Celebrity Big Brother on ITV1: Yes CBB is back with all the lights and pyro – but will Gen Z care?


It all started with the emojification of a once iconic logo. The Big Brother all-seeing eye was a Y2K design classic. But now, as ITV vie for the attentions of the notoriously-attention-deficient scrolling generation from every interactive bus shelter, we have a garish incarnation that’s been laid out by AI, but if AI was using Clip Art back in 1996.

The shell of the original show is certainly there. Techno intro music remains untouched. Big glossy house is present and correct in the north London outer reaches. Hosting has thankfully been bottled at OG BB source.

Channelling the spectres of Davina McCall and Dermot O’Leary are Will Best with his Surrey Yates Wine Lodge lad charisma and AJ Ododu, resplendent with firecracker main-character energy. I half expected AJ to hop out in her sparkly red catsuit with a Big Mother bump like the perennially- pregnant McCall as she hollered, “We are live on ITV1, please do not swear!”

First into the house were 71-year-old X Factor duo, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh. Reportedly both paid half a mill, they doddered around like a Glamma Nanna and her wisecracking Father Ted-ish brother trying to find the door to their lair, ready to judge their fellow housemates in the first secret mission of the series.

From X Factor to sex factor, next in was Strictly heartthrob Nikita Kuzmin with his hevage and humongous shoulder scrunchie (as Louis would have once said, “The Mommies at home will love ya!”) along with Love Island megababe Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu doing a Marilyn Monroe on the windy Watford gangway. Will he be her type on paper? The Strictly curse could ride again.

Ekin Su (ITV)
Ekin Su (ITV)

Back down to earth with people’s prince, Corrie star Colson Smith (a walking north/south divide: a household name to half the country, complete unknown to the rest of us), who dropped an F-bomb within 10 seconds of the sliding doors closing behind him (”You’re live on ITV1, please do not swear!” you could feel AJ wince from the shonky runway outside through gritted teeth).

Then onto real royal adjacency with ‘Uncle Gary’ Goldsmith, whose niece the Princess of Wales definitely did not want to be tuning in to her Mum’s brother spilling any royal tea while she recuperates from serious abdominal surgery.

“Will Kate be watching?” enquired the hosts… “If she is, it’ll be from behind a nice sofa,” uncky G laughs, in his tellingly Essex twang. Apologies in advance poorly Princess Katherine for what is about to be unleashed by the man who resides in a £6.5 million villa called Casa Bang Bang. This can only end one way.

Therein ended the headliners, as the filler crew lined up to take their places: Dreamgirl Marisha Wallace, the ‘walking, talking musical’, ticking the US import glitz; Ibiza Weekender holiday rep David Potts, slut-dropping into the hearts and minds of huns everywhere in his clacky backless loafers; and Levi Roots jingling his way through product placement guidelines to hopefully add some much needed Reggae Reggae sauce to what could otherwise be a Ryvita-dry ‘celebrity’ selection pack.

Levi Roots (ITV)
Levi Roots (ITV)

See: Tik Tok cultural commentator Zeze Millz, giving it the ‘I’m opinionated’ big talk like that guy telling his friends to hold him back from a fight he is definitely not going to have. Also taking no prisoners – this time like a spangly panto Cat Woman in diamanté gloves – was Real Housewife of Cheshire Lauren Simon, whose teenage daughter shouted up a sex ban for her upon entry to the house. This immediately conjured some throwback images of Michelle Bass under a table 20 years ago – but this time, will it be Lauren with Uncle Gary?

Cut to the crowd going mild. Back in the day, what would have been a heady mix of screaming teenagers, is now a sensible line-up of 40-year-old men in puffer jackets. Gen Z couldn’t make the trip out to the Hertfordshire borders? Is this just the taxi rank of the limo drivers who’ve dropped off so far?

It strikes me by the penultimate entrant Bradley Riches, the boy with curtains who I don’t think is either of the leads off of Heartstopper, that there’s very little in here for the Gen Z crowd. Especially when he’s followed immediately with the flamboyant finale of 66-year-old This Morning host-turned best-selling author Fern Britton admitting it was past her bedtime as she rolled out of the limo. “Oh, she’s been on TV forever!” commentates Louis from his lair, like our inner voice. “She won’t know the rest of them.”

Give it all the lights and pyro that you want, but has this got enough bright young things by to reel in the real young things? In its heyday, you’d expect your nostalgia fixes to be vibrant (Pete Burns! Jackie ‘yeah, Jackie!’ Stallone! Ivana Trump!) and accompanied by a going concern or two: Preston from the Ordinary Boys or Donny Tourette from Towers of London adding a bit of Winehouse-era London cool. Instead, we seem to have a bunch of Chantelle Houghtons marauding as celebrities while the quota of old-timers with a bit of good goss and a side lot of arthritic moans has been over-indexed.  It’s been 23 years since Jack Dee became the first winner of Celebrity Big Brother. And since 2001, the year, coincidentally I went to university (showing just how long ago that was) celebrity culture has eaten itself.

With its first wave of unknowing contestants, Big Brother ushered in a whole new wave of public figures for us to watch on a loop, obsess over and eventually take down. Jade Goody’s short trajectory on that painful plane took her from the original Big Brother house, to finding out her cervical cancer diagnosis in the Diary Room chair of the celebrity iteration just a couple of years later.

That the newest version is populated almost exclusively with celebrities for celebrity’s sake is simply a coming full circle moment. This is their natural endgame, because it was their origin story. Big Brother is watching all of us. But will we be watching it? Only if we can break from the social-scroll for long enough.