Nikki breathed new life into Big Brother when she hysterically entered the Borehamwood bungalow in 2006 (Picture: REX)
‘WHO IS SHE? WHERE DID YOU FIND HER?’ Few stars, reality or otherwise, have been quoted and adored more than Nikki Grahame.
I can’t imagine a single day has gone by since her outburst in the Diary Room where someone somewhere hasn’t re-enacted the venom pouring out of her veins, attributing her tantrum to a friend, colleague or simply because asking the question ‘who is she?’ seems wasted unless performed with the same ferocity.
In the early hours of April 9, Nikki died after a life-long battle with anorexia. In the weeks leading up to her death, her friends released a plea to Big Brother’s fiercely loyal fans, asking for help.
Nikki was in ‘a very bad way’, they said; NHS treatments weren’t working and it was time to resort to specialist treatment.
In a matter of days, after several Big Brother stars, including Big Brother’s Bit On The Side host Rylan Clark-Neal, shared the appeal on social media, the gofundme page raised almost £70,000.
However, less than a month after the lifeline was set up for Nikki, a statement from one of its founders confirmed she had died aged 38 and the money raised would be donated to an established organisation to help others suffering from anorexia.
Nikki breathed new life into Big Brother when she hysterically entered the Borehamwood bungalow in 2006. Just when we thought we’d seen it all – a wine bottle doubling up as a sex toy, security breaking up actual riots and an overnight pregnancy after a fumble in a hot tub – it’s unlikely any of us had ever come across anyone quite as absurd and endearing as Nikki.
For that summer, as she huffed and puffed because someone else had eaten her cereal, collapsed and quivered because Big Brother had popped on the air conditioning, and fell in love with fellow eccentric Pete Bennett, millions were gripped by the aspiring actress, whose biggest claim to fame at the time was appearing as a contestant on Blind Date and an extra in EastEnders.
During many stints on Big Brother, a record-breaking five including her time on Big Brother Canada, she refused to be defined by her personal battles and more importantly, in her own words, clearly ‘loved life’ (Picture: REX)
She made no secret that she wanted to be famous and was without a doubt the single most effortless entertainer to enter Big Brother, destined to be a star. While Big Brother was the first time members of the public could be hurled from obscurity and land right on the C-list, few housemates continued to captivate the Big Brother fandom for years after their departure.
She was an overnight national treasure, going on to land her own spin-off series, Princess Nikki, E4’s treat to fans missing her seismic meltdowns, quickly signed a lucrative book deal and she became the first and only Big Brother contestant to win a National TV Award for Most Popular TV contender. The award never took place again and is entirely plausible organisers put the accolade together just because she deserved to be honoured for something, at least.
I have no idea how many times my friends and I have sat and belly laughed reminiscing about Nikki, each time the voices try and out-do each other, getting louder and louder as, for better or worse, few topics of conversation spark such excitement.
Following Nikki’s death, I spoke to a mutual friend who described anorexia as one the most unrelatable illnesses to anyone who has never experienced it. While Nikki brought endless joy, her eating disorder received less attention than her Big Brother best bits. During many stints on Big Brother, a record-breaking five including her time on Big Brother Canada, she refused to be defined by her personal battles and more importantly, in her own words, clearly ‘loved life’.
While the moments Nikki brought us to tears of laughter have proven unforgettable, it’s not often her courage is applauded in the same esteem. In 2010, after announcing Big Brother would no longer air on Channel 4, the broadcaster closed its final series won by Josie Gibson by inviting its most notorious housemates from both Big Brother and its celebrity counterpart back into the house.
Of course, Nikki was among them. She eventually ended up as runner-up to Brian Dowling who was crowned The Ultimate Big Brother winner, though she was later voted the Best Big Brother housemate of all time in a separate poll.
During her stay with Big Brother’s elite, she proudly opened up about how far she’d come in her battle with anorexia, to a taken aback Vanessa Feltz, who, like many of us, often forgot Nikki had to be a real soldier all day every day.
‘I faced all my demons and turned it around,’ Nikki told her in the Big Brother garden. ‘I was a bit down this morning when I put my jeans on and they didn’t fit me anymore. But you know what, Vanessa? Everybody who has this illness to the extent that I’ve had it I believe it does live with you for the rest of your life. I can live a normal healthy happy life I can watch whatever I want. I’m healthy, I’m in control, I love living.’
Those of us outside of Nikki’s inner circle may have been less familiar with her life-long fight with anorexia. By the time Ultimate Big Brother came around, the show’s ratings were dwindling. Subsequently this moment from the archives will have had less eyes on it, but is a moment that should be remembered for its courage and honesty as much as her obscenely comical Diary Room hissy fits.
Few people deserve to be called an icon more than Nikki Grahame. While she was easily one of the most entertaining people to ever walk into the Big Brother house, Nikki was always unapologetically honest, direct, and herself. Many housemates would try and fail to match Nikki’s charm and absurdity, but in 19 series of Big Brother no one ever came close; nor did any other reality TV show ever produce a star quite like Nikki.
I hope remembering Nikki, her fans still smile and cackle as they watch old YouTube clips and storm across the kitchen reciting her classic lines which were quite frankly robbed of a Bafta. Her legacy will always be ‘WHO IS SHE?’ and rightly so, but Nikki was braver and wiser than many people gave her credit for.
In 2009, she published her first memoir, titled Fragile: The True Story of My Lifelong Battle with Anorexia. She made sure her eating disorder never became entertainment but didn’t run away from bringing desperate attention to a problem still killing thousands of people, mainly women, every year.
Nikki’s death will hit hard for many who never met her. I was just finishing my first year of university in the summer she entered Big Brother, and it’s no exaggeration when I say that I spent almost every waking hour watching Nikki kick up a fuss about the cornflakes shortage, complaining that she was living in Baltic conditions but also starting what would become one of Big Brother’s most memorable romances with Pete.
Since then, she’s become one of the most memeable and quoted stars in living memory and always will be for a lot of us.
She was the sort of unmissable television which could never be replicated. Reality television doesn’t and can’t produce the calibre of stars it used to and that’s because none of them could ever capture the brilliance, wit and natural absurdity of Nikki. She is and always will be a true icon.
Credit: Original article published here.