You've been rattling around the house with the same people for weeks. Your days are divided into two halves: coffee and alcohol. Sometimes, when you need some time to yourself, you sit at the end of the garden in a large pair of sunglasses, blowing smoke into the sky. "What shall we have for dinner?" you ask whoever's nearest, every day at 2PM.
Most of us have never been through anything like lockdown – but for some, this isn't completely untrodden ground. Some have experienced self-isolation before, sort of, only with the addition of multiple cameras, a diary room, weekly evictions and no deadly pandemic outside. I am, of course, talking about Big Brother.
Big Brother UK ran for 19 seasons between 2000 and 2018, first on Channel 4 and then on Channel 5. The length of the show changed slightly over the years, but in general the housemates were cooped up inside for around three months maximum (longer than we've been under lockdown). If there's anyone who has any idea of how to navigate spending that much time doing the same thing over and over again, it's these people.
How to be with the same people constantly, how to cope without being able to hug your family members, how to amuse yourself when you've been surrounded by the same walls for weeks on end. Here's what a few former Big Brother contestants had to say about how to navigate lockdown life.
PETE BENNETT, BIG BROTHER 7
"Big Brother was nothing like this, man. You knew it was being broadcast, so you felt good about it. This feels like… fuck. But I did the same sort of things to pass the time. I made drum kits out of pots and pans and glasses and started hitting them with sticks. That was how I kept sane in such a weird fucking environment. It's the same thing that I'm doing now. I'm not hitting pots and pans, but I'm editing my sitcom, Green Fingers. I'm writing music. I've done so much more work than I would have done if I was going out. But I do miss women. I miss flirting!
"I would say: keep your mental health in good shape. Don't watch the news so much, turn the telly off, surround yourself with things that make you feel good. Your favourite music, your favourite films. If you want to start being creative, you could learn a skill. At the end of this, wouldn't it be cool to come out with a piece of art you made, or something you learned, like, 'Look what I learned in self-isolation!' Give yourself a little goal. Learn how to play guitar, paint a picture. Also, eat a lot of fucking good food. Don't eat shit."
NICK BATEMAN, BIG BROTHER 1
"I actually like some kind of routine. I spent ten years at boarding school, so 36 days on a TV reality show was a walk in the park. We now live in a digital age, where everything is at our fingertips. So although we are not physically with our friends, we can reach out on our devices, so therefore it's not all that bad.
"In the Big Brother house, to keep busy we played endless games of cards, exercised, smoked cigarettes, baked bread and actually talked with each other. To pass time in lockdown you need to have a routine and stick to it. Lying in bed all day watching Netflix is not the way. Get up early, have a long walk, shower, breakfast, read the papers, clean your house, watch a movie, catch up with friends online, have another walk, cook and then bed with a book."
AISLEYNE HORGAN-WALLACE, BIG BROTHER 7
"It was kind of whack being in Big Brother, but I'd been living in hostels and was pretty poor, so it was a similar scenario: having to live with people you might not necessarily want to live with, being cooped up with them in a house… But there was no outside stimulation – you don't get to talk to your love ones, you've got the whole nation watching you, there was no TV.
"This, what we're going through, is lightweight in comparison. You're being paid to stay at home. Go and sort your cupboards out! Study psychology! Live your best life at home. Read some books. Watch TV. Oh, and get into exercise. I am slightly worried about people's mental health. It does affect your mental health being locked up for so long. How I deal with that is through fitness. A lot of my friends and a lot of people are drinking way too much because that's what's getting them through. So really try and cut your drinking down to just the weekends if you can. We've been told that we're allowed out a lot more, so try and get in those walks.
"Also, talk to people, don't be alone. The worse thing you can do is isolate yourself even further. Verbally, talk to your friends and be honest about how you're feeling. In the Big Brother house, we could never remember good tunes. But music has been my saviour. So get some good music on, too – it lifts your whole soul."
VICTOR EBUWA, BIG BROTHER 5
"Big Brother was boring in the day, then they'd send in alcohol and you'd get pissed – that was it, every day. Same old, same shit. To pass the time there was loads of fantastic banter and bitching and complaining. We'd make up silly games. There was a game called 'hit the target' where we'd take the top off a bar stool off, throw it, and if it hit the bar stool you'd get a point. Some people would go off and have 'private reflection time', or as we would call it: wanking. Not myself, though.
"When it comes to lockdown, I don't know what everyone's moaning about. This is a walk in the park. This lockdown is nothing compared to Big Brother. Maybe if you're self-isolating and staying away from others it's similar. All you've got to do is bitch, moan, get sick and tired of your girlfriend or your boyfriend, your kids. People are leaving their cups all over the place, someone left pubes all over the toilet.
"If I were to give any advice, it would be: exercise. And that includes bedroom cardio. When it gets to Friday and Saturday, make out like it's a regular Friday and Saturday. Get a bottle of Courvoisier, a bottle of red, have a couple drinks, a couple of joints and start making some babies. Exercise keeps the body feeling fresh, and if the body feels fresh the mind starts working a bit better. Have a focus. That was my trick in Big Brother, having a focus."
LUKE ANDERSON, BIG BROTHER 13
"I'll always remember Big Brother. It gives you a lot of time to think about how you deal with certain situations. It's definitely a good time to reevaluate your life. And you realise how you are in an argument, whether you're passive or whatever. Everything is magnified. At the time I had really low self esteem. I came on TV as trans, which was really tough for me. So there was a lot of paranoia. I wanted everyone to like me. Now, I'm a lot more confident in myself.
"We did a lot of hide and seek. People were quite resourceful. We didn't even have a clock that told the time. I said to one of the runners, who I'm friends with, that we had a clock on the oven, and he said, 'Yeah, but we used to change it all the time.' Towards the end, I used to meditate and that used to really help. Also, talking to friends and building bonds.
"My advice for lockdown would be: try to keep a daily routine. Don't lie on your arse all day, it'll make you feel depressed. Get some fresh air. Chat to family members. You've got the luxury of social media, which we didn't. Use Zoom, or even just a simple phone call to your nan. It will get better. Stay positive."
GLYN WISE, BIG BROTHER 7
"To be fair, I was locked in a house with 14 freaks for 13 weeks, and I loved every single minute of it. From the moment I walked in and saw this array of characters, from Pete to Nikki Grahame's screams and Lea's boobs, I knew it was going to be 93 days of mayhem.
"Being without family and friends was easy for me – even though I hadn't been away from my parents before – as I knew it was part of the parcel of being in Big Brother. I did find the first week unbearable at times, as I found it hard to communicate and be friendly with a group of strangers I'd never met. They all had life experience of being at uni, work, and had developed social skills, but I was from a small town in North Wales and hadn't left school. But to deal with boredom you need a routine. I remember cleaning my cupboard, dusting and making a programme to keep myself occupied. I settled down within a week.
"What I learned from my time in the house is to always keep perspective and remember this is not going to last forever, so make the most of the situation. When am I going to have this amount of quality time locked in the house with my family again? Yes, I'm 32 and I've come back to live with my parents – sadly I am still single, lol. I've read numerous books: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson and Rylan Clark's autobiography being a recent favourite.
"I learnt in Big Brother to always pray, God always listens to your call. You have nothing to fear when you have God on your side. Me and Aisleyne were Christians in the house, and we used to come together to share stories, so whenever you feel down it's always good to pray."