Cosmopolitan (UK)

The Big Brother effect

It’s been 20 years since the UK’s ultimate reality TV show first graced our screens. But what can Big Brother’s past contestant­s teach us about celebrity today? Rebecca Twomey tracked them down to find out ›


As soon as those words were uttered, five million people in Britain would hold their breath. No one wanted to miss a moment. Someone was about to be evicted. They had been shielded from the world for months, locked in a bubble, while outside we dissected their every move, every sentence. Some would be met with adoration; others pure hatred. Crowds gathered, holding posters emblazoned with their catchphras­es. A chant would be slowly rumbling, as people began to yell, “Get them out.” And then the silver doors would open and the contestant would step out into the night air, their lives altered in a way no one could have predicted.

The very first Big Brother contestant­s were not mediatrain­ed. They said things like “hi, Mum” and wore casual clothes as they pulled up to the house. Those waiting for them weren’t fans, or paparazzi, but their friends and family, looking for one last hug before they were locked away for months. It was 20 years ago, 18th July 2000, and, outside of our loved ones, we didn’t know what other people did with their time. We couldn’t check in on Instagram Stories or watch a YouTube tour of some random person’s house; the most technologi­cally advanced thing our phones could do was play Snake. So the concept of watching 10 people (plucked from the 20,000 who’d applied) 24 hours a day gripped us.

The show ran for 19 series, and ended two years ago – by which point it had moved from Channel 4 to 5 and the ratings had dwindled. After all, there’s now so many other things to occupy our time (read: social media), and in today’s high-def, oversatura­ted TMI world, Big Brother seems antiquated. We want to see people who’d never met get married. Nude grannies dating. Tanned influencer­s having sex under duvet covers. But, 20 years ago, Big Brother paved the way for all of that. So what can the show’s original and most memorable stars tell us about fame today? Here’s what they had to say…


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