It has been almost 20 years since 10 strangers entered the British house Big Brother for the first time, voluntarily engaging in a sort of self-isolation, albeit on television.
Now, as the world grapples with social distancing, we ask the elders Big Brother roommates Craig Phillips, Kate Lawler, Nikki Grahame and “Nasty” Nick Bateman for advice on survival coronavirus confinement.
Craig Phillips – BB1: First British Big Brother winner
Does the lockout feel like it’s back in Big Brother?
I still think that now we are all self-reliant and cannot go out. When we were in the house, we just wanted to see our friends, see our family and get out of the four walls. It was really under pressure, certainly after 64 days in detention. The Big Brother house looked bigger on TV than it actually was and we couldn’t open the front door and had no windows to watch. We could look out into the garden, of course, through the patio doors, but no window to look out and see what was going on in the real world. At least now we can walk in the park or in the shops.
What about the challenge of being trapped with other people?
We were there with people we didn’t really want to be with. I remember the psychiatrist who said to me before entering the house: “You know, Craig, if you were placed in this environment with your best friends and your family, you will fall again”.
It forced us to make friends because most of the people out there that I generally wouldn’t hang out with. We became friends because of the circumstances of life in the house. I stayed friends with a few and even went to visit Nick in Australia [where he now lives].
That moment in Big Brother where you confronted Nick about cheating made history. Would you recommend being honest with those you are stuck with?
It’s been hot for a day and a half in Big Brother’s house, Nick writing people’s names and trying to manipulate us to vote for each other. It increased the tension in the house and I found myself. I am fairly calm and patient and I can normally detach myself from a situation and look at it from a different perspective.
I suggested we all sleep on it, then sit down the next day and talk about it around the table. I was fuming against Nick, but I was relatively polite and professional – I even made him a cup of tea. It didn’t go too well for Nick that day. Nick was a cheater, it hurt, so he had to be confronted for it and pay the price, which had to be thrown out of the house.
I think that for people living at home now, it will also test relationships. I think if people have problems, this blockage will amplify them. My advice would be to continue doing DIY; you can work in one room and your partner can work in the other. And when you do your daily exercise, go in different directions …
What did you do to stay sane in the Big Brother house?
Something I did a lot was to try to keep myself in shape. We didn’t have weights or anything like that, so I took boxes of beans and spaghetti and put them all inside the pillow cases and I did bench presses, shoulders, squats and lateral raises. I improvised to do weights and try to keep my body strong, because I think if your body is strong, your mind can be much stronger.
How do you and your family handle locking?
I fell out with a lot of my friends and family because 10 days before the lockdown, we started to isolate ourselves. Nelly was our priority. I only went out in stores with a mask and gloves and everyone was going out of my way. Now everyone is wearing them.
I think being in Big Brother has made me more disciplined and able to deal with the lockdown, as well as know what to do. It also taught me to live on the basics – we only get £ 1.50 a day for food, so we had to be very selective about what we bought and how to get the most out of it. It is useful now that we are saving and thinking about what we can freeze to give us two or three meals later in the week.
Do you have a routine?
Yes, I think it is important to have a good structure. We made a list. I’m going to get up with the baby, tinker for two or three hours, go for a walk with our dog, then take a nap and go to the office and pick up the computer and make emails. Every day is like a Sunday.
How else do you take care?
We built a new house and moved in a week before the baby was born. It has been a bit of a love job for the past 12 months, diving in and out and completing lots of little tasks. Now that I’m homebound, the list is getting longer, putting a fence here and tiling it.
We are trying to create a structure to keep us busy and motivated. I think if you get up and sit and watch TV and Netflix, you get a bit of a slob. Now, we all deserve a little time to be a bastard when we have been working hard, but I think it’s dangerous if for several weeks you always sit in your pajamas at 4 o’clock and watch TV.
So what can people do to feel better?
My experience is DIY and we try to encourage people to do renovations while they have time. If you have tools, some things don’t need hardware. You can just go out and fix and maintain things. It makes your home a better place to live; if you look at the four walls and they look a bit faded, paint them and make them brighter and you will feel better too.
How much has your life changed after Big Brother?
My life changed overnight. I walked into this house just normal Craig from the yard and pulled out a household name. I remember going out of the house and I was chased away by the police and the bodyguards, it was terrifying. You were taken to a hotel, and I didn’t go home for 97 days, until Christmas.
Do you think the world will change after the coronavirus?
