In Britain, reality TV has been a massive part of our pop culture landscape for decades, inspiring both water cooler chatter and Commons debate, along with fuelling tabloid headlines, giving fodder to breakfast shows, and even influencing the names we choose for our children (Wagner Waller Science Morris... nice ring to it, don’t you think?).
For the last 20 years, reality TV has spawned countless faces that have been famous only for a fleeting moment, yet it has also given birth to an abundance of bona fide celebrities who have risen from their proverbial ‘15 minutes’ to carve out legitimate showbiz careers and become established, long-standing household names. Here, we celebrate some of the iconic stars of the reality sphere, how they came into the public eye, and what they’ve been up to since! Welcome to the Royal Reality Performance ladies and gentlemen. The red carpet awaits...
In the years following his Big Brother win, Irishman Brian Dowling remained a prince of reality TV, appearing on shows including Hell’s Kitchen, Come Dine with Me and Ultimate Big Brother, in which he was also crowned the victor.
Following his exit from the house the first time round, Dowling went on to present Saturday morning show SMTV Live, becoming the UK’s first openly gay children’s television presenter. After a rook of TV gigs, hosting jobs and time on the radio, Dowling’s fame came full circle when he returned to Big Brother as its presenter. He currently presents and narrates The Real Housewives of Cheshire.
You can’t spell ‘reality TV’ without the ‘GC’! Well, obviously in fact you can, but... meh! Love her or hate her, since she stepped into the telly world through The Only Way Is Essex, Gemma Collins has become a regular fixture on our screens and has carved out an impressive career as a household name.
Having starred in her own reality franchise, done a store of guest TV appearances, launched perfumes and lipsticks and campaigned very vocally for animal rights, she has become an icon and it’s hard to now imagine a world without her.
It’s so difficult to avoid this Essex lad’s pearly whites every time you turn on the telly that it’s easy to forget he was once the bane of Gary Barlow’s life as a contestant on the X-Factor. Since coming in to the public eye with his 2012 run on the show, Rylan has won Celebrity Big Brother, served as a regular face on This Morning, presented the revivals of both Supermarket Sweep and Ready Steady Cook, and currently serves as a BBC Radio2 DJ. And here, we’ve only scratched the surface. Sorry Gary, the man you once had a taxi “on hold” for has become an unstoppable force.
She may have been voted out early on Big Brother, but Alison Hammond didn’t stop there. Going on to be a TV powerhouse, she has since taken part as a contestant on both I’m A Celeb and Strictly, and for a while now has been a popular member of the team on ITV’s This Morning. Bravo Alison!
Katie Price/Peter Andre
Ok, they were famous beforehand, but we can’t really discuss reality TV without a nod to the most dramatic fairy tale-turned-nightmare love story it ever gave birth to. During their stint on I’m A Celeb, romance blossomed between Australian singer Peter Andre and not-so-mysterious girl Katie Price. Following their 2004 appearance on the show, the public became freshly obsessed with the two stars who spent the next five years maintaining public interest in their relationship through various fly-on-the-wall shows and even released an album together.
Since their divorce in 2009, both have remained in the public eye through various projects and headlining-grabbing stories regarding their subsequent relationships. We all know how the tale ended, but can never forget their former place as the once-time king and queen of reality telly.
‘Nasty Nick’ Bateman
The original villain of Big Brother, reality TV will never forget the legend of ‘Nasty Nick’ Bateman.
During his time as a housemate in the show’s inaugural series, Bateman drew the displeasure of the nation after it emerged he had been playing his fellow contestants off against each other and attempting to manipulate the weekly eviction votes. Confronted over his behaviour by fellow housemate and eventual series winner Craig Phillips, Bateman was given the boot from the show by Channel 4 and for a time was the most hated man in Britain!
After appearing on BB, Nasty Nick went on to become a TV presenter, author, radio host and newspaper columnist. In 2013 he moved to Australia to carve out a career down under.
Back under the spotlight and this time with sequins, 2012 Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite has been cutting quite the rug across our screens recently in Strictly Come Dancing.
Between his Bake Off victory and strutting his stuff on the Strictly stage, Whaite has opened his own cookery school, presented regular baking segments on Lorraine, and has hosted his own daytime cooking programme. It’s a ‘ten’ from us John!
The reality TV dream has been as successful for few others like it has for Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle.
The unlikely star with the voice of an angel became globally famous almost overnight after her stunning rendition of I Dreamed A Dream as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. Though Boyle didn’t go on to win the series – coming second to street dance troop Diversity – she went on to sell millions of records and rake in the proverbial ‘cheddar cheese’, with her debut album becoming the UK’s best selling album of all time.
