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'You won't trust social media after you watch this series!'

She has proven her presenter prowess on Big Brother and now Emma Willis is taking on Channel 4's The Circle. Gemma Dunn finds out more

Emma Willis as a different person
Emma Willis as a different person

By Gemma Dunn

When Emma Willis bid farewell to Big Brother last autumn, she had no idea she would one day move on to its "competitor". In fact, the star (43), who had worked across the reality franchise and its celebrity spin-off for seven years before it was axed, didn't know where to turn.

"I always worry that there's not going to be another job," she told Red online when the final series was announced. "My little period of doing well is going to dwindle. I still have impostor syndrome."

Fraud she is not. And just one year on, she's proved her fears were unfounded as she's set to host Channel 4's ground-breaking hit, The Circle.

Back for a second season - its first run was named the broadcaster's most popular new factual entertainment series for young viewers in 2018 - the reality game show will see Willis take the reins from Alice Levine and Maya Jama, who presented it in its infancy.

And it's quite the gig, considering she initially missed its debut.

"I didn't watch it when it aired, because it was on against Big Brother," she says. "But I kept hearing friends talk about it. I was like, 'What? What do you mean you're watching it!' I watched it afterwards and I gasped. I then just watched it back-to-back, pretty much. And loved it."

Dubbed a popularity contest, The Circle sees eight players housed in separate apartments within a single building. But they don't get to know each other face-to-face; they simply communicate via a purpose-built, voice-activated social media site. The radical set-up means the competitors can choose to be whoever they want to be, with the aim of the game being to avoid being blocked or eliminated, at which point the other players will discover their true identity. The last person standing will go on to win up to £100,000.

So, there's a bunch of people living in a building. Tick. A cash prize. Tick. But that's where the buck stops when it comes to similarities between this and Big Brother, Willis reasons.

"I've always viewed Big Brother from the social experiment point of view, whereas with The Circle, I view it more as a game show. And any psychological stuff that comes into it is kind of a bonus, a cherry on top."

Promising to be bigger and better than the previous, this series will offer up an extended run and weekly live episode - complete with a panel - hosted by Willis.

A self-confessed people-watcher, what does she make of the deceptive element of the show, considering last year's (male) winner Alex Hobern won £75,000 "catfishing" as "Kate"?

"When I heard about this show, I thought it was glorifying the fact that anyone can be anyone, that you don't know who you're talking to," Willis admits.

"But then I watched it and I didn't view it in that way at all.

"Watch this programme and you will never trust talking to someone online, who you don't know, again."

But it's ultimately about being level-headed, she states.

"Social media can be an incredibly positive place, a helpful place. But, like everything, there's good and bad, isn't there?" she asks. "So, the best thing to do is be educated and knowledgeable on both sides of it.

"It's a tool for our job as well, so it's something that is around. But we only ever try to be on it during work hours and then we put it aside in the evenings.

"But also I think you have a duty to genuinely be you on it. Forget filters, forget trying to make yourself sound perfect. Put yourself out there or you'll never know who you're talking to."

That gives some indication how she'd play The Circle, then.

"I'm too paranoid. I would not trust any of them. I'd be me, 100%, yes. For me, my responsibility on social media is to show a genuine reflection of myself.

"So, if I went into that game, I would have to do that. And, if I didn't win, I'd be like, 'I need to change my personality!'"

And, finally, is it really the end for Big Brother? "I don't know," she answers, tentatively. "I would hate to think it's gone forever; they'd be foolish not to do something, even if it's just a one-off. A birthday special. Quarter of a century. Something.

"But you never know, it might be dead and buried forever."

The Circle, Channel 4, Tuesday, 9.15pm

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