Dani Garavelli: The legacy of Big Brother

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It's farewell to the housemates. As the programme which gave birth to the reality TV phenomenon reaches the end of its 'emotional journey' with one last series starting on Wednesday, Dani Garavelli looks at the legacy it leaves behind


Despite the frenzied "how far did they go" speculation it provoked, Jade Goody and PJ's fumble under the duvet was tame when you consider the sizzling scenes served up in later series. First Michelle Bass and Stuart Pilkington turned up the temperature with steamy antics in a makeshift tent under a table in BB5 and then – egged on by The Sun's offer of 50,000 for the first bonk – Makosi Musambasi claimed to have gone all the way with Anthony Hutton, above, in the hot-tub in BB6. Steamy footage seemed to confirm her claims and – though her gallant lover denied all suggestions of sex – she asked producers for the morning after pill.

But Ziggy Lichman and Chanelle Hayes' eight-hour session was too hot even for Big Brother and was never shown – much to the consternation of some viewers who had tuned in especially.


Although many have denounced BB for the transient nature of the fame it yields, many contestants have successfully used the show as a vehicle for transforming their lives.

The first winner, Craig Phillips, gave his prize money to Down's Syndrome sufferer Joanne Harris who needed a heart and lung transplant, but went on to make 5m carving out a lucrative career as TV DIY expert, while BB's first twins Sam and Amanda Marchant, right, have landed a stack of endorsements including Young and Pure Cosmetics (400,000) and a Barbie-themed mp3 player (200,000).

Others have claimed BB ruined their lives (usually when their names disappeared from the press) and a few – including Chanelle – have made suicide attempts, but the contestant who has suffered the most traumatic BB afterlife is probably Makosi, who was exposed as a prostitute and faced deportation.


Big Brother has spawned a host of affairs, several marriages and two babies, but for most, the flames of passion have been extinguished the minute the interest of the gossip mags waned. Pete Bennett, who suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, dumped Nikki unceremoniously weeks after they came out of house, revealing to the shock of absolutely no-one that their affair had been a publicity stunt.

Star-crossed lovers Ziggy and Chanelle couldn't make it through the after-show party without a bust-up. By the time they split, they were gripped by the kind of mutual loathing it takes most couples decades to achieve, their acrimony manifesting itself in a bitter custody battle over a dog called Poppy.

Tom McDermott and Claire Strutton had the first Big Brother baby – a son called Pierce – but didn't go the distance, while Sophie Pritchard and Lee Davey – who married and gave Big Brother its

second scion Max – fared little better.

No sooner had the wedding photographs of Ordinary Boys

frontman Samuel Preston and fake pop star Chantelle Houghton (left) appeared in Now magazine than they went their separate ways. Even lovebirds Helen Adams and Paul Clarke – who lived together for five years – eventually split. Mikey Dalton and Grace Adams-Short are still wed (but they only tied the knot last year).


And – given that the house is Colditz as styled by Ikea – who wouldn't? Only a handful of contestants, however, have made a serious escape attempt.

Bored Scot Sandy Cumming set the standard by climbing the garden fence, leaping on to part of the set roof and clambering down scaffolding on the other side on BB3. There have been a few attention-seeking escape bids amongst the celebrities, including Jack Dee, Leo Sayer, and Donny Tourette, while sales rep Lisa Appleton tried to storm out when someone interrupted her in the toilet and Kenneth Tong scaled the roof days after his girlfriend Karly had been evicted.

Only once, however, has there been a mass escape. Urged by Big Brother to "do something interesting", the housemates in series ten broke out, only to find themselves punished for their bad behaviour.


Jade Goody. No-one knew how to capitalise on the opportunities BB provided better than Jade. Initially, a figure of ridicule, she nevertheless wormed her way into the public affection and, though she didn't win, managed to ride the tide of fame to transform what had been a bleak and drug-afflicted past into a brighter future.

In 2007, all that changed. On Celebrity Big Brother, she clashed with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty and cast herself as a bully and a racist. Only an expert PR exercise – she appeared on an Indian show alongside Shetty as penance – and the news she was suffering from cervical cancer rescued her image. She used her fame to secure her children's financial future. When she died she was worth 8m and was once more a working class heroine.


It is difficult now to conceive of the national sensation caused when "Nasty" Nick Bateman was thrown off the first series for trying to manipulate his housemates' votes by passing notes. Big Brother's other Big Cheat, Dawn Blake, was ejected after C4 discovered a message from home saying her sister was sick was a code set up to warn her she was attracting bad publicity. Later she threatened to go on hunger strike until the show's producers handed over a tape of her time in the house and sued Endemol unsuccessfully claiming footage of her had been unfairly edited.


