Big Brother!! The reality television show first hit the UK screens in the summer of the year 2000. That summer I was glued to my screens watching it as the drama unfolded. There was Tom, from Northern Ireland the local guy for me to support. There was the whole nasty Nick business, by a guy called Nick Bateman who played the game right, strategically and got no votes against him. However he breached the rules and had to leave, inspired by a conversation from Craig Philips, the eventual winner. The was the whole fact that is was something new on the TV!
The final night of Big Brother (or as its now called Big Brother 1) was watched by millions on a Friday night in September 2000. Like many I watched it with a few mates and a carryout. As we sipped our Harp we all voted for Craig that night. He got the girlie vote cos he was a down to earth lad, a genuine nice bloke and also did a naked scene where he got his large willy out on national TV (the series was screened on the internet, and the naked scenes later appeared on the official video and DVD). He got the lads vote cos he was the same as most of us – he still likes going to the pub and he still likes his mates and his football. In the early days of Big Brother there was not as much at stake, nobody knew how popular or unpopular the show would be. Craig came out as winner and immediately donated the entire £70,000 prize money to Joanna, one of his mates who was disabled and had been saving to go to the USA for a major operation. He had won the show and the hearts of millions. The original Big Brother in the Year 2000 will always go down as the best in my opinion – it set the standard. It ended in September 2000 and with it there was a buzz of enthusiasm, loads of people (myself included) now had mobile phones and used the internet (though until 2002 I didn’t have an email address), and the scene was set for the growth of reality TV and just reality shows…
So I had hoped there might be some kind of local Big Brother (and indeed there was to be later on, at Queens University in Belfast; though the details of which I never found out), but a local nightclub which I often frequented at the time decided to have its own “Big Brother In Law” show based in the nightclub itself. The nightclub was The Boom Boom Room in Bangor, previous winner of Ireland’s best nightclub, and although it sometimes had bad (even false) reports of drug use at the time, it was an amazing nightclub at the time, very state of the art and a real dance club attracting top DJs (I believe Des Mitchell and Judge Jules played there). So when I heard that it was doing a “Big Brother In Law” I HAD to apply for it and I HAD to be in it. I love doing spontaneous things in life, and things which in my opinion improve your social life and your experiences. It was also a time where I was going nowhere working as a lousy “stock control assistant” in Tesco at Springhill on the edge of Bangor (see other posts) and I needed something new. Yes I had my Northern Ireland football fanzine at the time which used up a lot of my time, but I needed something new, which in a way would end up being trapped in that era. It was one of those things that was a craze or a fad at the time…
Indeed at the time I was a member of the Boom Boom Room nightclub, I’d filled in a form and paid about a fiver for this, I seem to remember an old membership card as well! My old school mate Scott Callen had also worked there, and on ocassion I pulled a fine young lady in this particular club, the finest I remember to be the pretty brunette Diane McMurray. I often wonder what happens to these people who we meet for 5 minutes and never see again…I phoned the club up and spoke to the manager which was Scott Keenan, so I went down to see him, almost for an “interview” on why I wanted to be in “Big Brother In Law.” In honesty I had no idea what it was, I just told him it sounded good craic and I wanted to be part of it. I also told him I had loads of mates who would come down to support me on the club nights, which would have bumped some extra cash into the club (sadly at that time, my mates weren’t so accomodating, with some having moved to Belfast, Londonderry and even Oxford!) but I had to make sure I was one of the four male contestants, out of 8 in total (4 girls would be in there as well, obviously!).
It was something of a revolution and a very brave venture by the Boom Boom Room. It probably was Northern Ireland’s first ever “Big Brother” of a type, maybe even the world’s first ever “Big Brother” in a nightclub. That is using the recent phenomenon at the time as the basis of the nightclub’s event. Scott Keenan said to me that all it was was attracting a bit of a buzz, a few more customers, have a bit of a laugh and something that would get people talking in the town! I was well up for whatever it was going to be. So I’d got in. I went back down to the nightclub a few days later during the day to meet my fellow contestants and fill in forms and stuff as well as supply a photo for the local papers. It was a bit of a buzz, and some of us that day talked about how it could become something quite big in the area. People in work were talking about it, as were people in the town’s bars. However we were foolish for thinking it would be popular, I wasn’t really worried if it was to be a flop, or popular or if I was voted out first or would win!
