Who would live in a house like this? Inside the Big Brother house before it becomes a National Trust property

Paul Gallagher gets a sneak tour of Elstree studios propety

It may lack the neo-Rennaissance grandeur of Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschilds' 19th century Buckinghamshire country pile, but that has not stopped the National Trust adding the Big Brother house to its list of attractions.

Starting tomorrow, for two days only, 600 members of the public will be allowed access to the site at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire and the Independent was given a sneak preview today.

Already dismissed by one Tory MP as “a puerile and irrelevant project”, the heritage body has attempted to assuage fears of dumbing down by claiming visitors can expect the same National Trust experience as found at its other, slightly more historic, sites, ranging from a guidebook, ‘good signage’ and the obligatory enthusiastic volunteers. The latter aspect perhaps providing Alan Bennett with the only excuse he needs not to pay a visit after the playwright took a swipe at the Trust last year ahead of the opening of People, a play lamenting that the UK is becoming “less and less … a nation and more and more just a captive market to be exploited”.

Who on earth had this idea? “I did,” says a proud Ivo Dawnay, the Trust’s London director tells me while sat on a creamy Big Brother sofa in the lounge. “The tickets sold out within minutes.”

Dawnay is leading the charge to transform the image of the Trust and he does not seem to care whether he is horrifying the traditionalists in a collaboration with a TV studio celebrating a show now promoted by the porn baron and Channel 5 owner, Richard Desmond.

“I had about five letters from members telling me how awful the idea was,” Dawnay says. “Far more people called to find out how to get tickets or to complain that they could not get tickets. Culture and heritage if you are 15-25, or even 25-40, is something very different than if you are aged between 60 and 80.

“This is about trying to engage with younger audiences, particularly in urban areas. It’s about time the Trust was a bit funnier.”

Yet signing in with the tattooed security guard, clambering through the Elstree lot and wandering through the doors of the house-cum-TV studio, I can’t help assuming that the public are not exactly going to be rolling around the aisles with hoots of laughter when they see what their £16 ticket gets them.

A couple forking out £92 for joint Trust membership that allows access to actual architectural delights can’t even get into the Big Brother house for free. An almighty saving of £4 is all that little green 2013 membership card does for you here in Elstree.

Free parking? Well, only if you park up in the Tesco superstore round the back of the studio and hope the visit lasts less than two hours to prevent being slapped with a fine (don’t worry, it will).

The first thing I noticed in the house was the awful state of the carpet. Clean it for the public? Why bother. Then there are all the mirrors, two-way my guide tells me. It feels like you’ve seen it all before and that’s probably because you have given the “extraordinary number of cameras” littered throughout the house, hundreds more than one assumes, I’m also informed.

Pictures of the current crop of celebrity Big Brother contestants, from former football manager “Big” Ron Atkinson to model Sophie Anderton are plastered onto old TV screens in the middle of the lounge. The diary room is, well, a small dark room, and two fake flamingos stand in a fake mini-garden behind what looks like a plastic screen on the opposite side.

I’m not allowed into the garden but I can see it all from the lounge. Why, there’s the little hot tub tucked away in the corner where various housemates over the years have taken part in ‘impromptu saucy pool parties’, according to the tabloids. No signage alluding to that though. Capability Brown it ain’t.

In the circular kitchen a handful of cooking implements (Jamie Oliver by Tefal) that would struggle to do a singleton let alone a house this size are in the incredibly stiff drawers, while two hairdryers and a set of straighteners are propped up by the library. Oh alright, it’s not a library, I was momentarily confused by the library wallpaper.

All this, you remember, for £16. The entrance fee to Waddeson Manor is only £2 more.

“Well we had to cover our costs,” says Mr Dawnay. What costs? “Our administration costs. But this is not a commercial venture at all. It will make a small profit and that will go back into helping us with our more traditional projects. We don’t just want to talk to people who like stately homes and cream teas. We want to talk to the whole nation.”

As a National Trust member, I couldn’t help feel pretty depressed that this is the territory Mr Dawnay wants to take us four million members in. Perhaps it is only a one off though?

“Oh no. I mean this is a working TV studio so we could only have it for two days but perhaps we’ll return in the future. And we’re already in talks with Ealing Studios to do something with them and that is much more historic than anything in Hollywood.”

Mr Dawnay is obviously a fan of Big Brother then? “Oh yes I watch it.” What, since it began? “Well, no, I’ve caught some of this series as my son watches it so I’ve got into it.”

And on that note, it was time for me to exit, but not via a gift shop.

It was quiet among the sheds outside that surround the Big Brother house. The only sound I could hear was the voice of Alan Bennett whispering ‘I told you so’ in my head, shaking it vigorously as I wondered what on earth the National Trust is playing at.

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: KS1 Primary Teacher in Br...

Year 3 Primary Teacher in Keighley

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 3 Primary Teacher in...

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD : Randstad Education So...

Credit Controller (Sales Ledger, SAGE)- London, Old Street

£12 per hour: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street A well es...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor