The final freakshow: We all know Big Brother humiliates and exploits contestants - so why do so many still want to take part?

Herregina Babserella the Third of Perusia

Lady Herregina Princess Babserella the Third of Prussea, aka Adam Chapman, queues in a bid to be chosen for the next and final series of Big Brother

Lady Herregina Princess Babserella the Third of Prussea has a problem that is making her so teary it threatens to spill her thick mascara all over her long, red, sequined cocktail dress and huge feathery wings.

The problem is this: Lady Babs's real name is Adam Chapman. He is a 28-year-old drag queen who tours bars in Nottingham. He is desperate to become a famous comedian, but worries that no one will find pudgy Adam funny.

He thinks his glitzy dress, bouffant wig and tinkly Lady Babs voice might make him stand out more, but he still isn't confident.

So, here he is, queuing up at the only place he thinks he might make it. Joining him is Maria, a 37-year-old mother of six who is still scarred from childhood bullying.

She hopes that she, too, might find happiness at last. Chef Michael Gianatiempo is also haunted by self-doubt.

He has just been through a divorce, realised he was gay, had difficulty getting access to his children and still isn't as successful as celebrity TV chef Gino D'Acampo, his idol.

These glum-looking, teary social misfits are all looking for personal salvation in the same place. They are queuing outside Wembley Arena at 8am on a bitter morning in February for a 30-minute audition and the chance to star in the last-ever series of Channel 4's Big Brother, which begins next week.

Deluded as it sounds, many see this chance of fame as a Holy Grail and will do anything to get it - starting with queuing for eight tedious hours for the first stage of the gruelling five-month audition process. and there's a lot of competition, in the form of hundreds of other - often distinctly tragic - hopefuls.

Paul Bachvarov grew up in a strict Bulgarian orphanage, where, he says, he spent most of his youth shoeless and dressed in rags. Aged 29, he has a good job in a nursery and a flat in West London.

But it's not enough. He believes the only way to truly exorcise his childhood 'demons' is to appear on Big Brother.

Frankie Howard agrees. She has just been given the all-clear after battling cancer. Instead of going back to her bar job in a Butlins holiday camp, the 20-year-old believes Big Brother will fill the void her illness has left behind.

There are 1,800 people queuing and Paul, Maria and poor old Lady Babs are straining to tell their stories over the beat of drums, throngs of people singing a tuneless rendition of Lulu's Shout! And a middle-aged woman performing chimpanzee impressions.


Auditionees will do, and wear, almost anything to be noticed by the show's producers. Here, Butlins employee Claire and Ben display their talents

They stand out as some of the most vulnerable here. But their decision to reveal these intimate stories on TV (and to me, a complete stranger), as well as their deluded hope that Big Brother will cure their unhappiness, somehow makes their situation all the more sad - and tasteless.

What is sadder still - and what they don't seem to have grasped - is that if their wishes come true, they will become the final set of cash cows to help fill the coffers for bosses at Channel 4 and the show's production company, Endemol.

If successful, their already difficult lives will be transformed into a public freak show. Their personalities and frailties will be exaggerated into stereotypes. They will be squeezed dry of scandalous personal stories.

The most vulnerable among them will be at breaking point - perhaps beyond it. At the end, they won't be able to complain because they will have been willing participants in the charade.

So why put themselves through it? Surely there is more driving them than an unconfirmed £100,000 prize and two months in the spotlight?

Leona Buchanan has queued since 7pm on Friday night for her Saturday morning audition, armed with a pop-up tent and some buttered rolls.

'Apparently, if you get into the Big Brother house you come out different,' says the Burger King employee.

Dave Sapsford

Outrageous outfits and crazy behaviour are the norm at the auditions. Here Gina and Dave show why they deserve to be on the final series of Big Brother

By 8.30am (13½ hours after she joined the queue), Leona is shivering violently. Just before the doors finally open, she collapses on to the pavement. A paramedic and two security staff rush over.

Ten minutes later, she is back on her feet. 'I was just a bit excited,' she explains of her fall, desperate not to be taken off in an ambulance and eliminated from the process.

Lady Babs, Paul (the orphan) and Frankie (the cancer survivor) are more definite about their reasons. 'I want to regain what I lost in all those years in the orphanage,' says Paul.

'I want to understand who I am,' says Babs. Frankie, still smiling after queueing for nine hours, says: 'Getting the all-clear made me realise what I really want - to go on safari in South Africa and be on Big Brother.'

Were this a new series and they had no idea what they were in for, their delusion might be understandable.

But these hopefuls have seen ten years of the show and know exactly what happened to the 167 former starry-eyed housemates.

Channel 4 handout photo of the new brightly coloured floral wreath which was unveiled as the final Big Brother eye logo.

Laid to rest: The new brightly coloured floral wreath unveiled as the final Big Brother eye logo. The tribute will help lay the long-running reality show to rest

They saw the extraordinary lengths they went to in order to stand out: Melanie Hill plucked her bikini line in front of the cameras (Big Brother 1, 2000); teacher Penny Ellis, 33, let her towel slip in full view (BB2, 2001); Kinga Karolczak performed an act too disgusting to describe in a family newspaper (BB6, 2005); and 35-year-old mother Lea Walker gave 18-year-old schoolboy housemates a lap dance (BB7, 2006).

