But sudden fame did not work for all candidates. When Goody returned to Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, she was drawn into a racism scandal that almost ended her career. Other roommates have struggled to adjust to life after Big Brother, especially when the next generation of roommates have entered the series and the opportunities have dried up. Speaking to the Guardian in 2005, former competitor Makosi Musambasi expressed regret at having sex on the show; she has since spoken of the need to “recalibrate me separately from what Britain defined me as: the black girl with the big breasts”. Later seasons of Big Brother became known for their cruelty, as the producers threw knowledgeable figures into the house in the hope that the inevitable conflicts would result in a gold rating.
For all his controversies, however, he changed television forever and remains the ultimate time capsule of life in the 00s. Twenty years later, when he returns to the screens for a series of episodes of “the greatest success, “some of the show’s most famous roommates reflect on how it changed their lives – and what happened after Big Brother.
Craig Phillips, winner of series one in 2000
I never told anyone about this on the show, because I wanted to earn it fairly, but I asked Big Brother because I wanted to raise money for my friend Joanne, who needed to a heart and lung transplant. The NHS rejected her because she had Down syndrome. We had raised money to send him to the United States for treatment, but we didn’t have enough money. I thought if I continued with Big Brother, maybe someone could write a newspaper article about it and it would help us raise money. When the producers called me, I was on a roof, making lead around a chimney breast. I said, “Endemol who? Let me get down from this roof and I’ll call you back. ”
When you’re there, you have no idea how you are represented. It was the first season, remember, so we didn’t know if anyone was watching. The turning point for me was certainly the confrontation with “Nasty Nick” [Nick Bateman]. He had shown everyone notes, telling them who to name, and we all knew he was doing it. Everyone was getting pretty aggressive, so I calmed everyone down and said, “Let’s have an adult conversation, keep calm and let Nick speak. Viewers liked me after that because Nick was the most educated and classiest person in the house and I had the worst education of anybody. But I foiled it. People liked it because the underdog won.
Getting out of the house was surreal. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Over 10 million people watched the show. After the final, I got into a passenger vehicle with all these bodyguards and a police escort and rushed out of the studio. There was press on our tail. They took me to a hotel where a therapist was waiting for me. He said, “Tomorrow you are going to be the most talked about person in Britain. What does it make you feel? ”
I never had any ambition to work on television. I thought I would be back on site Monday morning. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had six bodyguards with me. I did not go home for 97 days. I changed hotels every day – sometimes more than once a day. I would do cats, radio shows, personal appearances, award ceremonies. Sometimes I took a private helicopter from one concert to another.
I was very good at business and wanted to succeed. I made money with personal appearances and agents lined me up for production jobs. I said to myself: I am a builder, why not work on television? Television has its ups and downs, so whenever I was not working, I came back to construction. I think I did over 1,000 TV makeover shows.
Big Brother has given me a great lifestyle. I have no complaints – it really worked for me.
Brian Dowling, winner of series two in 2001 and Ultimate Big Brother in 2010
I was a 22 year old Ryanair flight attendant when I entered the house. I didn’t know that 19 years later I would still be working on television. I had only been on this show for nine weeks. But it opened so many doors for me. Everything in my life that has happened since has happened because of Big Brother.
When you’re there, there are times when you forget the camera. It’s the genius of Big Brother. We are all curious – we love to see what is going on in the lives of others. If my neighbors argue, I’m the first person to lean over the fence to listen. Big Brother was the first show to encourage voyeurism, but it made it public, so there was no shame. Anyone could do it.
At the time, the show was not as produced. You only had one task per week. Upon entering the house, I made the decision not to get caught up in bullshit arguments that meant nothing. I was going to have a good time – and I did.
The opportunities I had after I left home were incredible. Remember, I was from a rural town in Ireland. I had never eaten Indian food before Big Brother. I had my first curry on the show. I was one of seven, from a very working class family. Big Brother has given me the opportunity to go beyond what many people had predicted.
At the time, executives were more open to giving opportunities to people like me. When I got the job on SMTV with Cat Deeley, it was like a dream for me. Being an openly gay children’s TV host at the time was a big deal. Doing SMTV for two years also allowed me to stay straight and tight. I was learning to host live TV on the job, and because I had to get up early, I couldn’t go out and party. I stopped being a lifelong reality star and became a presenter.
Coming back to Ultimate Big Brother, I was nervous. I had a good career; I had a lot to lose. I saw what happened when Jade returned to the house and how it worked for her. Also, by then reality TV had changed. The producers wanted more drama, more confrontation. Winning Ultimate Big Brother was incredible. I have never been nominated for a nomination on both shows. I went straight to the final. I was like: wow, that doesn’t happen normally. I was very grateful.
Kate Lawler, winner of series three in 2002
I remember being on a train just before entering the house and seeing articles on the new Big Brother series. At the time, it was a national obsession. People talked about it constantly. I knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t expect the show’s success.
It’s hard to remember what the house looked like – first because it was 18 years ago, but also because we drank so much alcohol while we were there. Producers have really not limited the amount of alcohol we drink, which in retrospect is a little irresponsible, but at the time that was not the case. They just stole alcohol from us and watched what happened.