Scott gave us all a great incentive anyhow by saying that the winner would get £1000, each contestant would get £25, each contestant would get free entry to the nightclub for an entire year, and would get as many mates as possible in for free on the club nights where the event was happening. That was all sounding great, and as I chatted to fellow contestants Mark Alexander and Amanda Caldwell, we still wondered to ourselves, “what the fuck is happening?” and “what are we actually meant to do?” We knew it would be nothing like the real Big Brother, the nightclub simply wouldn’t have had the budget to film for 24 hours a day or to look after contestants! So it was basically that the contestants would meet in the nightclub once a week for a few hours, do some tasks and then face the public vote. The only public vote would be those who were in the nightclub that particular night, with everyone entitled to vote once on a piece of paper!
So that was it, we were told to turn up for a pre club drink that Friday night, which spookily was Friday 13th October 2000. It seems weird to think now that it was over EIGHT years ago I did this, and that it was when most people didn’t even know about or care about Big Brother (it was really in 2001 and 2002 when it got bigger), so I was very proud to be part of this wee adventure back then. I cant remember what the build up was like, its all rather a blur looking back now. I was meant to get loads of mates to turn up to support me that first Friday night, as there was a vote on the very FIRST night, and then one every week after that until the winner of the £1,000 was chosen! For some reason I had told Scott I needed 10 tickets for mates or something, but as I recall now there was my mate Bob, plus Windsor bar girl Sarah, who had turned up and was probably supporting me. And that was it, except maybe some of Sarah’s and Bob’s mates. So although I was looking forward till it, I was aware that I had a lack of support on my side at that particular time. Work mates weren’t interested (and in honesty my Tesco workmates didn’t socialise with one another back then), some of my mates had moved to England and Belfast for University and weren’t around, plus my cousin and his mates couldn’t make it as they played football every Saturday and liked to party on the Saturday night instead of the Fridays. So I still turned up enthusiastic and was looking forward to the banter in front of a large crowd!
We met in the top floor of the Boom Boom Room, and in the old VIP room at the front were we met the Compere and got our photos took. Incidentally I’d love a copy of them photos right now, or even videos. I’m sure it was all filimed, as it was a take on “Big Brother”, though none of us ever seen the videos, I wonder are they lurking about somewhere? We knew a bit about each other already of course, as we had met at that “filling in forms” day, and we also appeared on the front page of the local newspaper that week! For one week only I was front page news…in The County Down Spectator. I kept copies of all the papers at the time actually, which I’ve scanned in and included on this post, they serve as great archives actually! So we each had our own photo and short profile in the papers and the Boom Boom Room’s advertising campaign included fliers detailing that drinks prices would go down depending on how the contestants performed in tasks! So I would be under pressure to bring down the drink prices!
We were introduced to Harry McGovack, who would be the show’s host if you like! He would introduce us. As I looked the least nervous, Scott (bar manager at the time) asked me if I wanted to go first and of course I had no hesitation in saying yes! At that point we all walked wishing each other luck and singing “It’s only a gameshow, it’s only a gameshow” (this was the very popular caption sung by all the housemates on Big Brother, and all 8 contestants had watched the show, obviously) as we walked out in front of a packed audience! We hadn’t anticipated the amount of people that would be there. Looking round at the time I remember it being a mass circle round us on the dancefloor. I had been led out first, with Amanda Caldwell, Jenni Warnock, Debbie Barlow, Tina Shand, Jim McCarten, Mark Alexander and Chris Kelso following me in that order onto the main dancefloor. It was dark and the music calmed to a halt as we were each given about a minute to tell everyone who we were and why we should win and what we would do with the money! I had already had a few drinks and didn’t exactly even plan anything to say or, more likely talk any sense to complete strangers in one of Northern Ireland’s biggest nightclubs!
