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

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - NEWS - Jenny Johnston

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.

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