Channel 4’s new documentary claims Big Brother kept Nikki Grahame alive

There was something fishy about Nikki Grahame: Who is She?, in which Channel 4 claimed that one of its shows “saved the life” of one of the station’s stars. Particularly when that star has recently died.

Sparkly and stroppy, Nikki Grahame died, aged 38, from anorexia in April of 2021. She first made a splash as a contestant on Channel 4’s Big Brother in 2006, arriving dressed as a Playboy Bunny and leaving with many viewers’ hearts in her hot-pants’ pockets. In 2010 she was the runner-up in Ultimate Big Brother. With stints on the 2015 series and the fourth season of the Canadian version, Grahame spent 157 days in the “house”, more than any other contestant.

Big Brother presenter Dermot O’Leary explained her appeal: “There was a naivety there that never left her. She was a very sweet, sometimes tempestuous young lady. One of the iconic characters if reality TV.” 

The question that this programme danced around is to what extent reality TV is culpable for her death. It’s not every day I turn to Vanessa Feltz for wisdom, but she came off as the smartest analyst here when she noted that Grahame was “torn apart” by her conflicting desires: to starve herself until she disappeared, and to be seen by as many people as possible.

Grahame’s lovely mum, Susan, took viewers through the timeline. She explained that her daughter’s eating disorder first became apparent when she was just eight years old. At that time, many events in Grahame’s life were out of her control. Her parents’ relationship wasn’t good, her grandfather was dying and her dog died. So she seized onto her own food intake as something she could control. 

“Nikki became solemn,” said her mum. “She just wouldn’t eat what I put on the table. The doctor said ‘oh it’s just a phase’”. But the child’s weight plummeted. When Grahame struggled to climb the stairs without crawling her mother picked her up and took her to hospital. “She was so poorly, I had phone calls saying I had to come, that she was drifting in and out and they didn’t think she was going to make it,” recalled Susan.

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