I recall saying that I was Jonny the Northern Ireland fanzine editor nut who wanted to spend the money on finding new players for the Northern Ireland team! What a load of bollocks! Looking back that’s hardly what a nightclub audience wants to hear is it? It all happened really fast and all I remember was in Chris’s speech he got loud cheers for likening himself to everyone in the club that night. He’d won them over kind of! The girls had been quite nice, and very normal, plus in a nightclub full of blokes, they were hardly going to vote out four young ladies were they? (In hindsight this judgement was spot on…) So the speeches were done, the crowd had gotten to know us, and there I was on the middle of the dancefloor and paired up (as voted by the audience) with young Jenni. The pairs were then to strip down to our underwear adding to the sex appeal of it all and then swap clothes and see who got the best time! Jenni was an attractive girl, so getting a glimpse of her boobies would definitely have been on my tick list that night! However I was dressed in a Hawaiian style t-shirt (no doubt inspired at the time by Liam Gallagher) and swimming trunk with boxers underneath, knowing this would be easier to change out of than jeans and a belt, then the staff came over with buckets of cold water and soaked us!! Brilliant wet in front of an audience, and with grey boxer shorts out, the shape of my willy would soon be on show!
Then the whistle blew and it was go go go. Me and Jenni were pretty quick at getting our kits off and as we put each other’s clothes on, including shoes, we had done it in good time and hugged each other before waltzing off to dry off with towels in the side room. We were the second fastest of the night, with Jim and Tina being last, and that was influencing drinks prices! However as we had a drink back stage, the public were voting and putting them behind the bar into voting buckets to be counted the end of the night, we wouldn’t know the outcome until the following week’s eviction though! The club was packed and we all returned back in to get pissed! The drinks prices were cheap, less than £1.50 a drink as I recall and there I saw Bob by the bar who had voted Chris out, some girls by him had voted me out and it became obvious that not many of the girls had received votes! I then met the lovely Sarah. Sarah knew me from drinking in the Windsor as she had worked there and I used to chat to her all the time. By coincidence, tonight she had come with a few friends to support me, and was cheering me on, which was nice. I never saw her again after that actually, I know she fell pregnant and had a baby in the year 2001, and I often think her and me should have been together.
Anyway I’ve digressed, the buzz of the first night of Big Brother in Law was over, they had a good attendance for the event and all was looking good. I still felt I’d probably be voted out the next week, but was looking forward to it. Myself, Mark and Jenni went out for a few drinks midweek before the first eviction, and that’s when I met Billy Hamilton in the Cafe Ceol! Northern Ireland world cup star of 1982 and 1986 was drinking nonchalantly in the bar. I spoke to him for a while and got his autograph, and the best thing about it was he was with 20-30 year olds who didn’t recognise him! He remembered me from before, as back in 1997 myself and Michael McClelland had interviewed him for our Northern Ireland football fanzine, Here We Go…Again! It was a good night and then came the Friday and eviction! Again I didn’t have many mates there to support me, which probably influenced the vote but at least the night before we had featured in the paper again, with some photos from the cross dressing and first “Big Brother In Law” night appearing so we expected again another great turnout and more fun. That night when we turned up everyone agreed that no matter who was voted out first, we had a great time and we should come down to watch all the remaining weeks! I agreed to that, and anticipated the show to get bigger and better each week. Then in front of a not so busy audience we walked out to hear the first eviction announcements.
