Why I won’t be going on Celebrity Big Brother — despite being tempted

In the end, I turned down my invitation to appear on the reality TV show

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

Gore Vidal once famously said that ‘Television is for appearing on, not watching.’ I feel the opposite. I’ve just turned down a financial offer from Celebrity Big Brother for this summer’s series so big it made my eyes water — and I’m not easily impressed, size-wise. Verbal people just don’t do well in such a visual medium — and speech is my second language, anyhow.

It would be easier to go in if I was guaranteed first eviction — but Liz Jones was stuck in there for weeks, and I’m a good deal more entertaining and lovable than she is. There’s a chance I would end up walking out, thus losing my fee. I would miss my husband, being alone (a textbook only child, I feel like murdering someone if can’t be by myself for six waking hours each day), and reading.

But O, I love Big Brother so! When, as part of their effort to bag me, CBB arranged for me to go into the house and call one of the housemates to the Diary Room, it was one of the most exciting vertical experiences of my life.

When I read about the recent study by Bonn University claiming that reality TV makes you nicer — or rather ‘reality TV formats with high vicarious embarrassment content activate brain regions associated with empathic concern and social identity’ — I wasn’t in the least surprised. In the halcyon hinterland of Big Brother, humility and honesty are rewarded by housemates and voting public alike, and snobbishness and sneakiness are punished. Bring me your gays, your transsexuals, your misfits and wallflowers, and Big Brother will dust them down and polish them up and make them Queen of the May, if just for a day.

Those who take part are routinely demonised, but this says far more about the slaggers than the slagged. Yes, there are some sexually incontinent, binge-drinking sad-sacks in there — but no more than you find in daily life, and far less than you find in the British media. In the early years it was far more working-class than now — this season the two most beautiful women are law students and the most handsome man is a medical student — but the kids involved have always been bright, and seen it as a sort of gap-year for the non-entitled.

Saskia from Big Brother 6 told me, while I was making my documentary Reality TV Is Good For You a few years ago: ‘I knew when I came out of the house there wouldn’t be a limo waiting to whisk me off to Hollywood. I got some nice clothes, a couple of nice holidays. I’ve already got a nice boyfriend out of it. And soon I’m going to get back to work.’ Even Jade Goody, monstered as the thickest woman in Britain, invested wisely and made her own fortune after surviving an upbringing of Hogarthian horror.

And this is what horrifies a lot of the people who hate Big Brother. Over the years, I’ve observed that the use of the C-word (‘chav’) indicates a socially insecure seat-sniffer who hasn’t got half as far in life as they thought they would, and who isn’t having half as much sex as they dreamed they would. Every year, these busted flushes see all their fear and loathing made flesh in the BB house. Young people enjoying themselves! Having sex! And one of them will be rich! Polly Filla columnists bang on about how dreadful it is that young people today just want to be famous — i.e. they want to earn decent money, do negligible hard work and get their picture in the papers, just like Polly herself.

Over the years, Big Brother has acted for me as a shorthand filter to finding new friends; if someone prefers to watch actors dressed as 1920s servants speaking to each other in silly accents rather than watch a good-looking girl having sex with a bottle on a lawn, we probably aren’t going to get along. I genuinely enjoy it; I find it far more subtle and insightful than, say, the theatre — and much less manipulative.

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Show comments
  • Adrian Morgan

    Oh Julie, when you turned it down last year, just think of what you missed out on. Perez Hilton and Katie Hopkins wouldn’t have stood a chance against you. It is your choice, but I think you could have wiped the floor with them. Or at least stabbed one of them with a fork at breakfast.

  • William_Brown

    Don’t watch it, but would have if you’d been on Julie.

  • Oh agreed! I barely watched CBB even when the late Ken Russell (one of my all-time cultural heroes) was appearing, but you would have been TV gold.

  • blandings

    Never seen it, but I’m sure I read that Jack Dee made a Steve McQueen style escape bid when he was on the show.
    Julie would look good in a tunnel, or was it on a motorbike – either way Julie.

    • MacGuffin

      Burchill would get stuck in the tunnel, much like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure.

      • blandings

        Yeah, that was pretty appealing as well.

    • pluggy

      He did scarper and I thought then that Jack Dee had decided that the real star in that house was the boxer Chris Eubank and that he was in danger of being overshadowed by Eubank

  • Roger Hudson

    Who’s Julie Birchill?

    • TimeandtheRani

      She’s a writer. She writes for the Spectator. The site that you’re reading.

  • davidshort10

    Erm, so you didn’t go because you didn’t want to…..unless you tell us how much money it was…’eye-watering’ is not enough then the article doesn’t make much sense. It was probably about 200 grand, which is not eye-watering. Nobody below 60 knows who you are anyway. Still, it filled up the space.

  • davidshort10

    This is what happens when you put Andrew ‘Brillo Pad of various oranges and reds’ in charge of the Spectator. You get articles about out-dated reality shows on minority channels.

  • MacGuffin

    The girl with the bottle on the lawn (how my mind’s eye winces at the memory) was not a beauty. She was a pig.

    • Sara

      Alright oink boy

  • UnionJihack

    So you sinned and did read and internalise one of those godawful mindfulness books after all?

  • Malcolm Stevas

    “But O, I love Big Brother so!” Yet another reason, out of many I’ve found over the years when something she’s written has come under my gaze by accident, for puzzlement at La Burchill’s continuing success (apparently) as a writer. Baffling.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Rod Liddle is going to be so disappointed.