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Nikki Grahame: Big Brother star who reshaped reality TV and became a darling of internet ‘hun’ culture

Alice Hutton
·5-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tributes have poured in for Nikki Grahame, the kind-hearted star of Big Brother who helped reshape reality TV and became a darling of internet “hun” culture in later years, after her death aged 38.

Grahame, who took part in the seventh series of Big Brother in 2006 and was one of its first big, break-out stars, died on Friday after a long battle with the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.

The news was announced on Saturday on a Go Fund Me page that was set up last month by friends and family to pay to check her into a private hospital after her health began to go drastically downhill during the pandemic, raising nearly £70,000.

Tributes began to pour in from fans on social media, where Grahame had found unexpected fame later in life as part of good-natured, British “hun culture”, that celebrated British, female celebrities, and was beloved by women and LGBT+ communities in particular.

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Rylan Clark-Neal, who presented Big Brother’s Bit on the Side shared an image of Nikki alongside the words: “Thinking of Susan and Nikki’s close friends and family. A Big Brother Icon x.”

Drag Race UK star, Cheryl Hole, tweeted: “I had the absolute pleasure of working with Nikki Grahame last year! She was an absolute joy, an icon like no other and will be so deeply missed! RIP Nikki.”

Big Brother Canada host, Arisa Cox, who featured Grahame as a guest, tweeted: “HEARTBROKEN to hear this devastating news that the incredible force of nature that is Nikki Grahame has passed away. We messaged some love to each other just a few weeks ago and I cannot believe this is happening. We love you Nikki.”

Author Juno Dawson added: “Nikki Grahame was a reality TV icon and I so dearly wanted her to be well. This is very sad.”

Many fans referred to her importance to them as one of the first, early, reality TV stars in the 2000s who was a ‘relatable’, working-class woman with “huge emotions without being apologetic” and who helped reshape the genre into what it is today.

Others shared messages about the much misunderstood anorexia norvosa, which affects an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK and is one of the deadliest mental health conditions when it comes to fatalities.

Labour MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana, said: “Devastated to hear about Nikki Grahame’s passing. When many of us think about Big Brother, we think of her, how funny she was & the joy & warmth she radiated. Sending love & solidarity to those who knew & loved her, & everyone living with & recovering from an eating disorder.”

Grahame rose to fame in 2006 on the seventh season of Big Brother, where she came fifth.

Grahame in 2010 after being evicted as a runner-up on Ultimate Big BrotherGetty Images
Grahame in 2010 after being evicted as a runner-up on Ultimate Big BrotherGetty Images

She later went on to star in her own reality series, Princess Nikki, as well as publishing books, Dying To Be Thin, in 2009 and Fragile, in 2012, detailing her eating disorder struggles, which began when she was a child.

In recent years she became celebrated as part of a rise of “hun culture”; the practise of sharing memes and videos of relatable, British female celebrities mostly from the early 2000s, like Katie Price, Gemma Collins, Atomic Kitten, Kerry Katona, Girls Aloud and EastEnders’ Dot Cotton.

It included multiple Instagram accounts like @loveofhuns who celebrated Grahame as an “icon”, regularly posting photos and videos of her famous rants and complaints, despite them taking place on Big Brother nearly 20-years earlier.

Instagram account, loveofhuns, posted a tribute to Grahame after her death was announced. Grahame had found unexpected fame in later years as a darling of internet ‘hun’ cultureInstagram/loveofhuns
Instagram account, loveofhuns, posted a tribute to Grahame after her death was announced. Grahame had found unexpected fame in later years as a darling of internet ‘hun’ cultureInstagram/loveofhuns

In 2018, Vice included Grahame in an article on British hun culture and why it was so appealing to women and LGBT+ communities, writing that it is about “rejecting respectability politics and relaxing into your unfiltered best worst self”.

It added: “...at the very heart of gay diva worship is not the diva herself but the almost universal homosexual experience of ostracism and insecurity. See: Nikki Grahame screaming ‘who is she?’.”

Last month, following the announcement of Grahame’s relapse into anorexia and the Go Fund Me, Grahame’s mother Sue told The Telegraph that her daughter’s health began to deteriorate during lockdown, partly as a result of no longer being able to go to the gym, which she attributed as crucial for the maintenance of her mental health and well-being after years of struggling to deal with her condition.

Nikki Grahame and her mother pictured at her 2009 book launch for Dying To Be Thin, a memoir about her eating disorder. Her mother said last month that she had relapsed during the pandemic when gyms had shutGetty Images
Nikki Grahame and her mother pictured at her 2009 book launch for Dying To Be Thin, a memoir about her eating disorder. Her mother said last month that she had relapsed during the pandemic when gyms had shutGetty Images

Ms Grahame told ITV: “With Covid, it sounds crazy but stuff like gyms closing impacted her. In order for her to eat she needs to know she can exercise, so when they closed it was quite a worry, the isolation as well.”

The message on Go Fund Me announcing her death said that the funds raised for her treatment would be used to set up an organisation to support people suffering from anorexia.

It said: “Nikki not only touched the lives of millions of people, but also her friends and family who will miss her immensely.”

For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this piece, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677.

NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.

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