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We've no regrets about our time on Big Brother... well, not many: NI contestants look back as the reality show turns 20

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Ashleigh Coyle

Ashleigh Coyle

Conor McIntyre

Conor McIntyre

Seany O'Kane

Seany O'Kane

Tom McDermott

Tom McDermott

Orlaith McAllister

Orlaith McAllister

Ashleigh Coyle

It was the unexpected TV hit that turned ordinary people into household names - and it all started 20 years ago.

Big Brother, which allowed us to watch the antics of housemates thrown together under one roof, was arguably the first and most famous reality show to grace our TV screens, having fans hooked from 2000 to 2018.

The show had several housemates from here over the years, including Miss Northern Ireland runner-up Orlaith McAllister and Omagh-born 'Tyrone Tom' McDermott.

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Orlaith McAllister

Orlaith McAllister

Orlaith McAllister

It also handed beauty queen Ashleigh Coyle and Londonderry Michael Jackson superfan Seany O'Kane a brief shot at fame.

As the programme marks its 20th anniversary, Ashleigh and Seany recalled memories of the show, good and bad.

Ashleigh (24), a former Miss Derry, famously finished runner-up in Big Brother in 2014 and has gone on to be a TV personality and to running her own beauty business, Sass by Ash.

"I was in Big Brother six years ago," she remembered. "Helen Wood won that year, and I came second.

"I was 18 years old when I went into the Big Brother house.

"I had just left school. I just finished my A-levels and went in.

"I think that it actually stood me in good stead in that I was used to that environment where you had your girls who talked about people and you had your friends.

"The overall experience was positive. I don't regret going in. It opened up a lot of doors for me. I learned a lot from it, mostly being tolerant of people.

"After I came out of the house I had a lot more negative feelings towards it, because it was just so daunting.

"I had suffered with anxiety before but it was at an all-time high when I came out. It was quite strange that people knew me and knew about my life. It was scary. But I think as time went on - and it's been six years - I suppose I have forgotten all the negatives."

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Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall

Looking at the anniversary, Ashleigh said her feelings were mixed. She added: "I think it's an excellent show and an excellent concept.

"But I think you really need to be mentally strong for it.

"People have their opinions of you. They see only 45 minutes of any 24 hours. And when you're sharing a house with 16 other people, that's not a lot of airtime.

"Viewers are only getting to see what they are going to talk about. And you can be targeted for things like that, and if you're not headstrong it can affect you maybe.

"I was lucky that in Northern Ireland and in Derry in particular people were so supportive and happy for me.

"That was one of my biggest fears, not being able to walk down the street without someone throwing something at me."

Fellow Derry native Seany O'Kane (31) is a father-of-one who currently lives in Moscow and works as a sex therapist. He was in Big Brother in 2008.

Seany O'Kane

He recalls it as a fun experience.

He added: "I was young, in my early 20s, and I got chosen to be in the biggest TV show around. I just went in to have a laugh. I didn't have a game plan. They put me in hiding for three weeks. I had a lot of energy, I was extroverted.

"I think they knew that putting me in hiding for three weeks in the middle of nowhere and then releasing me into this house, I was going to go a bit wild.

"I used to watch Big Brother and get frustrated that people got this opportunity and they squandered it and drifted into the background. So for me, I wanted to entertain people. I did some questionable things there.

"I got TV Moment of the Year in 2008 because I pushed a girl Charlotte into the swimming pool. I was the only housemate to get cheered on eviction. I had some really good moments. My only regret is it was shortlived."

Seany says that Big Brother had a huge impact on his life and shaped his future.

"The relationship between me and my dad wasn't perfect before Big Brother and it was a pathway for our reconciliation and I ended up being an ambassador for an organisation that connected dads and their kids," he added.

"I ended up doing family therapy with dads who wanted to reconnect with their kids, and now I'm training as a sex therapist."

Belfast Telegraph