Two cross-dressers, a rapper called Maggot... and George Galloway: Celebrity Big Brother is back

George Galloway's political career has pitched him into some unlikely arenas. There was his visit to Saddam Hussein's presidential palace shortly after the first Gulf War when Gorgeous George saluted the "indefatigable" tyrant's "strength and courage". And his appearance before the high-powered US Senate committee when he humbled his distinguished interrogators with his firebrand oratory. From the High Court to the hustings, the Right Honourable Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has played them all with characteristic swagger.

Now the left-wing maverick could be poised for his greatest challenge after setting out on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother last night head to head against the usual array of past-their-sell-by-date celebs and wannabees.

Having entered the televisual goldfish bowl to the strains of T-Rex's "Children of the Revolution", Mr Galloway can look forward to a wealth of diversions and stimulation. There will be the chance to relax around the famous Jacuzzi with the comedian Michael Barrymore, to take part in political debate with the professional Essex girl Jodie Marsh, and discuss the offside rule with Sven-Goran Eriksson's former squeeze, Faria Alam.

The cigar-chomping teetotaller hopes the programme will reveal the true George Galloway. In the show's pre-publicity material he said he had taken the decision to sign up "for the chance to show a large and different audience what I'm really like". His only gameplan, he said was "to entertain". He is also hoping for a little peace and quiet. "To get away from constant telephone and e-mail traffic, and for the chance to make new and unexpected friends."

But how the unlikely chums will take to 51-year-old Mr Galloway remains unclear. Ms Marsh said she plans to teach her housemates to pole dance, while her fellow inmate, the rapper who chooses to call himself Maggot, said he is looking forward to "being confined in the house with a load of birds" - surely not a sentiment shared by the twice-married politician.

The leader of the Respect coalition typically has his mind on higher matters. Few can forget his blood-curdling victory speech at the last general election when he warned the Prime Minister that he would be "haunted by those he had killed in Iraq".

And, for his part, Mr Galloway looks set to cut something of a courtly figure - at odds with the programme's trademark hints of nudity, intoxicated sex and swearing. In his Big Brother CV he warns that he is offended by "drunkeness, bad manners, bigotry and ignorance". However, he does concede that his worst habit - apart from the Montecristos - is snoring. Meanwhile, his greatest fear about going into the house was the prospect of finding Tony Blair as a housemate. "I wouldn't like to carry out the first live throttling of a British PM on TV," he says.

While the producers are talking up the residents as the best ever, some believe the show will struggle to compete with last summer's non-celebrity version, when Makosi's "sex-in-the pool" romp set new highs in sensational newspaper coverage.

But there have been rumblings of concern. The father of Stuart Lubbock, who was found dead in a swimming pool at Barrymore's mansion in Essex in 2001, has already criticised the decision to bring him into the house. He is also angry at the reported £150,000 to be paid to the comedian to lure him back from his new life in New Zealand.

Who will survive from this line-up?

GEORGE GALLOWAY, 51

The controversial Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bowis best known for his campaign to overturn economic sanctions against Iraq and for his meetings with Saddam Hussein in 1994 and 2002. Mr Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in October 2003 after allegedly bringing the party into disrepute over his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

FARIA ALAM, 39

The model and former PA at the Football Association will find herself back in the media spotlight with Celebrity Big Brother. She had beenlinked to FA chief executive Mark Palios then to England manager Sven Goran Eriksson. She says of her stint in the BB house: "It might make me famous but it might not. It might take me back to where I am now which would be devastating."

MAGGOT, 24

The Newport-born rapper from Goldie Lookin' Chain is better known for rapping about leisure-suits and DSS payments than appearing on celebrity shows. He used to work in a Pot Noodle factory and claims the "most rock 'n' roll thing I've done is puke on a cat". So why is he going on Big Brother? "Well there's not much else to do in January, and it should be a laugh," he said.

TRACI BINGHAM, 37

She is an actress and model living in Beverly Hills and will turn 38 in the Big Brother house. She is best known for filling out a famous red swimsuit in the US television series Baywatch, as the lifeguard Jordan Tate. Bingham describes herself as "something of an exhibitionist" and says that things "could get a little crazy" after she has had a couple of drinks.

RULA LENSKA, 57

She describes herself as "passionate, romantic and slightly eccentric," was born Countess Roza-Marie Leopoldnya Lubienska and grew up in London. She met her second husband, Dennis Waterman, in Minder. Her step-daughter, Hannah, played Laura Beale in EastEnders, and Rula appeared as the girlfriend of Frank Butcher. She aims to give up smoking while in the house.

DENNIS RODMAN, 44

The former professional basketball player dated Madonna and was married to the model and actress, Carmen Electra. Now better known for cross-dressing and churning out autobiographies - he has written three so far - he anticipates that Big Brother will be frustrating. "Three weeks without having sex. That's bullshit. That's gonna really suck."

JODIE MARSH, 27

The glamour model first appeared on television in the documentary Essex Wives. Known for her risqué outfits, she is Zoo magazine's "sexpert" and has been romantically linked to the Westlife singer Kian Egan, George Best's son Calum, and Kenzie, the runner-up in last year's Celebrity Big Brother. Expect to see her teaching her housemates how to lapdance.

MICHAEL BARRYMORE, 53

He is famous for Strike It Lucky, and more controversially, a news story about the death of Stuart Lubbock in 2001. Barrymore was given a caution for possession and use of cannabis. No other charges were filed against him, but his television career collapsed. After the revelations, ITV terminated his contract and his British television career collapsed.

SAMUEL PRESTON, 23

The lead singer/guitarist in the Ordinary Boys will celebrate his 24th birthday in the BB house. He dropped out of university to form the band with three friends from Worthing. They burst on to the music scene nearly two years ago with "Maybe Someday", and their debut album went gold in the UK in 2004. He is looking forward to "being stuck in a bedroom with sexy girls".

PETE BURNS

The lead singer with the 1980s band Dead or Alive, whose single 'You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)' reached No 1. He shocked audiences with his flamboyant dress sense including stockings, high heels and corsets. Burns lives in Italy and is a self-confessed diva, with rooms full of Vivienne Westwood outfits. He counts Jackie Stallone and Madonna among his idols.

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