trials and tribulations that celebrities endured in and around the cold and humid environment of Gwrych Castle.

Abergele is scalloped with Ant and Dec paraphernalia. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

But animal rights activists were also concerned that living creatures could be used as entertainment and police have investigated allegations that non-native insects such as cockroaches may have been accidentally released into the Wales wilderness.

There was also a human tragedy when a 58-year-old woman, Sharn Hughes, died after being hit by a car after stopping to take a photo of the illuminated castle.

The show will be back on TV Sunday night, and a walk around town seems to confirm Brennan’s view that most people are still on board. Children in local schools have created “insect garlands” that are draped over many buildings. Stores and other businesses vied for the best showcase.

“I think it brought energy to the city,” said artist Pam Peters, who created a splendid handcrafted fused glass rendering of Gwrych Castle for her showcase.

An old bank has been turned into an I’m a Celebrity gift shop… selling souvenirs, tea towels and fridge magnets to handmade soaps. People come to pick up bundles of dried insects such as honey roasted crickets, to piece together their own “bush tucker trials” as they watch the show. The town’s Pen-y-Bont Inn fills up with mealworms, grasshoppers and crickets to crush and add to I’m a Celebrity… cocktails.

TV presenter and naturalist Iolo Williams will watch the show not for fun but to keep an eye on the animals. It is fortunate that the show has raised the profile of North Wales. “But I will be appalled if they continue to use live animals for entertainment,” he said. “My main concern, again, is the use of non-native and potentially harmful species such as cockroaches and locusts. If they were to gain a foothold in such an ecologically sensitive area, the result could be disastrous. “

Cardboard cutouts of Ant and Dec are seen in a shop window in Abergele
The arrival of the reality show has caused mixed reactions in the market town of North Wales. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

The series refuses to give details on the origin of its creatures. A spokesperson said: “The team have many years of experience producing the show and have rigorous protocols in place to ensure the animals are handled safely before, during and after filming. , in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. Well-being and safety are always our top priority.

Sian Williams, chief of operations in North West Wales for Natural Resources Wales, said he had discussed non-native species and biosecurity issues with ITV and the production company to protect the local environment.

She said: “Any individual or organization must obtain a license from NRW under the Wildlife and Campaign Act or the Invasive Alien Species Ordinance before transporting, keeping or releasing any relevant non-native species. .

“No license applications have been received from the production company for non-natives in connection with their production of I Am a Celebrity. “

If the production company does not use species covered by the legislation or if it puts in place measures to ensure that non-native species used in production are not released or allowed to escape, it may not be required to obtain a license from NRW.

The return of the show also highlights the tensions between the inhabitants and the castle over access to the hiking trails in the park. Some residents accuse the castle of blocking the paths they have used for decades to exercise and walk dogs.

County Councilor Andrew Woods said he thinks most locals embrace I’m a Celebrity… and that had boosted the economy, but he was working hard to keep the lanes open. “There is bitterness about it,” he said.

The castle, which is using I’m a Celebrity… to kick-start an ambitious restoration project, insists it is within its rights and maintains that the spectacle is good for the city.

Mark Baker, chairman of the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, said: “Everywhere you turn there are pictures of Ant and Dec. It’s a festival atmosphere.

Avowed superfan Sylvia Jones, partner of a North Wales construction company, agrees. She remembers traveling to the castle as a schoolgirl to attend games.

“It’s great to see the castle being used again for something as exciting as this,” she said. “I love it.”

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