I think that will make everyone learn a lot about themselves and respect their freedom a little more. We have it easy in England and we’re still groaning about it, so I think it will help put things in perspective. Above all, locking teaches you how to enjoy the real things that matter most, like friends and family and your home around you.
Kate Lawler – BB3: first British winner
How do you entertain yourself when you are stuck in a house?
In Big Brother, we didn’t have a phone, we didn’t have books, we didn’t have a TV, and we couldn’t watch movies. But we had a garden, which made things much easier. We survived while having fun, which, I suppose, is similar to now, because we can’t go out on weekends to the pub, to the restaurant or to see our friends.
In Big Brother, I think I remember we were playing hide and seek, which was ridiculous because it was just a house and we were hiding in really obvious places.
How do you manage not to know how long the lockout will last?
In Big Brother, you knew you were 12 weeks old, and it was summer, and finally it was a bit of a dump and you were going to potentially make money in the end. But now, we could be in this lockout for three weeks, or three months, or six months … we have no idea.
I’m sure if everyone were told to lock and the person who stayed inside the longest would earn £ 70,000, everyone would be prepared to comply much more.
Have you lost track of time stuck in a house for weeks?
The only day you were aware of the day there was an eviction. Friday evening was the night of the eviction. You lose track of time, especially since we had no watches, but it seemed quite liberating to me.
I think because of everything they made us do there, time has gone faster. If we didn’t play or challenge, they would say, “Tidy up the house, it’s like a shit hole,” and we had to tidy everything up, because so many people in the house didn’t. pull their weight – me included.
Is staying busy the key?
Personally, I think it’s important to establish a routine. I think getting up at the same time and even if you don’t take a shower, you can just spray water on your face and brush your teeth and get dressed. If you can just do this, you will probably feel better than sitting in your pajamas all day.
But also, there is a lot of advice given, like, “Oh, read a book, learn a new language, let’s play a musical instrument.” I think it’s important to make people feel good if they don’t have a productive day from time to time, if they are not motivated to work, because we are going through a global health crisis . It’s understandable if you’re feeling a little nervous and a little unmotivated.
Is there a tip for getting along with the people you’re stuck with?
If you live with someone and you spend 24 hours a day with that person, you’re going to be bored with each other. And you got mad [in Big Brother]. But people were trying to keep a lid on their emotions because they were being filmed and because they didn’t want to be nominated or voted on.
Now you want to keep a lid on your emotions and you don’t want to argue because it’s not a pleasant feeling. Just try to make the most of a bad situation.
Is it easy to fall into an overeat and drink trap?
I was a heavy drinker in Big Brother. I didn’t even know what cider was when I walked in. I had never drunk it before, I had no idea of the calories because they removed all the labels and I drank cider, blackcurrant and lager. Is it a snake bite? We drank this every night, and that was before Big Brother limited the amount of alcohol you could drink each night, it was before all the fighting happened [in later series]. So we drank every night and I came out of Big Brother two stones heavier than me.
On the other hand, I’m probably eating healthier than ever before and I’ve been exercising more in the past two weeks than I had since the start of the year.
How do you deal with missing friends and family?
In Big Brother, it was 12 weeks apart, but I always knew every Friday that I could see my family that week. So this genre made you pass. But now I really miss my family. I have a new niece and I haven’t met her yet and maybe I won’t meet her for months. But I have to be thankful for things like FaceTime and the photos and videos I receive daily.
My twin sister and I will be 40 next month too, but we will probably have to spend our birthdays indoors. Right now, we’re just seeing each other online. And me and Martin [Kate’s fiance] have been playing board games and having little kitchen raves with our dogs.
New locking hobbies in your sleeve?
I got a haircut. It was really easy, I got the scissors and I started. I mean, it’s not the best haircut, it’s not going to win me a prize, but I managed to do it and it doesn’t look too bad. These are the roots I’m going to fight with because I was about to finish my roots before the lockdown was announced, so my hair is really bad.
Nikki Grahame – BB7: the first housemate to be re-elected in the house
How do you find the lock?
It looks like a zombie apocalypse movie …
How do you take care?
I have done color books by number, which are really relaxing and therapeutic, and I read The Da Vinci Code, which is a big book to keep me busy. I ordered a few jigsaws, which is also a good way to settle. I also have a very clean apartment because I have been busy cleaning the cupboards. I’m also cunning and made a hanging birdie treat from a toilet roll, peanut butter and birdseed.
