As this year's Big Brother final looms, I thought I would take the chance to look back at one of the series' most controversial characters - Irish beauty Hazel O'Sullivan.
As an unashamed avid Big Brother viewer, who has been following the programme from series to series, channel to channel and presenter to presenter, I really do think this series has hailed a return to the show we all fell in love with. Gone are the ridiculous caricatures and back in are the everyday, identifiable housemates.
Big Brother is famous for having numerous glamour girls/models walk through its famous doors and most walk straight back out again the following week. Speaking on her audition VT Hazel looked every inch the stereotypical 'eye-candy' housemate, telling the audience 'I always get what I want' and then looking as if she had stepped straight out of a magazine, Hazel walked into the house amid deafening boos.
I was pretty nonplussed about Hazel at this point and remained so for many weeks, frequently forgetting she was even in the house at times as she flew pretty much under the radar for a long time.
It was only when the controversial 'incident' (apologises for the formal tone but I don't know what else to call it without being sued) happened in the safe house with fellow housemate Daley Ojuederie that I took any real notice of Hazel as a three-dimensional character.
Watching the episode, I stared open-mouthed at the screen and felt sick to my stomach for a long time afterwards. What I had seen didn't just offend me, it sickened me. Daley was in no doubt aggressive and intimidating and with his hands clasped tightly around Hazel's neck, his threats and widened eyes looked menacing in the dark. You would have had to have had a very cold heart not to have felt scared for, or protective of, Hazel at that moment.
What did Hazel do? Cry? No. Feel sorry for herself? No. She calmly told Big Brother that yes she was scared. What a shocker. Can you say you wouldn't have been scared if you were in her position? Daley was then rightly ejected from the house yet what did some in the outside world do? Who did they pin the blame on? Frighteningly, many blamed Hazel. It got me thinking as to why rationally minded people would side with someone displaying such obvious aggressive behaviour.
If Daley had done the same to Sophie would the public have had the same reaction I wonder. I would guess at no and suspect there would have been an outpouring of public sympathy with Daley wholly vilified for his behaviour and Sophie probably emerging as the winner of the show. And I would again guess that Hazel's overt sexuality is the reason she struggled for support with the public. Girls aware of their sexuality are seen as somehow 'asking for trouble' and solicit less sympathy than those who are typically viewed as more virginal and innocent. 'If Hazel hadn't led him on...' 'If Hazel hadn't teased him' were some of the excuses made to absolve Daley for his behaviour. To me, it was a shameful response from the public.
Once you throw beauty, confidence and being self-assured into the mix, women almost have no hope for sympathy. And it is something that continues to exasperate and frustrate the hell out of me. It baffles me how women in particular sided with Daley and painted Hazel as some kind of scarlet woman, even after the 'incident' in the safe house. These are the same women who branded Hazel a 'homewrecker' for flirting with Daley - even though she was single and he had a girlfriend. Time and time again, it is the 'other' women that women seek to judge and vilify when their man plays away. This doesn't just happen on TV, it happens day after day, week after week, to our friends, sisters and cousins. When are we going to learn to stop relentlessly putting other women down when 'competing' for a man? I can't say it enough, if a man makes you feel you have to compete on such an unhealthy scale, he is not worth shit to you. And if society makes you feel you have to alienate women in order to secure a man, I would suggest you look inwards to yourself and work on the most important thing you can ever own - self-confidence.
Big Brother's plan to sweep the 'incident' under the carpet also added to my frustration. Watching Big Brother'sBit on the Side directly following the main show, presenters Rylan Clark and AJ Odudu were quite obviously tasked with steering conversations away from what had happened and the time spent debating it was laughable. Main show presenter Emma Willis also gave Daley a far easier ride that she should have done - housemate Callum Knell got a far rougher time of it from the thoroughly unfunny Iain Lee on 'Bit on the Psych' after he was evicted over nothing at all. Go figure.
From there, I took notice of Hazel as she continued to stay in the house while being constantly put down and belittled by Gina (who has gone from hero to zero in my opinion). Following collusion with Big Brother bosses - who milked the Hazel/Gina divide for all it was worth (has there been a task Gina wasn't in charge of?) - Hazel had to endure the humiliation of thinking she had no fans prepared to write her a letter in the outside world and being singled out for tougher punishments in tasks. Sophie, Charlie or Gina would have crumbled under this pressure. Hazel didn't. She never once felt sorry for herself and just got on with the game.
Scratch the surface behind most girls doing Hazel's job and you can often find there is not much to see but the beauty of keeping someone like Hazel in for as long as she did was that we got to see more than a glamour girl. We saw her strength and someone who is quite clearly a girls-girl, having made friendships with many girls in the house - friendships that may have continued longer had poisonous Gina not chosen to deliberately turn them sour.
I hope the younger, more impressionable girls watching Big Brother do not feel they have to curb their own confidence, ambition or personality to get ahead or to curry favour with other men and women. Take a leaf out of Hazel's book and develop an inner steel - it will become your most valuable asset.