There is always one Race Across the World contestant who struggles with the concept of budget travel. In Celebrity Race Across the World (BBC One), that person is the All Saints singer Melanie Blatt. In her pop-star days, she said cheerfully, she would get a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to go to Sainsbury’s. The first thing she did on this show was spend money on a taxi journey; later she shelled out another €240 (£207) for a cab ride. “I want to do this with some chic-ness about it,” she explained.
On paper, this makes Blatt sound like a spoiled princess. But on the show, the first celebrity version of the hit format, she is very personable. Blatt is here with her mother, Helene. The other pairs are McFly drummer Harry Judd and his mum, Emma; Good Morning Britain weatherman Alex Beresford and his dad, Noel; and former racing driver Billy Monger
and his sister, Bonny.
They have to make it from Marrakech – this show was, of course, filmed before the recent earthquake and its launch was postponed to leave a respectful distance between the disaster and this broadcast – to Tromsø, gateway to the Arctic Circle. This promises to be more interesting than the last, non-celebrity version of the show, which was limited to Canada and mainly involved contestants thumbing lifts at service stations.
The stakes are lower when celebrities are involved, rather than members of the public, but it is still an enjoyable show because the format is so strong. And we can study the family dynamics. For Emma, the journey is a chance to spend time with her son, who left home to be a pop star aged 17. She likened his departure to a bereavement, and is clearly delighted to have her boy back. “This takes me back a bit,” she said, peeling an apple for him. “Do you want soldiers tomorrow for breakfast?”
Billy looks much younger than his 24 years and he calls himself a mummy’s boy. “I don’t think he knows what a washing machine is,” mused his sister. But he got through the first stage of the competition with a good attitude and no complaints. Briefly, he mentioned the 2017 crash that resulted in his double leg amputation, but without a trace of self-pity.
The only uptight contestant, it seems from this first episode, is Alex. The broadcaster, who famously prompted Piers Morgan’s walkout from Good Morning Britain, is a prickly character. He is reluctant to accept his father’s calm suggestions and blamed him for failing to spot the time difference between Spain and Morocco. “I’m quite wise,” he says. “Never as wise as your father, kid,” replied Noel. Perhaps, by the time they reach Tromsø, that lesson will have sunk in.