Since being propelled into the public eye, Boyle has released multiple further albums, performed to both the Pope and the Queen, and broken musical records that The Beatles had held since the 60s. The darling of reality TV, her discovery on BGT was one of its landmark moments.
Without doubt two of The X-Factor’s most infamous alumni, Irish twins John and Edward Grimes finished in sixth place in the show’s 2009 run, yet went on to win quite well at life.
Following finally getting the X-Factor boot, Jedward went on to record four albums, star in tongue-in-cheek movies including Keith Lemon: The Film and Sharknado 3, and have also represented their native Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest... twice. Along with also starring in pantos, and making further reality TV appearances on shows including Celebrity Big Brother, Jedward also fronted their own CBBC television programme, Jedward’s Big Adventure.
On top of all this, the bouffanted boys have done their fair stick of charity work, campaigning on behalf of causes such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), Comic Relief and Children In Need. Fair play lads!
At the age of 89, Chelsea Pensioner Colin Thackery – who served in the Royal Artillery and saw service in Malaya and the Korean War – was the oldest person ever to storm to victory on the Britain’s Got Talent stage.
Since winning the show in 2019 and taking the stage at the Royal Variety Performance, the charming gentleman has released an album and penned his autobiography. Well done Colin!
Still one of reality TV’s most beloved sons, Craig Phillips was catapulted to fame due to his stint in the first run of Big Brother, which saw him go toe-to-toe with Nasty Nick and eventually win the series.
A chap with a heart of solid gold, Craig famously gifted the entirety of his £70,000 prize to his friend Joanne Harris – a sufferer of Down’s syndrome – as a means for her heart and lung transplant to be paid for.
Since his Big Brother victory, the former Shropshire resident has enjoyed a successful TV career as a DIY and home improvement expert, featuring shows including Builders Sweat and Tears, Housecall, and 60 Minute Makeover. Good on you Craig!
Now a household name of no mistaking Bake Off’s sixth winner is one of telly’s most recognisable faces.
Making a journey from nervous contestant to queen of the tent, Nadiya Hussain achieved victory in the Great British Bake Off in 2015. Since then, she has become a force to be reckoned with in the TV culinary world, presenting several of her own shows including Nadiya’s British Food Adventure, and Nadiya’s Family Favourites.
On top of this she has released her own homeware range, written several cookbooks, appeared as a guest panellist on Loose Women and (drum roll) is now an MBE! Top work Nadiya!
Since her famous self-chosen exit from The Apprentice in 2007, Katie Hopkins has crafted a career as an outspoken media personality and newspaper columnist.
With a reputation for far-right political commentary, Hopkins is a consummate polariser of public opinion and has been called out many times for strong comments relating to Islam, obesity, multiculturalism and social class. Since appearing on The Apprentice, she has been a contestant on I’m A Celeb and was a Celebrity Big Brother housemate in 2015.
One of the most tragic stories in reality television, Jade Goody became an instant star after stepping into the Big Brother house in 2002. After subsequently building a successful career in the public eye, Goody died in 2009 at the age of only 27 after a battle with cancer.
Jade’s story raised huge awareness of the danger of cervical cancer and led to hundreds of thousands of people contacting charities for information on the disease. Her time as a public figure did not come without periods of unpopularity – notably the Celebrity Big Brother racism controversy she was at the heart of in 2007. But her bravery in the face of her terminal condition has helped to save many lives.
It’s Chico time! It feels many years since this absolute sensation’s X-Factor days, and indeed it has been. Yousseph ‘Chico’ Slimani reached the quarter-finals of The X-Factor in 2005, delighting viewers with a series of flamboyant performances until he was finally given the chop from the show.
Following his departure, Slimani had a number one single with ‘It’s Chico Time!’, toured Butlins, and made numerous TV appearances on shows including Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Celebrity Juice and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. In more recent years, Chico has been an active fitness campaigner after suffering a stroke in 2018.
Rocketing to fame as the runner-up in the first series of Pop Idol, Gareth Gates became a household name at the tender age of just 16.
A very popular contestant, Gates showcased strong musical talent while fighting through a speech impediment, winning plenty of hearts in the process. Following Pop Idol, Gates enjoyed a successful music career, and later went on to do a stint in the world of theatre, starring in shows such as Boogie Nights, Legally Blonde, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
Still dipping his toe in the music pool, plenty of videos featuring Gates serenading his piano can be found online. A reality prince to the last!