Being a lapsed Big Brother fan allows you to look at the show from the outside – and wonder about the real price the winners pay. Witness Josie Gibson and her ever-changing body
And once more Big Brother rolls into town, with a strangled whimper and the small sad fart of a family pet on its final walk to the vet’s. But in the same way that we suddenly understood the earth when we saw it from a distance, all blue and green, it’s only now that I’ve stopped watching Big Brother that it’s possible to see the shape of it. Specifically, the effect it has on the celebrities it produces, who went into the house as one thing and came out as quite another.
The last winner of note (the last winner before it slithered to Channel 5) was Bristol sales rep Josie Gibson in 2010, who was popular with viewers in part because she was so beautiful and at ease in her “comfortable size 16” skin. And then she emerged from the Big Brother house, and changed. As a female Big Brother winner, your life becomes your job. And your body becomes your life.
The September after Josie won Big Brother, the National Enquirer put her arse on the cover of its magazine. It was a paparazzi picture, taken from behind, of Josie in a bikini. That was how it started. These photos (first published in the Sun) led to her losing more than 6 stone and releasing a bestselling fitness DVD. It’s through her column in Now magazine that we can follow the changes she’s made to her body – the first cosmetic treatments she discussed were her dermal fillers, later her teeth. Soon after the Enquirer splash, she revealed that she had a stalker. “It started with a text: ‘No wonder John James left you with your fat c**t vile body,'” she said, “and it got worse from there.”
Her documented dieting and exercise continued – Josie Gibson’s 30-Second Slim is the fourth-bestselling fitness DVD on Amazon; its cover, like Chantelle’s Boot Camp Workout and Five-Step Fat Attack with Claire Richards from Steps (full title), shows before and after pictures in a neon bikini. When Josie dropped to a size 8 she told New! magazine: “I went to the National History Museum and [my boyfriend] Luke pointed out that my tits looked like a Neanderthal’s. That’s when I thought: ‘He’s right. I’ve got to do something about it.'” At the end of May she wrote: “I had my boob job last Thursday and am recovering at home… My biggest worry is that I will put on weight during my recovery period.”
The terrible thing is that I feel complicit in the overhaul of her body. As a Big Brother fan, it was me and my co-watchers who propelled her to this odd non-place where your job is just teeth and air. Where, when the wound is fresh, you put your name to a sugary perfume. A smell that works as a half-metaphor about ambition and invisibility and how things run out.
Somebody told me about another ex-Big Brother contestant whose money comes now purely from pap pictures. A guest at her recent baby shower in a restaurant in central London, she watched the celebrity open her gifts in slow motion to allow the photographers outside the window to get convincing reaction shots.
What, I wonder, is the psychological effect of a job that requires you to simply continue existing? Unlike an athlete, for whom the body is a tool to win things with, a Big Brother winner’s body is its own race track. So the worst thing Josie Gibson could do now is stay happy. Something must change – the boobs must rupture, she must get “too thin”, her relationship must end and lead to comfort eating– otherwise we lose interest and her career in bodychange will end.
“My fitness DVD has sold over 120,000 copies and I’ve got plans for a second DVD next year, plus a fitness website and an app,” said Gibson, now 28. “But if this all runs out,” she added, “who will employ me?”