World's first Big Brother winner: 'I'd never have taken part if I knew its impact'

A view of the Big Brother logo on the house at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.   (Photo by Rebecca Harley - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
It is 22 years since Big Brother was first broadcast. (PA)

Big Brother is watching. Well, a little bit.

Today, the reality show that reshaped television is regarded as a television dinosaur, still trundling along but long past its peak.

The latest series of the Nigerian version, Big Brother Naija, for instance, is currently being broadcast, as is the US version, but BB in Britain was put out to pasture in 2018 after 19 instalments, following years of dwindling viewing figures.

With television’s landscape much altered since the turn of the century, it is easy to forget just how big Big Brother became - and how quickly.

Read more: Big Brother’s Craig Phillips explains turning down Ultimate BB

The finale of the third UK series, broadcast on Channel 4 in 2002, was watched by almost 10 million people. By its final season on Channel 5 in 2018, average viewership hovered just above one million.

In the UK, it made household names of ("Nasty") Nick Bateman, Craig Phillips, Brian Dowling, Jade Goody, who died from cervical cancer in 2009, and Nikki Grahame, who died in April this year after a long battle with anorexia.

Dental nurse Jade Goody greets presenter Davina McCall as she leaves the Big Brother house at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire to become the ninth contestant to be evicted as the fly-on-the-wall show reached its dramatic finale.
Contestant Jade Goody greets presenter Davina McCall as she leaves the Big Brother house after being evicted in the 2002 UK edition. (PA)
Bart Spring in 't Veld, the world's first ever Big Brother winner, celebrates victory in the Netherlands in 1999. (YouTube)
Bart Spring in 't Veld, the world's first ever Big Brother winner, celebrates victory in the Netherlands in 1999. (YouTube)
Bart and Sabine, Big Brother's first ever on-screen romance. (YouTube)
Bart and Sabine, Big Brother's first ever on-screen romance. (YouTube)

But the first person Big Brother turned into a celebrity was Dutch.

The inaugural series was not filmed in the UK, but in the Netherlands, home of Endemol, the media company run by John de Mol, the TV producer who came up with the Big Brother format.

The first ever episode of a series of Big Brother was broadcast on Dutch TV station Veronica this day 22 years ago, on 16 September, 1999.

The Netherlands version, which ran for 106 days until 30 December that year, was eventually won by Bart Spring in 't Veld, a 23-year-old from the town of Roelofarendsveen.

His in-house romance with Sabine Wendel, then 25, helped propel the show to huge viewing figures.

Bart won the £80,000 prize and the adoration of the Dutch public, but he later lamented living with the pressure of being in the public eye.

He and Sabine gave an interview to Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad last December ahead of the latest Netherlands edition of Big Brother, which returned after a 15-year absence and aired from January to April this year.

Channel Four's Big Brother winner Craig Phillips with the show's host Davina McCall after leaving the Big Brother House in London. The 28 year old body-building bricklayer was voted by the public as the winner and wins the   70,000 prize money.   * He confirmed that he will be donating his prize money to help his best friend's cousin Joanne Harris, who has Downs Syndrome, and needs a heart and lung transplant in the USA.
Craig Phillips was the winner of the first UK series of Big Brother in 2000. (PA)

“If I had known before hand Big Brother would have had such an impact, I would never have participated,” said Bart.

“I couldn't handle my fame. The attention that followed was constant and intimidating.

“Complete strangers in the street asked about having sex with Sabine. That's not normal is it?”

The show broadcast footage of the couple together underneath the bed covers, giving the impression to millions of viewers that they had sex.

Former Channel Four Big Brother contestant Nick Bateman at a press conference at St James' Hotel, in London, a day after he left the Big Brother House. The 33-year-old stockbroker was disqualified from the show for attempting to influence the voting.  * ...on the show, in an attempt to win the  70,000 prize.
Nick Bateman at a press conference in London a day after he left the Big Brother house in the show's first UK series in 2000. (PA)

But Sabine finally revealed the truth was a little different.

“You saw the blankets move, and then you saw us smoking a cigarette. That was it,” she said.

“We were messing around, but we didn't do it in that scene. The makers suggested that by editing that scene with that cigarette after it.”

Read more: How much do you remember about Big Brother?

Bart said when he exited the Big Brother house he “found the crowds frightening”.

In a previous interview, given in 2008 to The Times, he said he had suffered a number of breakdowns.

He told the newspaper: “I am not a fan of the programmes, or of people becoming famous for being stupid.

“If it’s true that I helped to create that mindless monster, I’m not too proud of it.”

Both Bart and Sabine went on to have fleeting careers in media: Bart worked for a radio station and even went to Baghdad to interview Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, a close adviser to Saddam Hussein; Sabine was a TV presenter, did a photo shoot for Dutch Playboy and now works in real estate.

Whatever their feelings for Big Brother, they helped spawn a TV beast – there have been more than 500 series of the show in more than 60 countries.