Page last updated at 07:38 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 08:38 UK

Can Big Brother build a big career?

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Big Brother contestants
How many do you remember? Can you name these Big Brother contestants from 2000-2007? (answers at the bottom of the page)

Nine years ago when Big Brother started, it was billed as an experiment in psychology and sociology.

But that veneer of respectability has long since been shed, and the received wisdom nowadays is that the reality show is little more than a platform for wannabe pop stars and TV presenters.

With some newspaper columnists refusing to discuss the Channel 4 series, and several London nightclubs refusing to let former contestants in, is it still possible for a BB wannabe to carve out a reputable career in showbusiness?

"If you want to be famous, then going on Big Brother probably isn't the best way, because you do have a stigma attached to you when you come out of the house," says Brian Belo, who won the show last year.

Pete Bennett
It's gone from an experiment of normal people to mad characters being played against one another
Pete Bennett

The 20-year-old from Essex is hardly a household name, but he manages to supplement his 100,000 prize money with fees for public appearances and the occasional cameo on Harry Hill's TV Burp.

An avid fan of the show even before he went on it, Belo thinks that the recent participants' thirst for fame has ruined the programme.

"I want Big Brother to go back to the days when checkout girls, builders and brickies - normal everyday people who do everyday trades - would appreciate the experience.

"I think that's more what the show should be about and I think that's what the audience want to see," he says.

'Guaranteed fame'

Many commentators suggest that Brian emerged victorious from his time in the Big Brother house because his simple enthusiasm for the show shone a much brighter light than the preening and posing of his fellow contestants.

And, true to form, he says he is not afraid to return to his old day job - despite his new flat, a 4,000 watch and the car he bought for his mother.

"If it all ends tomorrow I'd be happy to go back to being a data entry clerk," he says.

The same cannot be said for Charley Uchea, who is very clear about why she entered the reality series.

"I went in to be famous. I made it very clear to everyone," she says.

"Before I went in there, the producers told me I was not guaranteed fame, and I thought: 'Oh, whatever. I'll be famous, trust me.'"

Uchea was jeered by the audience and press alike when she was booted out of Big Brother, but she insists she has no regrets and continues to work on raising her public profile.

Charley Uchea
Uchea admitted all she wanted from Big Brother was fame

Pete Bennett, winner of the seventh series, agrees that the show is not what it used to be.

"It is a bit of a joke now - it's gone mad. It's gone from an experiment of normal people to mad characters being played against one another," he says.`

Guilty pleasure

"I like people who go on there who have a little bit of a message to give. The occasional sexy girl going on just to be famous doesn't really give much. It's not new."

Bennett himself was credited with advancing understanding of Tourette's - from which he suffers - during his time on the show.

But he is another example of how the programme is no guarantee of fame. His much-vaunted musical career has yet to materialise, although he has at least been given a financial cushion to support the recording of his new album.

Chanelle Hayes and Nikki Grahame
I've got no regrets at all because it's got me where I am today and I think I'm in a really good place
Chanelle Hayes (left), who has just released a single

Even for the established names on Celebrity Big Brother, the decision to appear on the show can have its downsides. Jade Goody may have made her name on Big Brother, but it proved her downfall, too, following the row over racist language in 2006.

So is it worth participating at all?

Kate Lawler, Craig Phillips, Brian Dowling and Alison Hammond - all of whom featured in earlier series - have managed to launch fairly successful media careers.

For recent runners-up Chanelle Hayes and Nikki Grahame, too, the benefits of Big Brother went way beyond their expectations.

Both admit they expected to be photographed and featured in lads' mags, but Graeme went on to secure her own TV series while Hayes, who billed herself as a Posh Spice wannabe, has just released a single.

"I've got no regrets at all because it's got me where I am today and I think I'm in a really good place," she says.

However, she does admit she faced challenges in getting the industry to take her seriously.

"There is a stigma attached," she admits. "People can say you're an idiot because you've been on Big Brother.

"They say: 'You're a loser, you're not going to have a career, you've got no prospects', but I've provided a summer of entertainment for you, so it's about time you were a bit more grateful."

It's a strange proposition - do we really owe anybody gratitude for their decision to lay themselves bare on national television?

Whatever your opinion, the 100-or-so former contestants will do their best to test it as they eke out their last moments of Big Brother fame.

All the former contestants and others can be seen on The Big Brother Launch Project on Channel 4 on Thursday.

Big Brother contestants and logo

1) Kinga Karolczak (2005)
2) Brian Dowling (2001)
3) Jon Tickle (2003)
4) Sophie Pritchard (2002)
5) Kate Lawler (2002)
6) "Nasty" Nick Bateman (2000)
7) Nadia Almada (2004)
8) Tim Culley (2002)
9) Chanelle Hayes (2007)
10) Eugene Sully (2005)
11) Anna Nolan (2000)
12) Craig Phillips (2000)
13) Sunita Sharma (2002)
14) Pete Bennett (2006)
15) Ray Shah (2003)
16) Makosi Musambasi (2005)

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