Published On: Mon, Apr 13th, 2020

Coronavirus: After being on lockdown in front of millions, Big Brother stars share tips | Ents & Arts News


It’s nearly 20 years since 10 strangers first entered the UK Big Brother house, voluntarily stepping into a self-isolation of sorts, albeit televised.

Now, as the world grapples with social distancing, we ask former Big Brother housemates Craig Phillips, Kate Lawler, Nikki Grahame and “Nasty” Nick Bateman for their tips on surviving coronavirus lockdown.

Craig says his life changed overnight after winning Big Brother

Craig Phillips – BB1: First UK Big Brother winner

Does the lockdown feel like being back in Big Brother?

I keep thinking that, now we’re all self-contained and can’t go out. When we were in the house we just wanted to see our friends, see our family and get out of the four walls. It was really pressurised, certainly after 64 days locked in there. The Big Brother house looked bigger on TV than it actually was and we couldn’t open the front door and had no windows to look out of. We could look in the garden, of course, through the patio doors, but no window to look outside and see what was going on in the real world. At least now we can go out for a walk in the park or to the shops.

What about the challenge of being trapped with other people?

We were in there with people we didn’t really want to be in there with. I remember the psychiatrist saying to me before we went into the house, “You know, Craig, if you were put in this environment with your best friends and your family, you’re still going to fall out”.

It forced us to make friends because most of the people in there I generally wouldn’t have hung around with. We became friends because of the circumstances of living in the house. I’ve stayed friends with a few and even went to visit Nick in Australia [where he now lives].

Craig with Big Brother runners up Darren Ramsey and Anna Nolan
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Craig with BB1 runners up Darren Ramsey and Anna Nolan

That moment in Big Brother where you confronted Nick about cheating has gone down in history. Would you recommend being frank with those you’re stuck inside with?

It had been heating up for a day and a half in the Big Brother house over Nick writing people’s names down and trying to manipulate us to vote for each other. It was building up tension in the house and I was getting wound up myself. I’m quite calm and patient and can normally detach myself from a situation and look at it from a different angle.

I suggested we all sleep on it, then sit down the next day and talk about it around the table. I was fuming at Nick, but I was relatively polite and professional – I even made him a cup of tea. It didn’t go too well for Nick on the day. Nick was a cheat, he was doing wrong, so he had to be confronted for it and pay the price, which was to be chucked out of the house.

I think for people living at home now, it’s going to be testing for relationships too. I think if people are having issues, having this lockdown is going to magnify them. My advice would be to keep busy doing DIY; you can work in one room and your partner can work in the other. And when you do your daily exercise, go in different directions…

What did you do to stay sane in the Big Brother house?

Something I did a lot was try to keep myself fit. We didn’t have any weights or anything like that, so I got tins of beans and spaghetti and put them all inside pillowcases and did bench presses, shoulder presses, squats and lateral raises. I improvised to make weights and to try to keep my body strong, because I think if your body’s strong, your mind can be a lot stronger.

Craig has been keeping busy with wife Laura, daughter Nelly and bulldog Sydney
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Craig has been keeping busy with wife Laura, daughter Nelly and bulldog Sydney

How are you and your family coping with the lockdown?

I fell out with lots of my friends and family because 10 days before lockdown, we started self-isolating. Nelly was our priority. I’d only go out to the shops wearing a mask and gloves and everyone would move out of my way. Now everyone’s wearing them.

I think being in Big Brother has made me more disciplined and able to cope with lockdown, as well as being told what to do. It also taught me how to live on basics – we were only given £1.50 per day for food, so we had to be very selective about what we bought and how to make the most of it. That’s useful now we’re economising and thinking about what we can freeze to give us two or three meals for later in the week.

Have you got a routine?

Yes, I think it’s important to have a good structure. We made a list. I’ll get up with the baby, tinker around for two or three hours, go for our dog walk, then put the baby for a nap and go in the office and get on the computer and do some emails. Every day feels like a Sunday.

