Top reality TV stars over past two decades from Susan Boyle to Gemma Collins

It’s 20 years this week since the birth of reality shows on British TV, with Ben Fogle on Castaway.

Here Ian Hyland picks his Top 20 reality TV stars over the last two decades, and the moment that defined them.

From the voice of an angel to X-rated antics with pigs, Ian looks at the most memorable snippets from reality telly over the past 20 years from Susan Boyle's powerful Britain's Got Talent moment in 2009 to 'The GC' Gemma Collins.

Not forgetting big names such as music mogul Simon Cowell, popular Brit TV duo Ant & Dec and showbiz royalty Sharon Osborne.

Craig Revel Horwood

No other UK TV judge has ever come close to Craig Revel Horwood in full-on destruction mode. And you have to admire his bravery.

“You had a bizarre vacant look on your face like someone who has just been lobotomised,” he said to a national hero’s mum – Judy Murray – in front of 12 million viewers.

★Most memorable moment: Craig believed he was simply laughing along with Anton’s comedy Austin Powers teeth. Only problem was they were Anton’s real teeth. Even Tess Daly laughed.

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David Gest

I had so many insane conversations with David in real life, there was no way I was leaving him off this list. For his campfire stories alone, he should have won I’m A Celebrity in 2006.

★Most memorable moment: Typical David, he was asleep throughout his finest hour back in 2016: Angie Bowie telling their fellow CBB housemate Tiffany Pollard, “David’s dead” and Tiffany thinking she meant David Gest , not David Bowie. An unfolding drama that could not have been scripted better.

Gemma Collins

Whether you like her on not, you cannot deny Gemma Collins – or The GC as she’d prefer to be known – instantly makes any TV show 50% more watchable. I understand why the Strictly bookers are loath to put the call in, but
they surely accept it must be done this year.

★Most memorable moment: So many to choose from, but trotting around the CelebrityBig Brother garden with a Shetland pony just pips her Dancing On Ice faceplant.

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Jayne Middlemiss

The current Love Islanders probably don’t even know who Jayne is, so we can’t expect them to appreciate the debt they all owe her. Her stint on the celebrity version in 2005 featured the kind of awkward love triangle upon which the ITV2 hit now thrives – Jayne, Abi Titmuss and Lee Sharpe.

★Most memorable moment: A toss-up between Jayne’s emotional diary room confessional – “I’m crying on TV. Over a boy” – and her tearing Lee apart on camera over his deception.

Katie Price/Peter Andre

It may have ended badly but for a while this was the greatest love story ever told. It captured the imagination to such an extent that Katie and Peter kept it going for the next five years through various fly-on-the-wall shows for ITV2.

★Most memorable moment: Their TV wedding in 2005. It was like a fairy tale, with Katie’s Cinderella dress and Disney carriage. It even took place in a castle. Pete was a bit sweaty though. Was it an omen?

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Rebecca Loos

Cards-on-the-table time. I’m only including David Beckham’s old pal in this rundown for one reason. What a reason though: possibly reality TV’s most memorable moment ever. Rebecca on Channel 5’s woefully underrated The Farm doing to a male pig what must be done to male pigs on farms in order for more pigs to be made.

★Most memorable moment: Please don’t make me go into further detail.

Rylan Clark-Neal

He’s made such a name for himself as a TV presenter, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Rylan even took part in The X Factor . He also put a tidy shift in on Celebrity Big Brother . Next stop? Strictly Come Dancing , I reckon. Hosting it, not competing in it.

★Most memorable moment: His dramatic Judges’ Houses tears on hearing Nicole Scherzinger had put him through to the finals. To be fair, it was a big deal back then.


Chico and Jedward are fair shouts, but even they must bow to the king of The X Factor. Giving the retired PE teacher from Brazil a wildcard to the finals in 2010 remains the No.1 contribution to music made by Louis Walsh. Don’t ask me what No.2 is.

★Most memorable moment: Who can forget his She Bangs/Love Shack medley? Or Cheryl Tweedy tearing into him for calling her “a girl from a council estate who got lucky”? Technically he had a point.

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Alison Hammond

Some people might have taken being voted out second on Big Brother as a hint. Not Alison Hammond. She bounced back and ended up taking part in Strictly and I’m A Celeb. Not only that, she carved out a niche on This Morning and is now one of the finest showbiz interviewers on British TV.

★Most memorable moment: Pretending she’d peed in the Big Brother shower to annoy clean freak Alex Sibley. It may have led indirectly to her eviction, but was probably worth it.

