© Aled Llywelyn / UKTV

The grand bore: we’ve reached peak celebrity travelogue

Whether those celebs do it for fun, food, adventure, money... there ain’t much in it for the viewers
September 6, 2023

What if we took a celebrity and—stay with me here—sent them on a holiday? 

I have to imagine that conversations like this go on in TV development departments on an almost weekly basis. The latest result of this line of thinking is Alison & Larry: Billericay to Barry, where Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb tour the Welsh locations where Gavin & Stacey, which they both acted in, was set. They drive down B roads, stay in hotels with nice big beds, almost fall asleep while getting facials, and reminisce about their time filming the much-loved show.

You can safely give this one a miss. Even a superfan of Gavin & Stacey would struggle not to reach for the less forgiving buttons on the remote. It’s yet another blah take on the celebrity travel-show format, every iteration of which seems to have been done already. Celebrities who like to travel (Joanna Lumley); celebrities who don’t like to travel (Romesh Ranganathan); celebrities travelling for food (Stanley Tucci); celebrities travelling for adventure (Griff Rhys Jones); celebrities travelling with their parents or children (Jack Whitehall and his dad, Bradley Walsh and his son).

Have I enjoyed some of these? Occasionally, yes. Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man seems to be on more or less 24/7, so I have caught a few episodes of that lying on my mother’s sofa around Christmas. It works sometimes. If the celebrity is a chef, like Anthony Bourdain or Rick Stein, at least they’re bringing some expertise to bear on their experience. The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon feels enough like a wry send-up of the celebrity travel show to entertain, and I like Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets simply because I’m nosy about fancy hotels and could listen to Richard E Grant go “wow!” about drill bits and still enjoy myself.

The main thing that seems to be missing is any sense of getting to know the celebrity

Overall, though, maybe I’m being a grouch, and it’s fine that these identikit programmes are the TV equivalent of having an aquarium in a room: bright colours, unchallenging, somewhere to rest your eyes. But occasionally someone tries to do something interesting with this format, and it’s a reminder that the rest of it is selling the audience short. Wonders of the World I Can’t See pairs blind comedian Chris McCausland with celebrities such as Harry Hill and Liza Tarbuck and gives them the task of making a holiday enjoyable and mind-expanding for someone who can’t just see the sights, as it were. Here, at least, there is a sense that the celebrities are genuinely out of their comfort zone and having to think about the way they move through the world in a new way.

The main thing that seems to be missing in a celebrity travel show, though, is any sense of getting to know the celebrity. Which is odd. The camera is on them in every frame, we are ostensibly seeing the world through their eyes. In theory, it’s a setting that should allow us to get some insight into what makes these people tick. But the format is always the same: they go somewhere, nod thoughtfully at a local person describing the importance of a temple, say that the soup might look a little strange but—goodness—isn’t it delicious, look out of place in a pair of beige trousers near a camel, declare a newfound understanding of a foreign culture, roll their eyes in a grumpy or good-natured way at transport hiccups. But the person remains a character, being painted in a PR-friendly, surface-level way.

Gone Fishing with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer is the only one where I’ve come away feeling as though I learned anything about the participants’ inner lives. Which, given the sheer number of shows of this type, seems extraordinary. 

It seems to me like the televisual version of those children’s books and crime thrillers written by famous people: pure coat-tail-riding on name recognition for the purpose of making cash. Enough.