How else are you keeping busy?

We built a new house and moved in a week before the baby was born. It’s been a bit of a labour of love this last 12 months, dipping in and out and finishing off loads of little tasks. Now I’m housebound the list has got bigger and bigger, putting a fence in here and tiling there.

We’re trying to create a structure to keep us busy and motivated. I think if you just get up and sit around and watch TV and Netflix you turn into a bit of a slob. Now, we all deserve a bit of time being a slob when we’ve worked hard, but I think it’s dangerous if several weeks in you’re still sitting in your pyjamas at 4 o’clock and watching the TV.

So what can people do to make themselves feel better?

My background is DIY and we’re trying to encourage people to do home improvements while they’ve got the time. If you’ve got some tools, some things don’t need materials. You can just get out and fix and maintain things. It makes your house a more enjoyable place to be around; if you’re looking at the four walls and they’re looking a bit shabby, paint them up and make it feel brighter and you’ll make yourself feel better too.

How much did your life change after Big Brother?

My life changed overnight. I went into that house just normal Craig from the building site and came out a household name. I remember coming out of the house and I was raced away by police and bodyguards, it was terrifying. You got taken to a hotel, and I didn’t end up going home for 97 days, right the way up to Christmas.

Do you think the world will change after coronavirus?

I think it will make everybody learn a lot about themselves and respect their freedom a little bit more. We’ve got it easy in England and we still moan about it, so I think it will help put things in perspective. Most of all, lockdown teaches you to enjoy the real things that matter most, like friends and family and your house around you.

Kate coming out of the Big Brother house in 2002

Kate Lawler – BB3: First UK female winner

How do you entertain yourself while stuck in a house?

In Big Brother we didn’t have phones, we didn’t have books, we didn’t have TV and we couldn’t watch films. But we did have a garden, which made it a hell of a lot easier. We survived by making our own fun, which I guess is similar to now, because we can’t go out at the weekend to the pub, or to a restaurant, or see our mates.

In Big Brother, I think I remember us playing hide and seek, which was ridiculous because it was just a house and we were hiding in really obvious places.

How do you cope with not knowing how long lockdown is going to last?

In Big Brother, you knew that you had 12 weeks, and it was summer, and ultimately it was a bit of a doss and you were potentially going to win some money at the end of it. But now, we could be in this lockdown for three weeks, or three months, or six months… we just have no idea.

I’m sure if everybody was being told to lock down and the person who stayed indoors the longest would win £70,000, everybody would be willing to comply a lot more.

Big Brother 3, featuring Kate Lawler, Alison Hammond, Jade Goody and PJ Ellis
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The Big Brother 3 contestants pictured before entering the house in 2003

Did you lose track of time stuck in a house for weeks on end?

The only day you were ever aware of what day it is was when there was an eviction. Friday night was eviction night. You do lose track of time, especially as we didn’t have watches, but that felt quite liberating.

I think because of everything they made us do in there, time went more quickly. If we weren’t playing games or doing challenges they’d say to us, “Tidy the house, it’s a s***hole”, and we’d have to tidy it up, because so many people in the house didn’t pull their weight – me included.

Is keeping busy the key?

Personally, I think it’s important to establish a routine. I think getting up at the same time and even if you don’t shower, just splash water on your face and brush your teeth and get dressed. If you can just do that it will probably make you feel better than just sitting in your pyjamas all day.

But also, there’s loads of advice being given, like, “Oh, read a book, learn a new language, let’s play a musical instrument”. I think it’s important to make people feel like it’s fine if they don’t have a productive day every now and then, if they’re not motivated to work, because we are in a global health crisis. It’s understandable if you are feeling a bit nervous and a bit demotivated.

Kate Lawler and her fiance Martin have launched the Maybe Baby podcast
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Kate lives with her fiance, Martin

Is there a trick to getting on with people you’re stuck inside with?

If you live with someone and you spend 24 hours a day with that person, you’re going to get annoyed with each other. And you did get annoyed at each other [in Big Brother]. But people would try to keep a lid on their emotions because they were being filmed and because they didn’t want to get nominated or voted out.

