If you ever wanted a snapshot of how suffocating the lockdown has become, consider the answer of Anna Nolan, the Irish star of the original series of Big Brother, when asked if she'd care to reminisce on it. "At this stage, if you wanted me to sing the theme tune and wear a chicken outfit, I would, just for social contact," she says.
You know things are bad when it's getting rough for someone who once spent 64 days and nights cooped up with 10 strangers in the full glare of TV cameras. Anna, after all, is able for levels of claustrophobia that would kill an ordinary mortal. She is, all things considered, better equipped to deal with a pandemic than Kate Winslet in Contagion.
While some of us are struggling to put up with our parents or partners, Anna dealt with a group of fame hungry randomers, some of whom were "more irritating than you can imagine".
If Big Brother taught her anything, she says, "it was how to endure boredom well. There are so many ways around it. You have to try to achieve something small each day. They could be the tiniest of tasks, like doing a few lunges or going for a walk. And I learned to remember no matter how bad things get, you will always feel slightly different the following day".
When we imagined a pandemic, we probably thought it would be something suitably apocalyptic, like 28 Days Later. Instead, it turns out it has resembled an often tedious, occasionally riveting, reality show which aired 20 years ago this summer. Like nothing else before it, Big Brother showed what happens when human beings are subjected to industrial levels of cabin fever.
It proved that sometimes the best drama, the rat-in-a-maze sensationalism, happens when people are cooped up together all day and all night. It was a documentary on the craziness and petty domestic disputes that come with lockdown, a soft porn soap opera with moral dilemmas thrown in.
In its heyday, it answered the pressing social questions like: Is it possible for a woman to be born into the body of a man? (Nadia, series 5). Would most homophobes change their minds if they lived with a gay man? (Bubble and Brian Dowling, series 2). And can a man ever deliver a credible threat to a transgender woman while dressed as a panto villain? (Jason Cowan, series 5).
And it showed us that Irish people, like pandas, do rather well in captivity. Anna the nun, as she became known, was a kind of fantasy best friend for millions, the sane, cool-headed one in a house that also contained 'Nasty' Nick and Craig the plumber; she went on to become a successful television executive.
Brian Dowling, in season 2, was a former flight attendant turned one-man social movement. He went on to become one of the most famous Big Brother alumni of all and was eventually recruited to present the show.
Ray Shah, a Dublin man, was one of the stars of the fourth season. Their prominence, given the relative rarity of Irish people in the British Big Brother, seemed confirmation of the idea that we are just sounder than other nationalities.
The show made people famous for "just being themselves". At first glance, this seems like an alluring democratisation of celebrity - freeing it from talent, making it all about personality, something any young person would sign up for.
However, in practice it was more brutal than anything the music industry or Hollywood ever invented. It involved exploiting people's reactions and putting them in extreme situations so that their emotions were on display - like a sort of human zoo where the public could use the phone lines ("check with the bill payer, rates may vary") to bang on the glass of the enclosure. "It was abuse, of course it was," Anna recalls, "but we signed up for the abuse and we could leave any time we wanted. We were vain and desperate for attention."
Her first inkling of how big a show it was going to be was the phone book-sized contract that Channel 4 sent her. By then something was in the air: TV executives had become convinced that the next big hit would involve a reality TV social experiment.
The previous winter, the BBC had a very boring precursor to Big Brother called Castaway, which quickly fizzled out. In the same year, Fox in America had developed Temptation Island, where paradise-stranded couples were tempted into infidelity by hot singles - a sort of forerunner to Love Island.
Big Brother looked set to easily beat both of these early rivals, however. It had already been a huge hit in Holland but, while we had the internet in 2000, there was still no YouTube and, consequently, very little opportunity to hear about telly sensations from across Europe. It was reported that the Channel 4 show received over 40,000 applications, and the housemates selected to compete in the series were kept secret until they entered the house.
When they were made public, they were presented as a sort of bohemian ensemble - Anna was the 'lesbian nun', Andy Davidson admitted to appearing on a live sex show, while Caroline O'Shea had previously worked in a gay bar and sold sex toys.
During their stay in the house, the housemates were required to wear microphones at all times, ensuring everything they said was heard. Throughout the house, there were two-way mirrors lined against the walls, with a production team filming behind them. The bedrooms featured infrared imaging cameras, allowing the cameras to continue filming while the lights were off.
The Diary Room was where housemates were required to share their thoughts on the events in the house, and were often given tasks, which left the viewing public agog. During their time in confinement, the housemates were required to nominate two of their fellow contestants for potential eviction, and the two or more with the most votes would be nominated.
Big Brother was a sensation from the off. Millions tuned in to watch the first eviction and the confrontation between Craig, the eventual winner, and 'Nasty' Nick, the Machiavellian broker who was evicted for attempting to manipulate the vote. It was the television event of the year. Everything - even the chickens in the yard - was live streamed to the internet, and there was a new interactivity, with the public involved in shaping how the show played out.
There was an innocence to the first season. The original housemates' only inkling of the success of the show came from the number of evenings it was being broadcast. They had little idea of the stardom awaiting them on the outside.
As the series progressed through the decade, the fame-hungry housemates became increasingly knowing and the heavily edited, increasingly staged interactions would set the tone for a decade of reality television.