When I left the house as the first winner, I was selective about what I chose. We offer you so much. A newspaper wanted to pay for me to get a boob job, so I could get them on the front page. I said, “No thank you, it’s not for me. I was offered a role in the traveling edition of Summer Holiday: The Musical. I can’t even sing! I said to them, “I think it’s in everyone’s interest that I don’t participate. “
Part of the trick to a successful post-Big Brother career is luck and hard work. I did [Channel 4’s breakfast TV show] RI: SE, which was great. Then I did a TV show [on ITV] called Celebrity Wrestling, which I loved, but the grades weren’t good. All those TV shows that I liked, which I think could get me my own TV show, have not worked. I disappeared from television for a few years because the opportunities did not exist. Rather, I learned to DJ and I had a lot of fun doing it for a few years – it was very hedonistic – then I went on the radio. I love music and talking, so this is my dream job.
What was frustrating in life after Big Brother was that everyone wanted to define your success based on your number of television appearances afterwards. But some competitors wanted to resume their normal lives. Not everyone wanted to be on TV forever and be like Jade Goody. There was only one Jade Goody. You would have read all those articles that said, “What are the winners doing now?” And that would be demoralizing.
For years, I haven’t really talked about Big Brother. I was starting my career. But, over time, I realized how huge the show was. Now I think about it with affection and nostalgia.
Pete Bennett, winner of series seven in 2006
People always make noise to me: they see me in a club or on the street and lose my mind. I am always nice to them. I would never say no to someone who wants a selfie.
I think I was popular because I called everyone a wanker, but also because I had good morals. I knew I had a big impact in teaching people about Tourette and different people. But I didn’t know that I had an impact in teaching boys not to be suspicious, until someone contacted me recently. I taught her to treat women with respect. When I was in the house, [one of the male contestants] used to catch the girl’s buttocks. I always complained about him, saying it was not normal for him to be so mean.
After leaving Big Brother, all the kids were copying me. They combed their hair in a mohican or shouted: “Wankers! It’s crazy to watch it now. I was the most famous man in Britain at one time. But then the next season of the show came out and Brian Belo was back. He was such a funny guy. I was the main funny man until then. I would have liked to continue being on TV; I loved making people laugh, it gave me such a buzz. When nobody put me on TV anymore, it was a bitter pill to swallow. It made me feel a little funny.
When Ultimate Big Brother arrived in 2010, I was in a really dark place. My best friend had just died. So I thought: amazing, this will be my chance to make people laugh again. Besides, I really need to pay some bills. The producers told me that I was the most popular roommate of all time and that they would like to see me again as a candidate. A week before I arrived at the house, they called me and dropped me off.
They never gave me a reason. Maybe they were afraid that I was going to win too easily. Or I was not argumentative enough. Or maybe it was my Tourette – maybe they couldn’t afford the man who presses all the buttons to censor my swear words. I do not know. I felt a little lost. I no longer knew where I belonged.
I forgot who I was a bit – I was aggy and weird. That’s why I thought I could continue my own thing. I’m making comedy videos now and I’m still making people laugh. I no longer need Big Brother. I don’t even have a mohawk. I let go of all of Pete’s old shit. I let everything go.
Nikki Grahame, candidate for series seven in 2006 and finalist of Ultimate Big Brother in 2010
I have fond memories of Big Brother, even though there were times when it looked like I was going to collapse. These collapses were really me, however. What you see has always been what you get – I cannot be otherwise.
When you’re on the show, it’s like you’re in a bubble. You forget that the outside world exists. When you go out, it’s crazy. It was a whirlwind. My feet did not touch the ground for six months. It was just back to back with work. I got up at 6am to do Radio 1, film [her reality TV show] Princess Nikki all day, taking a photo shoot, getting into a car, driving to Brighton and making a club appearance until 1am. My days have been like this for six months solidly. You are running adrenaline.
It was pure excitement. Each day was so exciting and new. I was in the same magazines as Kate Moss. I had great gifts: clothes, beauty products, spa stays, all kinds of luxuries.
I always loved watching the next generation of roommates come into the show. I would see them make tantrums or make showmances and think: they copy me. It never bothered me, watching the audience fall in love with the new candidates, because I knew they would always have a love for their favorite characters – and I was lucky to be one.
Sometimes it was difficult, however. When I struggled in the past with personal issues, the press always grabbed it and wrote about it [the media wrote extensively about Grahame’s mental health]. Sometimes when I was going through a difficult time, it was difficult to smile when I was recognized on the street, or to go on stage and be happy. But the positives outweighed the negatives.
Making Ultimate Big Brother was really sad because it was the last show of all time [on Channel 4]. It was weird to be in there with the celebrities. Some of them were horrible, like Coolio and Ulrika Johnson. Coolio was a bully and Ulrika was so negative about everything. But Vanessa Feltz was charming.
Financially, Big Brother has given me a lot. I bought the apartment I live in now. I never had to get a “normal” job; I always had something to fall back on. There’s always been work to come, whether it’s nightclub appearances or panto or magazine reviews or TV shows. I have been very lucky. Overall, it has had a positive effect on my life.
Big Brother: the best shows of all time starts on E4 June 14