Grace Dent: I foolishly thought I could just watch ten minutes of Big Brother – now I’m back in the habit


Like most recovering addicts I’m pious but easily swayed. I quit watching Big Brother some years ago, cold turkey, just after the C4 Big Brother “Funeral”.

Davina in mourning garb, full New Orleans death-pomp, mega-montages, tearful ex-housemates and “end of an era” weeping. Wonderful TV, but a complete farce as Big Brother was already en route to Channel 5, where a trashier, cheap-as-chips-looking version appeared.

Where once BB tasks would involve hidden houses and ornate themes, last week’s Celebrity Big Brother high-jinx came from a little-known tabloid girl, Rhian Sugden, being made to stand on a box then guess whether her housemates had voted her “most glamorous”. (They hadn’t. Rhian was sad. Rhian was gunged using one of those “cheap chairs beneath a large clear tube of neon green gunk” arrangements which the studio designers on Noel’s House Party found a bit passé in 1986).

Whereas once I’d argue with cab drivers that Big Brother was an interesting anthropological experiment, at Channel 5 the show is the televisual equivalent of sipping a glass of Lambrini sat in a cloudy primordial-stew post-party jacuzzi eating a kebab and Levonelle breakfast. People who watch a lot of Channel 5 dream one day of understanding those lofty ITV1 Dramas like Wild at Heart where Stephen Tompkinson “catch um lion gud”.

So yes, I don’t watch Big Brother anymore (except sometimes I do, secretly) and will flutter my jowls into a dismissive sneer at viewers who do in 2012 as I’m a bigger person (which I’m not, I’ve been watching Celebrity BB for the last fortnight).

My downfall was the cast-list including Julian Clary, whom I’ve adored since his Friday Night Live appearances in the mid-1980s with Fanny The Wonder Dog and C4’s Sticky Moments with Hugh Jelly. Clary is an achingly British entity, he’s warm yet guarded, twinkly while dry and prickly and all in the space of one flowing sentence spilling from a lightly lipsticked gob with a puckered eyebrow to mark the full stop.

His autobiography, A Young Man’s Passage, which covers his childhood up to “the Norman Lamont incident” is excellent. Alongside Clary, Julie Goodyear, Bet Lynch from Corrie, a formidable fortress of a woman who, in character, taught a million northern women in the 1970s and 1980s how to exist, channelling gnarly strength, the beauty in being a battleaxe. Goodyear, now installed in the compound house as matriarch, is pure joy.

Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet I’ve been infatuated with since I was nine, dream-cheating on him with John Taylor from Duran Duran occasionally and sometimes Adam Ant. A task this week asked the house if he was alpha male. He is. They voted “no”, which left Harvey from So Solid (yes, he still exists) flexing his abs. I didn’t say this was Question Time. You’re probably screaming, “oh these pointless people!”, but you’ve not even met “The Situation” yet. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from MTV reality show Jersey Shore, whose nickname refers to his rock-hard abs which are ‘The Situation’.

Mike’s pointlessness is so profound and mighty it is virtually performance art. He has been shorthand for a punch line in TV land for two years. Since arriving in the house he’s fallen in deep love with Danica.

Danica isn’t famous at all, she was a story line in a C4 documentary called Sex, Lies & Rinsing Guys, about women manipulating people on the internet to buy them things. Danica is very angry about the title of the show as it misrepresented her as some type of person who manipulates people to buy her things. Danica is  a bit like a Vileda Supermop with credit card terminals for hands. By now you’re possibly getting  furious at this column and saying, “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?”, but their tenuous claims, their egos and utter lack of self-awareness will keep you coming back for more.

The trick is to never switch Big Brother on. I did for 10 minutes a fortnight ago. I don’t watch it you see. It’s completely beneath me. So I idly wander to Channel 5 and “The Situation”, who is camper than Clary and sprayed so orange he sometimes resembles the devil, is comforting Danica who is outraged that people could believe that asking people to buy her things with the unsaid but implicated (and unfulfilled) promise of sex would make her a hooker.

The stages of re-addiction are this. “Oh who are these idiots?” And then, “I pity viewers who still like this”. And then, “how can Danica and ‘The Situation’ BE so deluded?” And then, more thoughtfully: “No she really thinks this. Hang on, she’s flirting with him now, isn’t she supposed to like Prince Lorenzo? Oh good, there’s another 15 minutes left. Gosh I wonder what Martin Kemp has got to say about this.” And bam! You’re back. May as well watch to the end now.

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in again.