Ann Widdecombe

She may not be your political cup of tea, but her reality TV show pedigree cannot be disputed. We were all behind her as she attempted to shift some chunk on Celebrity Fit Club in 2002 and we were definitely there for her comedy routines with Anton Du Beke in 2010’s Strictly. Following accusations of homophobia, she fared less well with some viewers on Celebrity Big Brother in 2018.

★Most memorable moment: That paso doble on Strictly. We didn’t know if Anton was dancing with her or performing a citizen’s arrest.

Ant & Dec

Okay, so Ant & Dec would probably still have been stars without reality TV. But, would reality TV have been such a success without them though? I doubt it. I’m A Celebrity would have finished at least six years ago. All we need now is for one of them to be a contestant.

★ Most memorable moment: Nothing tops the absolute joy in their eyes as Paul Burrell squealed his way through that Bushtucker Trial in 2004.

Davina McCall

It’s hard to describe just how much of a TV event Friday nights were in the early years of Big Brother. Much of the credit for that went to the host. Davina lived and breathed Big Brother and she conducted the crowd on eviction night like a circus ringmaster.

★Most memorable moment: The genuine OMG moment in 2005 when Davina wore a black bikini as she conducted Sam Heuston’s eviction interview. TV hosts just didn’t do that in those days.

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Jade Goody

Jade remains the most powerful example of reality TV’s ability to turn an unknown into a star. In the space of one barmy summer she went from being a dental nurse in Bermondsey to being one of the most talked-about celebs in Britain. Jade’s life ended tragically young but even then she pushed the boundaries, taking part in a fly-on-the-wall series as she prepared for death following her cancer diagnosis.

★Most memorable moment: Jade and bridesmaids going up West to Harrods to blag some wedding gear. You can take the girl out of Bermondsey…

Kerry Katona

It could be argued that she is the epitome of reality TV – she has literally lived her real life on our screens. When that happens you have to take the good with the bad, and as the bad has been so well documented, let’s celebrate the good. She won I’m A Celebrity in 2004 and was runner-up on Celebrity Big Brother in 2011. So at least the public loves her.

★ Most memorable moment: The Iceland adverts Kerry did after becoming Queen of the Jungle still make me smile. Prawn ring, anyone?

Nasty Nick Bateman

The fact that will still call him Nasty Nick is testament to the enduring power of reality TV. His crime on the very first series of Big Brother – passing secret notes to his fellow housemates – seems tame in comparison to what we’ve seen since. At the time though HE DESERVED HELL FIRE!

★ Most memorable moment: The house meeting in which Craig Phillips exposed Nick’s “very dirty plan”. I still recall the message I received from my boss as it was happening: “Put Channel 4 on. Now!”

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Nikki Grahame

You might not recognise the name, but if I were to shout “Who. Is. She?” it might all come flooding back. I can’t really remember any other specifics about Nikki in Big Brother in 2006. I just recall her being incredibly annoying, delightfully mischievous and addictively watchable. Basically, the perfect housemate.

★Most memorable moment: The full version went like this: “Who. Is. She? Who is she? Who is she? Where did you find her? (Long and deep sigh).”

Sharon Osbourne

Mrs O’s telly stardom began on MTV’s fly-on-the-wall series The Osbournes in 2002, and it was no surprise when Simon Cowell snapped her up in 2004. She remains the most entertaining judge The X Factor has ever had.

★Most memorable moment: Sharon throwing bagels and a ham joint over her LA neighbour’s fence in an early episode of The Osbournes in protest at their late-night folk-singing. Then the police showed up.

Simon Cowell

He may be more famous these days for changing his own face, but only a fool would deny that Simon Cowell changed the face of television forever. He wasn’t above being seduced by the power of reality TV himself either. The 2003 fly-on-the-wall documentary Being Simon Cowell was a real eye-opener. In fact, I reckon a second series is way overdue.

★Most memorable moment: No contest. Will Young turning the tables on Simon when he dismissed him as “distinctly average” on Pop Idol in 2002. Possibly the first – and last – time we saw Simon lost for words on a TV show. All he could muster in defeat was a pitiful: “You are a gentleman, sir.”

We are so knowing about reality TV these days that if Susan Boyle arrived on screen tomorrow, we’d all dismiss her as a cynical and contrived sob story. However, it was a different story when Susan shuffled on to the BGT stage in 2009. It was such a powerful TV moment, Simon Cowell has spent the best part of 10 years trying to recreate it.

★Most memorable moment: Her vocals on I Dreamed A Dream, of course. Oh, and her flirting with Piers Morgan. He’d met his match and he knew it.

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