Over the next few weeks millions of TV viewers are going to be letting 12 strangers into their living rooms as Big Brother returns for a third series.
But what is it like from the other side? Businessman Stuart Hosking, 37, was one of last year’s housemates and spent three weeks ‘inside’ before being the second contestant to be voted off.
He was unpopular in the media because of his habit of winking behind people’s backs. Hosking - who lives in Oxford, UK with wife Sian and their three children Madeleine, Isabelle and Rory - gives his first hand account and has a few tips for the new contestants.
"Surreal is the best word to describe the first time I stepped through the front door of Big Brother house.
"I had walked in the main entrance with Dean and Narinder and standing inside were Helen, Amma and Bubble. Helen and Amma, from the way they were positioned, appeared to me like Blue Peter presenters, and I half expected them to start interviewing me. I was feeling very conscious and almost nervous, which was quite unusual for me and as I was being introduced to these complete strangers under the watchful eye of the 24/7 cameras, I was uncharacteristically withdrawing into myself - inside my head I was saying "Oh no".
"The house was immaculate and very well decorated. I had read somewhere that they had spent £250,000 (€396,000) on it and this only succeeded in accentuating the feelings of where you actually were. Combined with six feet square mirrors on every space on every wall and cameras everywhere I looked, the harsh realisation of what I was doing began to sink in.
"But little did I know that even at this point I was barely scratching the surface of the experience and of what was to come.
"I was determined to have fun and not take the whole thing too seriously, mainly because I had been working so hard over the last 10 years, yet in a benign way I couldn’t be myself. I became self-conscious of my every move and conversation, I am quite a tactile person but because I am married I purposely avoided any physical contact for fear of what may be seen on the outside.
"I was acutely aware (mainly because of the microphone you had clipped to you all day) of details in conversations and I avoided certain topics relating to drugs, politics and religion (even though I had views on them all) for fear that as a responsible parent something could become misconstrued or misrepresented. So I just laughed a great deal and never really entered into heavy debate apart from my two disagreements, and even with those I didn’t lose my temper or swear. I was quite controlled and this was translated into me being smug, it became what it was a competition and one that I wanted to win.
"When I was evicted and before I did the walk of shame, my wife Sian was waiting for me and managed to debrief me in about 10 seconds flat. I was "unpopular" and I was very surprised at this revelation. Being booed is a miserable experience and I wanted to verbally defend myself and explain my actions.
"What I hadn’t anticipated was that a less than rounded character had been portrayed to the public and therefore people were only seeing this two dimensional version of Stuart.
"I started to understand the power of TV and yet the experience I so wanted from the house had only just begun and I quickly started to realise the affect of being shown in an unfavourable light.
"My first concern was that I had let my family and friends down, I wanted them to be proud to say they knew me and so I now had this personal crusade to try and get people to realise the real me. Time after time people when meeting me for the first time would comment on how totally different I was.
"However in the bigger picture I was struggling with this image to secure firstly an agent and secondly any possible (media) work from this distorted reputation. Sure I had notoriety but in a negative way, ‘Stuart is the biggest winker in the house’ and other similar headlines for my disagreement with Amma didn’t help my cause. Why wasn’t the fun side, the balanced view shown?
"You see in my experience I had laughed so much for the first week my stomach muscles ached. I played practical jokes on everyone, fooled around, told jokes and generally had a good time. I was popular in the house and was only actually nominated because I was competitive (doh!) and yet I was not shown to have got involved in this type of activity.
"I did eventually secure an agent, Sue from Chase. She hadn’t watched the programme and took me on because of the real me, yet even now to her frustration I am still refused many interviews and media jobs based on that reputation.
"My feeling is not of regret but of determination and because of my tenacity my goal is at least to show people I am very different from the Big Brother Stuart - yes I am human and make mistakes but I am not a bad guy.
"Through this experience I have learned a great deal and now I am getting some work as Reality TV pundit, I guess I have the scars to be able to accurately report the reality game and how instant fame can affect you and the people around you in both a negative and positive light.
"I have extended my expertise right across the reality field not just Big Brother and was delighted when asked to report on Temptation Island and Survivor 2 on the Lorraine Show recently, but my agent and I still have a lot of work to do so don’t write me off just yet. (Exit right of stage to boos and hissing!)."
Tips on Surviving BB3 - how to last longer than Stuart
1. Regardless of whether you think you are being yourself be prepared that you can and will be edited therefore any look, conversation, body movement (ie winking) will be taken down and used, even the E4 coverage is edited hence the train noises and camera shots of people asleep while others engaged in conversation or roamed the house. You may only find this out when you leave the security of the house and it may surprise you.
2. You could stay quiet, avoid conflict, not get too involved or be too opinionated. This strategy will ensure no one in the house votes you out and you’ll have a nine week holiday but it’s unlikely you’ll win as the public will deem you boring.
3. Notoriety - you could be completely outrageous, ignore Big Brother’s requests, upset the other house mates, speak in a foreign language and generally abuse the system and break the rules. Big Brother will throw a fit, the house mates will vote you out and the public will either love you or hate you. However you may not be able to sustain this behaviour for nine weeks but you will have notoriety when you leave (if that’s what you want).
Another variation on this tactic is to escape (it would be easy) I don‘t mean a Jack Dee escape, I mean leave and don‘t return, the best time for this will be around week three to four and you may be up for nomination. You‘ll probably be branded a coward by the public but your story and ongoing publicity would be worth a mint.
4. You’re not going to be universally loved whatever the result, so accept this fact from day one, just get on with it. You are going to feel paranoid but try not be guarded during conversations as this will make you appear scheming. Also remember BB don‘t have time to edit all conversations so try not to worry or think too much about what you are saying, if you make scandalous comments about celebrities or people in the public eye they can’t be shown as BB will be sued.
5. If you have skeletons in the closet they will probably be out very quickly (and you thought you knew who your friends were!) so keeping quiet about certain facts may save face in front of the housemates but not the watching millions and the others will find out when you eventually leave the house.
6. Remember, the real experience of BB doesn’t start until you leave the house so give me a call when you get out, I have enough scars to help get you through the next few mad months.
7. If the other housemates like you, that’s a bonus, especially because it may prevent you from facing that initial first eviction, however, remember eventually the public has the last vote, enjoy the time in the house and remember your life is about to change.
8. Finally, spare a thought for your relatives and friends, they also will be enduring a Big Brother experience watching on the outside as complete strangers, newspapers, TV and radio publicly form opinions about you, (good or bad), this may not be a pleasant experience for them, but remember they will always be there for you and they know the real you, warts and all.