Have you acquired new skills?
I’m studying teaching, it was a good time to do it. And once it’s all over, it’s a skill that I can use to travel the world.
You live in an apartment, does this seem restrictive to you?
People have shared memes of me in Big Brother saying how much I hate being stuck inside, it’s really funny.
But here at home, I invested in a cross-trainer. It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever bought, it’s my new best friend. Even if they tighten the restrictions, I have at least that. I installed it in my living room in front of the TV. I have a fever in the cabin, so I used the trainer and walked around for an hour to clean up the cobwebs.
Missing friends and family?
I miss my close friends a lot and we called a lot, but I didn’t use Zoom or Houseparty because I felt embarrassed about my makeup and I felt compelled to do it for a video call. I have days when I do makeup, but other days I don’t mind. I’m also close to some of my neighbors and I sometimes see them when I exercise while walking in the park.
Have you tried to establish a lockout routine?
In the Big Brother house, you have wasted a lot of time and you would forget what day it was. Now, I’m trying to stick to a schedule to give myself a routine. I managed to keep my bedtime about the same but woke up at strange hours.
You isolate yourself alone, is it more difficult than Big Brother?
Yes! It’s always great to have other people around because I’m such a curious person, and I like to stick my nose in other people’s business. When there are other people around, there’s always another conversation to listen to, I love that. I find this very satisfying.
Anything else you find difficult?
What I don’t like is the tail, it’s very irritating. At best, I hate queuing, I don’t. So when I was forced … I stood in line for 45 minutes at Waitrose the other day and I just lost the will … they didn’t even have what I wanted.
Have you learned any tips for getting along with other people in Big Brother?
You just have to learn to manage people and not press their buttons. Sometimes play stupid and follow what they say to keep the peace. In the house, I learned how to know when people would be in the kitchen, when they would be in the bathroom and how to try to avoid them to avoid confrontation. But at the same time, you shouldn’t be child’s play.
In Big Brother, you were famous for your explosions. Did talking about your mind at home help you survive?
Absolutely. A lot of people think I’m a breeze and not so smart, but I’m very smart.
Has Big Brother changed you?
Big Brother made me more grounded. I often wonder what I would do now without that … And I would love to start again – Big Brother Australia would be amazing.
“Nasty” Nick Bateman – BB1: The first person to be ejected from the house
What are your tips for staying sane when you’re stuck in a house?
Go outside and count the stars or the clouds, depending on the time of day. Or opt for a bath or shower. You need your own area, especially with the others around.
You were in Big Brother with nine other people, is it more difficult to be locked out alone or with others?
Locking in the 21st century with the Internet is much easier … I have a large family and I went to a boarding school, so I’m used to having people around.
What do you do to stay healthy?
We are partially locked out here in Sydney, Australia, so we are allowed out and can walk and take a walk. Walking twice a day for an hour will clear your head.
Psychologically, is structure important?
You fall into a routine and there is always something you can do: clean, cook or play cards.
Do you have a routine?
To stay motivated, it is essential to respect normal bedtime and waking hours.
Is it hard not to eat and drink too much when you are stuck inside?
I am terrible. If it’s there, I’ll eat it. I had six eggs of cream yesterday, my plan was one per day. I drink, but more tea and less alcohol now.
You were never named for the Big Brother house eviction, how did you handle this?
Everyone will at some point press the wrong buttons; it’s about managing the triggers and smiling and biting your tongue, if you have any left.
Although your most famous moment was a confrontation with Craig…
Confrontation is good for reality shows, but in lockdown, I would avoid it.
What if you got it wrong?
Sorry is a powerful word to use when you are wrong.
How do you find being trapped inside?
Our lockdown is not as severe as in the UK, but our beaches and pubs are closed, which is like the end of the world here. And I don’t think we closed our borders soon enough.
Have you learned new locking skills?
I play this Facebook quiz, you can play against people in the world and an online golf game, which kills a lot of time, as well as binge watch series on my laptop.
What are you looking at?
Dublin Murders, Tin Star, The Fall, Line Of Duty, Stateless, The Killing, Blood, The Capture and Mexican prison drama The Inmate.
Many people say that the coronavirus will change the way the world works, do you think it will?
Maybe with more hand cleaning (which you should do apart from COVID-19), there may be less gastroenteritis and flu in the future.
If Big Brother came back, would you do it again?
Never say never…