In Davina McCall style Harry McGavock called my name out! And there I was in front of everyone being evicted, it was more of a big cheer than any sort of boo, and was a bit of craic, as I picked up a suitcase, jokingly pretending I had been voted out of a “house” as I walked off to the VIP room! I felt a bit gutted at the time and did the fingers to the cameras as I walked off (this even had to be blacked out and blurred in the subsequent week’s Spectator clipping of my evicition!). While all that was going on, one by one the contestants were guessing music tracks before leaving the dancefloor as they lost…I was lying down when everyone came in. I was exaggerating my defeat in a “OK I’m pissed off, but lets go to the bar now!” We did and I remember getting pished that night and walking home drunk with Bob. It was a great night, and then the pressure was off me as I was out! I had been ejected, evicted! I had the accolade of being the first ever person to be evicted from a Northern Irish style Big Brother! A pretty good claim I think. I was Northern Ireland’s Sada Walkington. Of course I wasn;t famous, none of us were, it was all just a bit of fun. That week in the paper a photo of me appeared as being ejected! That left 7 more to be voted off…
I turned up the next Friday to watch the remaining 7 turn into 6, as this time Chris Kelso was voted off, the 6 remaining contestants then had to get dizzy walking round a stick on the dancefloor. The popularity of the “Big Brother In Law” had NOT increased over the weeks, but fallen, with a dwindling attendance. The first week there were loads, and this lessened each week for the next 3, though I turned up anyway, wishing Mark to win the whole thing! Jim McCarten was next out, meaning the first three evicted were all guys, obviously with more guys turning up at the club then the girls weren’t being voted out, cos there was the chance to see them in underwear during some tasks! But then strangely the whole “Big Brother In Law” thing died away completely, with low attendances at the next few Friday nights, and even stranger no photos in the paper, and very little mention of it. At one point they decided to get rid of two contestants at once before the show died on its head. It was sad really, because the idea was brilliant, the time was right and the organisers had the balls to try something new. There wasn’t even a “final” as I recall, the last two contestants simply split the £1000 prize and took £500 each. Not bad, but no fame! Well it was only a gameshow anyway wasn’t it?
SO that was it, back in the year 2000 I was the first ever contestant to be evicted from Northern Ireland’s first ever form of a “Big Brother”, a nice little memory and something I was proud to be part of. I’m not sure what happened to the other contestants though. I met up with Mark a few times for a beer after the show ended, and the rest I’ve never seen since. I wonder do they even remember it? Still the images here serve for the reminder of what happened, and my brain has recalled a lot of it after 8 years. There are no other traces of the event online, not even in photo or video form, so perhaps its best to condemn “Big Brother In Law” to the history books. If anyone who remembers it, or was even in it, photographed it or videoed it is reading this, do get in touch, and thanks to everyone at the Boom Boom Room for letting me be a part of it, whether it flopped or succeeded, we did it and it was great fun!
Who Took Part – Jonny Blair, Chris Kelso, Mark Alexander, Jim McCarten, Debbie Barlow, Jenni Warnock, Tina Shand, Amanda Caldwell.
What Newspapers Was It In – County Down Spectator and Ulster Standard, Newtownards Chronicle, Ards News, North Down Herald and Post.
When Was It – October – November 2000 held on each Friday night.
Where Was It – Boom Boom Room Nightclub, High Street, Bangor, Northern Ireland.
Who Won It? – Nobody really knows…
What I won by taking part – Free entry to the club on the event nights for me and as many mates, Free entry (Gold Card) to the Boom Boom Room Nightclub for the entire year until 31st December 2001, £25 in cash, a legendary Black T-Shirt with “Big Brother In Law – Contestant” written on it, a few free drinks backstage from the management!
What tasks I did – A speak in front of the live audience on why I should win, cross dressing with fellow contestant Jenni Warnock where we swopped clothes, apart from one item (I kept my boring grey boxer shorts on!).
What other tasks there were – guessing song titles, spinning around a stick, taking yer clothes off, jumping up and down on pogo sticks.
The current website of the former Boom Boom Room (now in three different sections: Club Mint, Cafe Ceol and The Sumo Lounge): http://www.cafeceolbangor.com/flash.htm
(The club/bar has also been called “Play” and “Charlie Heggartys” in its not so distant past)
A video of what happens in Mint, formerly the Boom Boom Room: