Great LezBritain: The lesbian housemates of “Big Brother UK”

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"Great LezBritian" is a fortnightly stroll through the very best of British lesbo-centric entertainment and culture. Plus there will be some jolly good interviews with the top ladies who are waving the flag for gay UK.

Back in 2000, a Dublin based office manager called Anna Nolan decided to live in a claustrophobic, MDF house in North London with nine potential madmen while being continuously filmed by hundreds of hidden cameras for the Great British public to observe, judge and bask in. 

And thus Channel 4’s very first Big Brother emerged and with it Anna became the UK’s first reality television lesbian. Despite initial lacklustre ratings and confused bemusement at a concept of psychological naturalistic observation being crossed over into light entertainment, within weeks the show’s popularity reverberated through the nation and television has never been the same since. 

The intellectual commentators of British society will proudly announce ignorance or adversary to its happenings, but this, we think is to deny oneself a right good laugh. Granted it is a sadistic, humiliating, un-winnable game that Big Brother plays and the people that want to be on it are selling their souls to the tabloid media and an unforgiving public. 

Taking all this into consideration, we would like to think that we were better people than to watch this vulgar show, but the truth is we are not. Once you admit that to yourself, it is easier to simply indulge unashamedly in its wielding power, invest in the fun of voyeurism, pick a favourite and settle down for the summer. Don’t judge us, we’re still regular Radio 4 listeners. 

Most people would probably agree that in year one the housemates’ ignorance as to whether anyone was actually watching them whilst they undertook such exhilarating acts as washing their pants in a sink was quite magical.  As they had no pre-conception that once evicted they could be involved in tabloid story-selling brawls and be photographed with celebrity Z-listers trying to get a piece, they conducted themselves without any attempts to seduce would-be voters with morning lipstick and flamboyant antics.   

When a housemate steps through the pearly white gates of Big Brotherhood they become emblems for a particular faction of society that we can all lazily define them by – the gay one, the Asian one, the amputee, the mentally unhinged, the genius (there’s never been a genius). Many of these people are not types that viewers are commonly acquainted with in their everyday lives, so they hold the power to either change or reinforce a perception.

So back in the dark days before we had civil partnerships and basic civil rights, lesbians across the country watched in collective pride and rabid-joy as Anna Nolan single-handedly dispelled the negative subtexts of the lesbian stereotype with her lack of anger issues, understated attractiveness, fashionable footwear and a wit as quick as her guitar playing fingers. There had never been such a good representation of lesbianism on British television – and the fact that she was not a fictitious characterisation and nothing but herself, was even more culturally significant. 

Unfortunately, Anna’s brilliance was not infectious and despite the fact that Big Brother has remained a show that gives visibility to minority groups, there has never been another gay lady on the show that we would have broken out a flag for.

To be fair, you could say that after season one, the types of people auditioning for it meant that few groups would be particularly happy with their representation. Witches were probably not happy with Mary in BB6 and I’d imagine Mario, the screamer did gay men no favours in BB5.  

Fast forward eleven years and Channel 4 has just aired the first week of what will be the final outing of Big Brother. We’ve just been introduced to the final 14 housemates that we’ll spend the summer befriending, then verbally abusing (albeit in the confines of our own home). 

In the final ever series of this George Orwell-inspired programme we have two representatives in bi-sexual Corin and lesbian Shabby.  But before we discuss how we think these two will fare in the house, lets first take a closer look at all of the gay and bisexual women that have gone before them.

(Note: There have been so many ladies calling themselves bi throughout BB’s history that we are only including the women who actually acted on their declaration of lady love either in the house or during their subsequent 5 minutes of fame on the outside.  This means that Sarah won’t let Lee include Michelle Bass from BB5, which she is most gutted about.) 

Series 1 

After she was narrowly beaten into second place, Anna Nolan left the house to offers of sexual favours from Kathy Burke and invitations to have dinner at Zoe Ball and Fat Boy Slim’s house. She went onto have a successful presenting career in Ireland and currently writes a weekly column for the Irish Independent. Rumours that she had an affair with BB presenter Davina McColl turned out to be unfounded and were in fact traced back to Sarah Longley

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