‘Big Brother filmed me showering – I couldn’t return to teaching and got a job washing up’

WithBig Brother setto return after five years off air, a whole new host of contestants will experience life isolated from the outside worldin the famous house.

Throughout the show’s 18-year history on our screens, Big Brother brought us plenty of iconic moments andintroduced us to some memorable personalities. Here, former contestant Penny Ellis, who appeared on the show in 2001, talks to OK! about her own experience on the show…

“While on a break from my job as an English teacher, I called the number to what I thought was The Big Breakfast. I had a theatre company at the time, so I wanted to speak about that. Aware I had to return to my classroom, I quickly left my name and address. Next thing I knew, I had a Big Brother application form on my doorstep.

Having never watched the show before, my students encouraged me to apply. I sent a VHS tape of myself and after several auditions I was told I could be entering the house either from day one or I’d be sent in later. Fortunately, my school gave me time off and I spent the day before going into hiding sorting out lesson plans for the cover teacher. I had no idea what I was in for but I knew it’d be a laugh.

After entering the show on day one, I was evicted pretty early on. I felt safe in the house as I thought there was a delay on the live stream, but it turned out that I’d been shown coming out of the shower and drying myself.

I didn’t think this would be broadcast and it was painful to find out that the clip had been shown – that moment has followed me ever since. I tried to return to my career in teaching, but the pictures kept cropping up, and my mental health took a hit. Now I have a washing up job at Morrisons.

Being on Big Brother was such a rare experience. It was the birth of the reality TV star. I didn’t understand what was going to happen to my life and all of a sudden I had a bodyguard, was living in hotels and being followed by paps.

Looking back on that time, I smile because it was good while it lasted. After about two years of mingling with everyone from Graham Norton to Bob Geldof, I found that I was too ordinary to be famous but too famous to be ordinary. It was weird because I went from not being able to walk out of my door in fear that people would be all over me to having no attention at all.

I tried to run away from my Big Brother past because of the footage but after 20 years of shame, I’ve realised that it’s never going to go away so I shouldn’t be angry with what happened. I’ve now written a book to reclaim my story.

Big Brother didn’t ruin my life, it just changed it and it taught me a lot about myself. I wish I had the steel strength that I have now back then. It would have helped me cope with it all a lot sooner.”

Penny Ellis’ book, Meet Me At The Mirror (Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services, £11.99), is out now

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