A few years back I remember when reality television stars were dismissed as "B-list". Now they have been relegated to "Z-list". What will happen to the next generation of wannabes? Will we have to invent a new alphabet? I should know – these past three months I was hanging out with them while making a film for Channel 4 called Big Brother: What The Housemates Did Next, which charts exactly that. Now, being as cool and rock'n'roll as I am, I've endured a degree of scorn from my film-maker friends about making this film. But if celebrity is our zeitgeist – then what an opportunity to be at the heart of it? So I embraced the opportunity and told my friends to bugger off.
Permission to make this film was a bit of a surprise. Despite some decent goodwill from the production side of the business, commissioners have had an element of anxiety about working with me. Perhaps part of the reason is that my last film, Monkey Tennis, involved setting up a fake production company and secretly filming stupid pitches I made to TV stations. Letting a schmuck like me make this film shows Big Brother's audience and its relationship with with them is robust enough to allow a cynical film-maker to cast his gaze over its brand and poke some fun at it.
The access I had was great. Twenty-one people went into the show this year. Davina McCall is the midwife who delivers them from the house where, in theory, they are reborn as celebrities. I had them, from their first press conference to their meetings with agents. I was a fly upon the fly on Big Brother's wall. I followed the housemates as they embarked upon "careers" in showbiz or returned home with nothing but a DVD of their time in the house.
And what did I learn of these housemates? It's safe to say the consensus regarding wannabes is that they are deluded. In their heads the whole world can't wait to hang on every word they say. Never mind that quite often they have very little to say. Take, for example, Stephanie, this year's first evictee. She says she wants to be the most famous housemate ever. That's not going to happen. She had absolutely nothing to say for herself in her interviews with Big Brother's presenters or in her chat with me. Her eyes were glazed over with that faraway look of fame, adamant that she would be around forever.
Then there was Mario. My crew and I warmed to Mario yet were frustrated with his tendency to drift off into Billy Liar fantasies. His real name was Sean and he was from Widnes. A far cry from the Italian stallion character he had assumed. In his head he was a well respected, phenomenally popular guy. Yet he emerged from the house to an audience that regarded him as a David Brent-like figure of fun.
His brain wrestled with this dichotomy between how he perceived himself and how the world saw him. Ultimately, he slipped back into the soothing rhythms of his self-grandeur. The only way to reveal what was beneath his shell was not to challenge his grandiose self-image, but to step inside the aura. It worked a charm as he waffled on with a happy glow about how he was glad to "give something back to the fans". But the lonely fate that can await the deluded came when Mario returned to his flat, and the terrible pathos of an anti-climactic performance.
One thing's for sure: appearing on the show can be a tremendous amount of fun for a lot of people. For many, it is exciting, glamorous and above the ordinary. There's no reason youngsters should not pursue that magic... as long as they understand that there is so much more to life than celebrity.
And of course, an appearance on Big Brother is no guarantee of celebrity status and big bucks. Davina said it best. She tells the audience during a break that if you go into the house regarding it as a great summer holiday – not an avenue to riches, fame and glory – then you won't go far wrong. Few housemates have this tempered outlook.
Here's what the housemates were doing when I said goodbye: Mario and Lisa were posing for OK! magazine and trying to recreate the Peter Andre and Jordan wedding shoot. Mario was wearing a pink tutu and pretending to blow-dry Lisa's hair. Luke – ostensibly a down-to-earth student – was sporting a trendy new haircut and fashionable clothes. Stephanie was recording a song in a studio next to a fried chicken shop. Dale was posing for a calendar going direct to shopping malls. Syliva – an early evictee – was being sick on the pavement while a crew member held her hair. Ten minutes before, eating satay sticks at a wrap party, she had told me she had "loads of work on". Miscellaneous other housemates have gone home with no deals, no agents, no TV work and no photoshoots.
L ee Kern is the writer and presenter of Channel 4's Big Brother: What The Housemates Did Next, which can be seen at channel4.com/4odReuse content