In BB7, Nikki Grahame battled with obsessive compulsive disorder, while the eventual winner, Pete Bennett, struggled with Tourette's syndrome, and Shahbaz Chaudhry, a victim of child abuse, threatened to commit suicide live on air. And for what? The most successful veterans of the show are the late Jade Goody and Z-list celebrity Kate Lawler.

The biggest success stories are the viewing figures: ten million tuned in for the final of Big Brother 3, 200,000 copies of the Big Brother single sold in 2000 and 295,000 copies of Big Brother - The Official Unseen Story were flogged the same year.

But that success has dwindled. Big Brother lost half its audience in the last series (BB10), with just 1.9 million viewers tuning in to the first eviction.

Even Julian Bellamy, head of programmes at Channel 4, agreed Big Brother had finally reached a 'natural end'.

But still more than 10,000 people desperately auditioned in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Dublin throughout January and February, putting themselves through the degrading audition process.

It includes the rigmarole of warm-up exercises in groups of 20. These are usually wheelbarrow races or 'tunnel ball', which involves rolling a ball through a tunnel of parted legs.

Jade Goody

Jade Goody (left) and Kate Lawler are undoubtedly the most famous faces to have come from Big Brother

After they are warmed up (and used to feeling silly), they are herded into 'picking pens' - groups of around ten people - for more games.

This time they are judged by one of the show's 20 producers, who tells them to lie on the floor and arrange their bodies to spell out a word.

Then, in pairs, they tell each other 'something interesting' about themselves before sharing it with the rest of the group. They then have to decide, as a group, who is the most interesting, least interesting and where everyone fits in between.

One group includes a Bollywood dancer, a pianist, a podium dancer, a builder who mumbles a lot and a martial arts expert who also belly-dances. Next, anyone who thinks they have been unfairly placed has to speak up.

The builder isn't happy about being told he is the 'least interesting' and a squabble breaks out.

After a few more games and arguments, they all extend their hands, palm-down.

The podium dancer, pianist and belly-dancing martial artist are all stamped with a Big Brother eye symbol, which means they are through to the next round.

Davina McCall

Davina McCall has been hosting the show since the first series in 2000

Surprise, surprise, the builder is also stamped. 'Anyone who speaks up for themselves is interesting,' says one of the assistant producers.

These four are sent to the next audition round, in which they have their photo taken, fill out a questionnaire and have a personal interview with a Big Brother judge. Anywhere between 500 and 1,000 hopefuls make it this far.

The interviews take place in small rooms, where they sit on a chair surrounded by film equipment, cameras and an enormous bright spot light .

The light is so harsh they can barely see the judge, who sits two metres in front of them, firing such questions as: 'How old were you when you lost your virginity?'

'Would you sleep with someone for money?'

Their gruesomely embarrassing replies can, if the Big Brother executives choose, be shown on the Big Brother website.

Successful auditionees are then sent for another interview with Big Brother himself in a mock diary room, given a meatier 29-page questionnaire and are introduced to a psychologist and psychiatrist.

They have to show TV bosses their bank statements, utility bills, criminal record forms, birth certificate and passport.

Then, the judges want to meet their friends or family, preferably both. The more toe-curling secrets that can be gleaned (which, of course, can then be repeated to the public in the summer), the better.

Most of the hopefuls are driven by nothing but their thirst for easy fame.

Claire, 21, who has just lost her job as a Butlins hostess, tells me she doesn't mind sharing her secrets.

'I want to be rich and famous - as famous as Jordan,' she says.

Gina, 19, has run away from her parents' home in Devon to audition - much to her mother's despair.

She dreams of fame and fortune: 'If I won Big Brother and became famous, I'd be a presenter like Davina McCall.'

Meanwhile, nursery nurse Laura Mallard thinks she would be a good housemate because she is 'amazing, loud and mad'.

Student Ben Richardson arrives wearing pink neon tights and, in an even more desperate bid to stand out, tells me he wants to be a pole-dancer - and where better to start out than on Big Brother?

Drama teacher Rachel Chester chips in: 'When they read out my epitaph, I want it to say: "Rachel was in Big Brother." Oh, and I've also got really good assets.'

She sticks out her chest to illustrate.

Sadly, a simple love of the spotlight isn't enough to pull them through the gruelling audition process.

It has even been alleged that the programme-makers scouted out former soldiers, many of whom had lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and encouraged them to apply for the final series.

Executive producer Daniel Marlow says: 'We need people who are fascinating and from all walks of life.'

He is pleased with the diverse turnout for the final auditions. 'It's a real opportunity to express their character,' he says, gesturing at ten people lying on the floor, their bodies spelling the word 'clown'.

Only Kate Byard, an 18-year-old English student, doesn't seem happy. 'I think it is a humiliation and disgusting,' she says, in her middle-class accent.

'Look at the way they act. They all think they're so unique, but they're trying so hard that they end up acting like the same character.'

Just then, another handful of hopeful housemates are ushered to start the warm-up activities and a producer beckons for Kate to join.

'Oh, OK then,' she agrees and toddles over to centre-stage, where fellow auditionees are either rolling basketballs between each other's legs or imitating chimps.

The Big Brothers from Endemol look pleased. The freak show has begun without any prompting.

Now it is just a case of picking out the freakiest specimens of damaged humanity to exploit one last time...

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