Now, you want to keep a lid on your emotions and you don’t want to argue because it’s not a nice feeling. You just have to try and make the best of a bad situation.

Is it easy to fall into a trap of eating and drinking too much?

I was such a binge drinker in Big Brother. I didn’t even know what cider was when I went in. I’d never drunk it before, had no idea of the calories because they took all the labels off everything and I was drinking cider, blackcurrant and lager. Is that a Snake Bite? We were drinking that every night, and this was before Big Brother limited the amount of alcohol you could drink each night, it was before all the fights happened [in later series]. So, we drank every night and I came out of Big Brother two stone heavier than I went in.

In contrast, I am probably eating healthier now than I’ve ever eaten before and I’ve done more exercise in the past two weeks than I’ve done since the beginning of the year.

How do you cope with missing friends and family?

In Big Brother, it was 12 weeks apart, but I always knew each Friday that I might be seeing my family that week. So that kind of got you through. But now I’m really missing my family. I’ve got a new niece and I’ve not met her yet and I might not meet her for months. But I’ve got to be grateful for things like FaceTime and photos and videos, which I’m getting on a daily basis.

Me and my twin sister are going to be 40 next month too, but we’re probably going to have to spend our birthdays indoors. For now, we’re just seeing each other online. And me and Martin [Kate’s fiance] have been playing board games and having little kitchen raves with our dogs.

Any new lockdown hobbies up your sleeve?

I’ve given myself a haircut. It was really easy, I got the scissors and just went for it. I mean, it’s not the best haircut, it’s not going to win me any awards, but I managed to do it and it doesn’t look too bad. It’s the roots I’m going to struggle with because I was just about to get my roots done before lockdown was announced, so my hair is looking really bad.

Nikki says letting off steam in the diary room helped her survive

Nikki Grahame – BB7: First housemate ever to be voted back into the house

How are you finding lockdown?

It feels like a zombie apocalypse film…

How are you keeping busy?

I’ve been doing colour-by-number books, which are really relaxing and therapeutic, and I’m reading The Da Vinci Code, which is a big book to keep me busy. I’ve ordered a couple of jigsaws, which is a good way to tune out, too. I’ve got a very clean flat as well because I’ve been busy cleaning the cupboards out. I’ve got crafty too, and made a hanging bird treat from a loo roll, peanut butter and bird seed.

Have you learned any new skills?

I’m studying teaching, it felt like a great time to do that. And once this is all over it’s a skill I can use to travel the world.

Former Big Brother contestant Nikki Grahame with Davina McCall, who hosted the show on Channel 4 from 2000 to 2010
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Nikki with Big Brother presenter Davina McCall

You live in a flat, does that feel restrictive?

People have been sharing memes of me in Big Brother saying how much I hate being stuck inside, it’s really funny.

But here at home, I’ve invested in a cross-trainer. It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever bought myself, it’s my new best friend. Even if they tighten the restrictions at least I have that. I’ve set it up in my living room in front of the TV. I get cabin fever, so I’ve been using the trainer and going for my hour walks to clear the cobwebs away.

Nikki made a hanging treat for the birds from a loo roll
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Nikki made a hanging treat for the birds from a loo roll

Are you missing friends and family?

I miss my close friends very much and we’ve been calling a lot, but I haven’t used Zoom or Houseparty because I felt self-conscious about putting make-up on and I felt obliged to do it for a video call. I do have days where I put make-up on, but other days I can’t be bothered. I’m close with some of my neighbours too and see them sometimes when I’m taking my exercise walking in the park.

Have you tried to establish a lockdown routine?

In the Big Brother house you lost track of time a lot and you’d forget what day it was. Now I’m trying to stick to a schedule to give me routine. I’ve managed to keep my bedtime about the same but I have been waking up at strange hours.

You’re self-isolating alone, does that make it tougher than Big Brother?

