“Who IS she? Who IS she? Where did you find her?”
You probably already have the mental image right now. A tiny shrill blonde in a bikini, with arms flailing and fury etched across her face. It was a reality TV moment that would go down in history, viral before memes were even a thing. Big Brother had plenty of these moments but no contestant is more quoted or remembered than the late Nikki Grahame who died on Friday after years spent battling Anorexia. She was one of the original reality TV stars, polarising and infantile yes, but undeniably magnetic.
We mustn’t be too cloying or over-intellectualise the significance of her being a young outspoken woman on TV. Nikki was entertaining because she was a spoilt brat, and in the most jarring of ways too. Whether she was complaining about the central heating (“I’m so coooooold”), calling out her greedy ‘fat ox’ housemates or lashing out over failed attempts at tasks, she was a spectacle to behold. Every night I’d tune in and wonder what drama she’d be mixed up in next, while still feeling endeared and rooting for her despite her theatrics.
Looking back at her time in the limelight from the lens of 2021, what stood out was her authenticity. This was a time where reality telly was still fledgling. Nobody quite had this particular medium figured out but whenever someone like Nikki Grahame came along, everyone knew they were witnessing something special. She was always raw and over the top, but never self-aware in the way a Love Island star with their eye on a post-show Pretty Little Thing collab often is.
She was angry, frustrated, ecstatic, frightened and most importantly, a total mood. Who hasn’t wanted to scream at the thought of getting out of bed? Or burst into tears because an inanimate object isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to? Back then such a lack of composure was grating and off-putting but in a post-Kardashian world where we love an unapologetic meltdown-prone diva, her persona has aged like fine wine and paved the way for future female reality stars to be messy and emotional.
Nikki’s time on Big Brother was the perfect story arc; a young naive girl enters a strange new world where she makes friends, foes and several mistakes before falling for fellow housemate and underdog Pete Bennett and riding off into the sunset. Unfortunately beneath the reality show antics was a real human being with real mental health struggles that she eventually succumbed to. Her death is a blow to those who have suffered from eating disorders as well as the celebs who knew her and the fans who adored her. She will be missed.