Cosmetic surgery, cross-dressing and Christianity: the annual Big Brother 'freak show' kicks off again

Whatever you say about the people who make Big Brother, one sin they cannot be accused of is complacency: in their quest to find new ways of gripping attention, their determination to push back the boundaries of taste and privacy just that little bit further, they are tireless.

This year's series, the seventh, is the biggest yet: as Davina McCall enumerated in last night's opening formalities, "14 housemates, 13 weeks, 38 cameras."

It took a while for that to sink in: 13 weeks? That's a quarter of a year. This is not so much a programming strategy as a war of attrition.

The 14 will find themselves cooped up in a Big Brother house that is smaller than ever, and the design of which incorporates a number of subtly irritating features. The furniture is upholstered in a drearily suggestive combination of leather and rubber, though one suite is covered in plastic ­ "So you can wipe any of those unfortunate stains off with a cloth," McCall said.

In the bedroom, McCall pointed out the bed that Chris Moyles had slept in when he visited the house, rather like a National Trust guide showing off the bed where Elizabeth I slept on her progress north. In the garden, she pointed out the swimming pool: "You remember last year there was a little bit of hanky-panky in the pool and we weren't sure whether they did or didn't?"

Well, no ambiguity this year: they've installed an underwater camera You wonder just how much more intrusive they can get: next year, will each contestant have to have an anally implanted camera? I hope I'm not giving them ideas.

As always, though, there is no shortage of people who relish such attention, or at least think they will. Or at least think it is worth putting up with for a first prize of £100,000. This year's batch, introduced one by one as they entered the house, strains harder than ever to encompass the full range of British society, including as it does, two Welsh speakers, a gay Scots-Pakistani Muslim, a loud Chinese Mancunian, and ­ oddest of all ­ three rich people. One of these, 19-year-old George, is downright posh, boasting a duke among his relations.

But it is the contestants who fit no social profile who provide the most entertainment, and also the most cause for anxiety.

"Perfect Pete", as he introduced himself, suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, and as a result is perpetually jerking, gurning, whistling, and shouting "wankers". He won cheers and laughter from the crowd assembled to watch the housemates' entrances. Despite that, and despite his claim that "I like having Tourette's and it gives me lots of talents," Pete's presence drew the programme closer than ever to freakshow. Even more worrying was Lea, who has forked out £35,000 on plastic surgery, including nose-jobs, lip-jobs, and the mother of all boob-jobs ­ surely not the sign of a woman who is at ease with herself.

Who's who in the house

NAME: Bonnie

AGE: 20

FROM: Loughborough, Leicestershire

OCCUPATION: Part-time care worker

No qualifications. She says she would wear a bra and thong to a fancy dress party and claims to have once stripped naked in a pub after 25 pints of Tennents Super.

NAME: Pete

AGE: 24

FROM: South London (lives in Brighton)

OCCUPATION: Rock'n'roll singer /cartoonist

Pete was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome at 14. He is lead singer in a rock band called Daddy Fantastic. At 16, he started wearing women's clothes.

NAME: George

AGE: 19

FROM: London

OCCUPATION: Student

George attended Harrow from 14 to 18. He dropped out of art college and is living on an allowance. He is a regular in Annabel's and Tramp, his mother is a former private secretary to the Prince of Wales and his uncle is the Duke of Sutherland.

NAME: Shahbaz

AGE: 37

FROM: Glasgow

OCCUPATION: Unemployed

Shahbaz, who has been jobless for 21 years, says he has never been in love and has never had a boyfriend (he is gay) because he thinks men are afraid of his flamboyant personality.

NAME: Lea

AGE: 35

FROM:Nottingham

OCCUPATION: Model and pigmentation artist

Lea claims she has the largest breast implants in the UK at size 30M. So far she has spent £35,000 on plastic surgery, and says she has a "body to die for".

NAME: Imogen

AGE: 23

FROM: Llanelli, Wales (lives in London)

OCCUPATION: Bar hostess

Fluent Welsh speaker Imogen was Miss Wales 2003 and has a BSc degree in health studies and psychology. Once spent more than £1,000 on underwear in one shopping spree. Once dressed up as a Playboy bunny at her own party, but ended up getting so drunk she passed out.

NAME: Mikey

AGE: 22

FROM:Liverpool

OCCUPATION: Model and IT software developer

Vernon Kay lookalike Mikey would like to be reincarnated as a dog because he's always on heat and claims his penis "controls my brain". Mikey has a BSc (Hons) degree in multimedia and internet technology, modelled for magazines and owns a BMW 1 Series.

NAME: Dawn

AGE: 38

FROM: Birmingham

OCCUPATION: Exercise scientist

If reincarnated, Dawn would like to come back as Jesus or Hitler because "the very good and the very bad fascinate me". Dawn also claims she strongly believes in yoga, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. She doesn't drink and doesn't eat meat.

NAME: Glyn

AGE: 18

FROM: North Wales

OCCUPATION: Part-time lifeguard/head boy in 6th form

"I am the closest example to perfection," he says, declaring his "sexy" body as his best feature. Glyn dreams of being the first male Page 3 model.

NAME: Richard

AGE: 33

FROM: London

OCCUPATION: Waiter

Born and brought up in Canada, Richard believes in spirituality. He says he is a "manhunter". Richard dreams of becoming a scriptwriter and works in a pizza restaurant. He loves going out all night in Soho and making conquests.

NAME: Grace

AGE: 20

FROM: London

OCCUPATION: Dance teacher

Grace loves designer clothes and drinking champagne. She's a children's dance teacher and would like her own studio. She risks annoying the others, saying: "I snore like a 90-year-old man."

NAME: Lisa

AGE: 27

FROM: Manchester

OCCUPATION: Unemployed

Born in Shanghai, Lisa moved to the UK with her parents when she was two. She lives at home with her parents in Manchester, where her father owns a chip shop. Lisa has upholstered furniture, made burglar alarms and ink pads and packed food.

NAME: Sezer

AGE: 26

FROM: London

OCCUPATION: Stockbroker/property developer/electronic commodities trainer

Sezer is a Turkish Cypriot who went from being a tea boy in the City to owning a trading company at 19. At 24, he started property developing. Living with his mum, who cooks and cleans for him, Sezer believes women should stay in the kitchen and men should earn the money. Admits to shaving and waxing most of his body regularly.

NAME: Nikki

AGE: 24

FROM: Middlesex

OCCUPATION: Model/dancer/ perfume promo girl in Harrods

Setting her sights on marrying a Premiership footballer, Nikki says she won't be happy until she's rich. Her best assets, she adds, are her " amazing bottom, fake boobs, lush hair and amazing personality". She loves getting dressed up to go to clubs like Chinawhite, and her dream job would be to model full time for the lads mags.

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