At the beginning, the show still retained a patina of being a purely social experiment. Channel 4 would draft in psychologists who would say things like "the housemates are feeling exposed right now" (you think?), but as the Noughties bore on, and Big Brother became ever more exploitative, the number of mental health professionals prepared to become involved in the show dwindled.
By then, Big Brother had become a sort of breeding ground for the kind of ersatz stars whose defining lack of self-esteem and high-priced lawyers made them the perfect and plentiful fodder for a rapidly morphing tabloid media. Its undisputed reality princess (with apologies to Kerry Katona and Jordan) was Jade Goody, a gobby Londoner from a broken home, whose lack of general knowledge - she thought "East Angular" was "abroad" - made her the original reality TV ditz.
The affection for Jade and her alleged dimness quickly curdled however. The presenter Dominik Diamond called her a "nasty slapper" with a face like a pig. She found herself in bed with her housemate, PJ, who denied their under-the-sheets fumble and ran from her, screaming. By then, the papers were calling her public enemy number one.
She was even more unpopular than Saddam Hussein (who she thought was a boxer) and Channel 4 had discussed providing her with protection after the series ended. Jade quickly learned that being "an escape goat" was big business, however. Six months later, she had her own reality show, columns in OK! and Heat magazines and was worth about £4m. She remained one of the biggest stars Big Brother had ever produced and in 2007 returned to the celebrity iteration of the show where she was accused of being racist against the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. Her referring to Shetty as "Shilpa Poppadom" was discussed in the House of Commons.
When Gordon Brown, then the UK's chancellor of the exchequer, flew to India to discuss trade, he was met by more than 20 news crews asking him about a programme he had clearly never seen. In India, effigies of Goody were burned. It was all quite nasty and Jade was a vulnerable character.
The following year, Jade learned that she had terminal cancer, the stages of which were reported in mawkish, desperate detail. When she died, at just 27, her obituary appeared on the front page of The New York Times. A tabloid freak show had become respectable news.
In hindsight, it's easy to wonder if the Big Brother producers would have gotten away with making her such a hate figure today. Jade was a fragile person and the intervening years have seen shows like Jeremy Kyle taken off the air after their guests took their own lives.
A decade ago, these kinds of questions were not yet asked. Big Brother became a global phenomenon, spawning Celebrity Big Brother, Big Brother's Little Brother (which helped make a star of Russell Brand) and Big Brother's Bit On The Side. It would inspire a whole ecosystem of reality dross, like Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea. In the last few years, Love Island has taken over the news cycle. Last month, Netflix launched its latest addition to the genre - Too Hot To Handle is a sort of mash-up of Love Island and the original Big Brother.
Do these shows have a particular appeal in a time of lockdown?
"We're all trapped now," Dr Tanya Horeck, Reader in Film, Media & Culture at Anglia Ruskin University told the BBC recently. "People are using reality TV as a way of trying to process how we're feeling during lockdown. I've seen countless posts on social media of people saying things like 'It's Day 35 in the Big Brother House'."
And in recent months, the contestants of the latest Big Brothers have found that there isn't much difference between life inside and outside the houses. In Brazil, the first cases of Covid were confirmed in late February - but by then, the housemates on Big Brother Brasil had already been sequestered together for a month. When they were finally told the news, it was on camera. It was "a great opportunity to inform and alert our viewers about Covid-19, but also to ensure the safety of our house guests," the show's director claimed.
There were similar scenes in the German, Swedish and Canadian versions of Big Brother. In the latter, contestants puzzled over why they could no longer hear a live audience booing and cheering on eviction night. "Maybe the house is… suddenly soundproof?" mused one contestant before the show was cancelled, the prize money donated to health charities.
Big Brother was always regarded as one of the worst excesses of a celebrity obsessed culture, but perhaps the stars of the show have lessons for the way we live now.
"All these years later, people are getting a glimpse now of just how boring it is being cooped together like that", Anna Nolan says. "One thing that really struck me was that the producers didn't actually have to do very much to provoke conflict.
"When you've nothing to do, the tiniest thing can seem incredibly irritating, the smallest gesture can seem deeply moving and something random on the news can seem very upsetting. When you can't leave the environment you're in, you swing a lot, emotionally speaking. So don't beat yourself up for that; it's very normal."
The Big Brother baby that never was (Big Brother, Season 6, 2005)
When dancer Anthony Hutton and cardiac nurse Makosi Musambasi had what was inevitably described as a "romp" in the house hot tub, she asked Big Brother could she have a pregnancy test. In the end, there was no baby and the pair gamely relived their tryst for an episode of Ultimate Big Brother in 2010.
George Galloway gets catty (Celebrity Big Brother 4, 2006)
The former MP would probably prefer to be known for his anti-war stance, but when his obituary is written, it will have to refer to that time he imitated a cat and drank from a saucer of milk. He later said his antics "were the same stunts that BBC presenters and celebs get up to for Children in Need". Nobody bought it.
Yeah Jackie! (Celebrity Big Brother 3, 2005)
When the producers of CBB decided that the magic ingredient missing in a house containing Brigitte Nielsen was her former mother-in-law Jackie Stallone, the introduction between the pair was TV gold. "Jackie?!" Nielsen spluttered. "Yeah Jackie," came the deadpan response - and became one of the slogans of year.
Sunday Indo Living