Yes! It’s always great to have other people around because I’m such a nosy person, and I love peeking my beak in other people’s business. When there are other people around there’s always another conversation to earwig on, I just love it. I find it very satisfying.

Anything else you’re finding hard?

The thing I’m not enjoying is queuing, it’s very irritating. At the best of times I hate queuing, I don’t do it. So when I’m forced… I queued for 45 minutes in Waitrose the other day and I just lost the will… they didn’t even have what I wanted.

Nikki wasn't a fan of scrubbing in BB3, but has been spring cleaning in lockdown
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Nikki wasn’t a fan of scrubbing in BB3, but has been spring cleaning in lockdown

Did you learn any tips for getting on with other people in Big Brother?

You just have to learn how to handle people and try not to push their buttons. Sometimes play dumb and go along with what they’re saying to keep the peace. In the house I learned to work out when people would be in the kitchen, when they’d be in the toilet and try to avoid them to avoid confrontation. But at the same, you shouldn’t be a pushover.

In Big Brother you were famous for your outbursts. Did speaking your mind in the house help you survive?

Definitely. A lot of people think I’m a pushover and not that smart, but I am very smart.

Nikki Grahame Big Brother
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Nikki goes for a daily walk in the park to ‘clear the cobwebs away’

Did going on Big Brother change you?

Big Brother made me more grounded. I often wonder what I’d be doing now without it… And I’d love to do it again – Big Brother Australia would be amazing.

Nick advises 'smiling and biting your tongue'

“Nasty” Nick Bateman – BB1: The first person ever to be ejected from the house

What are your tips for staying sane while stuck in a house?

Step outside and count the stars or clouds, depending on the time of day. Or go for a bath or a shower. You need your own zone, especially with others around.

You were in Big Brother with nine other people, is it tougher to be in lockdown on your own or with others?

Lockdown in the 21st century with the internet is a lot easier… I have a large family and I went to a boarding school, so I am used to having people around.

'Nasty' Nick Bateman of Big Brother 1 fame - this was an anti-Nick poster see outside the Big Brother house
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Nick was the first person to be expelled from the house

What are you doing to stay healthy?

We’re in partial lockdown here in Sydney, Australia, so we are allowed out, and can walk and take a drive. Walking twice a day for an hour will clear your head.

Psychologically, is structure important?

You fall into a routine, and there is always something you can do – cleaning, cooking or playing cards.

Nick says he's trying to swap the booze for tea now
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Nick says he’s trying to swap the booze for tea now

Have you got a routine?

To keep you motivated, it is essential, you must keep normal going-to-bed and waking hours.

Is it hard not to eat and drink too much when stuck inside?

I am terrible. If it is there, I will eat it. I had six Creme Eggs yesterday, my plan was one a day. I am drinking, but more tea and less booze now.

You were never nominated for eviction while in the Big Brother house, how did you manage that?

Everyone is going to at some stage push the wrong buttons; it is about managing triggers and smiling and biting your tongue, if you have any tongue left.

Although, your most famous moment was a confrontation with Craig…

Confrontation is good for reality TV shows, but in lockdown, I would avoid it.

What about saying sorry if you’re in the wrong?

Sorry is a powerful word to use when you are wrong.

How are you finding being stuck inside?

Our lockdown is not as severe as the UK, but our beaches and pubs are closed, which is like the end of the world here. And I don’t think we closed our borders soon enough.

Have you picked up any new skills in lockdown?

I am playing this quiz on Facebook you can play against people globally and an online golf game, which is killing a lot of time, plus binge series watching on my laptop.

What are you watching?

Dublin Murders, Tin Star, The Fall, Line Of Duty, Stateless, The Killing, Blood, The Capture and Mexican prison drama The Inmate.

Lots of people are saying coronavirus will change the way the world works, do you think it will?

Perhaps with more cleaning of hands (which you should do regardless of COVID-19) there might be less gastroenteritis and flu in the future.

If Big Brother returned, would you do it again?

Never say never…



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