Emotions have spilled over into violence – causing the live feed to be cut and security officers to be sent in to the BB house – just twice in the show's combustible, ten-year history.

The first Fight Night came in BB5 when Emma Greenwood – who had been locked in a bedsit where she could watch, but not participate in the activites – lashed out at self-proclaimed gangster Victor Ebuwa on her release. The drink-fuelled row escalated, and other housemates got involved, turning over tables, and throwing trays and food. As Victor accused Emma of being a racist, Jason Cowan yelled at Marco Sabba for dancing provocatively and Vanessa Nimmo pushed Nadia Almada, Scot Shell Jubin threw up in the bathroom.

Fight Night 2 in BB9 was a bit of a damp squib in comparison. Ignited when Rex Newmark smudged a piece of pizza on Jennifer Clark's drawing, it culminated in Edinburgh dance teacher Dennis McHugh allegedly spitting at Mohamed Mohamed, an offence for which he was later ejected.


Anyone who tuned into BB hoping to hear intelligent conversation would have been sorely disappointed. Indeed the bulk of the social interchange suggested that the IQ levels of contestants lay somewhere between that of a donkey and a plate of cold custard. Observations which left many viewers despairing for the future included:

"I love blinking, I do" – Helen Adams.

"Have they not got seasides in Birmingham?" – Jade Goody.

"If there were less people in here, it would be less crowded" – Dean O'Loughlin.

"When you delete a phone number from your phone, where does it go?" – Emma Greenwood.


Who could forget Vanessa Feltz scrawling words such as "incarcerated", "desperate" and "frustrated" on the dining room table, or Les Dennis sharing his marital woes with the chickens on the celebrity show?

But there has been no shortage of tears and tantrums among contestants on the regular show. "Princess" Nikki Grahame freaked out about everything – her bed, bottled water, the air conditioning system – while Chanelle Hayes wailed she felt like a "big, fat whale".

Once even the show's psychologists were concerned. Glaswegian Shebaz Chaudry exposed himself repeatedly in front of his housemates and threatened suicide before walking out after just five days.


Compared with the billions the programme has generated, the 100,000 prize money is loose change. Naturally, the biggest winners aren't the contestants, but the brains behind the show.

Dutch media tycoon John de Mol, the former boss of Endemol, which owns the rights to the BB format worldwide and produces the show in Britain, is one of Forbes magazine's 500 richest people in the world with a fortune estimated at more than 1bn.

Another beneficiary of BB's success is That's Life reporter Peter Bazalgette, who was made chairman of Endemol UK and creative director of Endemol worldwide on a 4.6m salary after tinkering with the Dutch format to make the show a global hit.

But BB has also boosted the profile and earning power of its presenters. Before she became the face of the show, Davina McCall's biggest claim to fame was as the presenter of the cult dating show Streetmate. Within a few years, she was one of the most sought-after personalities on TV, hosting the Brit Awards, Comic Relief and the Baftas. She is currently on 1.25m a year, earning around 1,190 a minute on screen.

And then, there's Dermot O'Leary, who – by 2007 – was making 500,000 a year hosting spin-off show Big Brother's Little Brother. The following year, he jumped ship, after shaking hands on a two-year 1m-a-year deal to front the X-Factor on ITV.


Imagine spending a lifetime carving a reputation as a fearsome firebrand only to throw it all a way in a moment of feline madness. Less than a year after George Galloway launched an impressive verbal assault on senators who accused him of profiting illegally from Iraqi oil sales, he was pictured on all fours lapping cream out of Rula Lenska's hands in what has to be Celebrity Big Brother's most iconic moment.

Galloway's loss of dignity eclipsed even the unsettling sight of the MP prancing around in a red lycra cat suit. The resulting images – which, some claim, would not look out of place in a David Lynch movie – will doubtless feature prominently in his obituary (alongside his praising of Saddam Hussein's "indefatigability").


Although few will mourn its passing,

BB has changed our viewing habits forever.

Loved and loathed in equal measure, the show was both a pioneering social experiment and a cynical exercise in exploitation and its impact on television is impossible to overestimate. Not only did it give birth to a generation of reality TV shows – from Supernanny to The Secret Millionaire – but it created the climate in which mockumentaries such as The Office and The Thick of It,

and dramas such as Shameless, flourished.

Its influence is also seen in talent shows such as the X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent, where the back stories are as important as the acts.

It may well be time for BB to be laid to rest, but its legacy lives on.