BAD HABITS? SEND THEM TO THE NUNNERY!
When five ‘lost’ young women joined a convent for a new reality show, the results were surprising for the sisters as well as the girls
What does a young woman wear for a stay in a nunnery? Black and white, you might imagine? Or at least clothes that come up to the neck and down to the ankle? Alas, the party-loving girls who were banished to a convent for a jaw-dropping Channel 5 documentary series called Bad Habits, Holy Orders didn’t get the memo. Being very modern- day girls they couldn’t hazard a guess at how to dress appropriately for a TV venture that, they were told, would involve going on a ‘spiritual journey’.
It says everything you need to know about modern Britain that not one of those involved suspected the project might involve religion in any way. Instead they guessed they might be going camping, or to do yoga in Ibiza. ‘I thought we might have to wear robes and walk around a field chanting,’ says 21- year- old Tyla Edwards from Leeds. ‘ I didn’t think we’d end up in a convent – with nuns! When I went in the gate and saw a statue of Jesus in the garden I was freaked out!’
To be frank, the nuns waiting inside the nunnery to welcome the gaggle of young women were rather freaked out too. The sight of the sisters gathered at the window watching the parade of miniskirts, thigh- high boots and leather trousers come up the path must surely be a contender for TV moment of the year. Actually, there’s a touch of genius about the whole programme. In some ways it’s carcrash TV, pitching two completely opposing sections of society together. Five girls from what Channel 5 calls the ‘lost generation’ ( lost to booze, sex and selfies, basically) take part in the show. They include Sarah Lawrence, 19, who admits she routinely gets ‘stupidly drunk’, and Paige Wallace, 23, and Rebecca Cheng, 19, who both admit that their behaviour borders on the promiscuous.
Off they trot to the Convent Of The Sacred Heart in Swaffham, Norfolk, into the arms of the nuns of the Daughters of Divine Charity order, whose idea of high living is to have a sneaky marshmallow on their hot chocolate. The sisters have devoted themselves to a life of prayer and quiet contemplation. Their spending money amounts to £5 a month.
The rules of the nunnery are clear. For two weeks there will be no alcohol, no mobile phones, no bad lan- guage. Every day they will carry out household chores like cleaning and cooking and join the sisters at prayers up to six times a day. There will be no sex, no TV, no Instagram, no twerking. Make-up isn’t exactly banned, but the girls will be encouraged to wipe it off.
By the end of the first episode, you do wonder if these young women – none of whom seems to be able to function without mascara – would have found it easier to be in prison, where you can at least swear and smoke. ‘If they’d told me beforehand what it would be like, would I still have done it?’ asks Gabbi Ryan, 21, who lives in London and works as a model. ‘I’d like to think I’d have said yes, but to be honest I’d probably have spent so long worrying about how I’d cope that I’d have scared myself witless. To give up our mobiles is a big deal. I don’t think I realised it was actually a problem.’
The more we learn about Gabbi and her new friends, though, the more devastating a picture of their lives emerges. An awful lot about what is deemed ‘normal’ for this generation is quite worrying – and this four-part series presents the girls (beneath everything, quite likeable and capable) as superficial, shallow and stunningly self-obsessed. Gabbi admits as much. ‘Selfies were my big thing. I’d take hundreds a day and all my self-worth was wrapped up in people saying they liked them. If one picture didn’t get as many “likes” I’d be devastated.’
There’s an extraordinary moment in the show where one girl breaks a From left: Paige, Sister Collette, Sarah and Tyla prepare to mow the lawn fingernail. The hysterics that follow are quite something. The nun comforting her reminds her that with all the problems in the world, a broken nail is actually quite trivial.
We won’t give away too much about what happens, but suffice to say the young women do not warm to their Left: Gabbi with Sister Michaela, and Sarah taking a selfie
new environment immediately. ‘This is hell,’ says one, as they’re scrubbing windows. There are minor rebellions (applying lip gloss while in the chapel) and bigger ones (Vodka-gate, which involved smuggled alcohol).
Where are the girls now, though, when they are back in the real world? Well, transformed, it seems. None has signed up to be a nun, but they do appear to have put more clothes on. Gabbi says that although her time in the nunnery was ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done’, it changed her life. For the first time she’s started to put her phone down, often goes make-up free and seems to like herself 100 times more than she did when she went into the convent. ‘It made me realise a lot of the things I thought were making me happy were actually making me miserable,’ she says. Tyla tells me she’s no longer drinking to excess and not ‘prancing around with very few clothes on. I have more respect for myself. The nuns taught me that.’ What of the nuns? They’re an extraordinary bunch of women – warm, funny and welcoming. But they admit they were shocked when the girls arrived. ‘I think we knew what sort of lifestyle they had but what was surprising was that they were living this sort of life at their age. They were clearly intelligent, confident, articulate young women yet they were wasting their lives,’ says Sister Frances. ‘Most of them had had a good education. Yet they hadn’t done any settling down. They thought the way they were living was normal. Perhaps it is.’ What’s perhaps more surprising is that friendships developed between the nuns and the girls. One of the younger nuns, Sister Michaela, tells me Tyla is going to come back and stay again because she’s thinking of training as a primary school teacher. ‘We learned a lot from them too,’ she says. ‘They taught us much about not being judgemental, about seeing beneath the surface, and having them here was great fun. I’m a similar age and it turned out we had a lot in common.’ She doesn’t mean an ability to twerk while under the influence, though. Mercifully. Bad Habits, Holy Orders will be shown later this month on Channel 5.