GREETED by a sea of fans and flashing lights as she left the Big Brother House, Rebekah Shelton could already feel her life spinning out of all recognition.
Appearing on the reality show in 2009 – then known as Rodrigo Lopes, a student from Brazil, living in Leeds – she admits she was hungry for fame, but now says the spotlight led her down a "crazy" path.
In 2018, following a death hoax, an appearance on the Jeremy Kyle Show and gender reassignment surgery four years earlier, she quit showbusiness and became a recluse.
Now aged 37 and working in IT, we visited Rebekah in her one-bed flat in Poole, Dorset, where she lives alone, with her blind cat, Princess, to speak to her about her quiet, 'ordinary' life.
"My mind just went a bit crazy after Big Brother, and it took me a while to get back to me,” she tells us. “And this is one of the reasons that I'm doing this interview; to show that I'm not the same person and I now have a normal life.
“I work, I have a cat, I pay taxes, and I regret many things I've done."
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'I wanted to be famous'
Big Brother moved across to Channel 5 in 2011 before falling ratings led to it being axed in 2018.
But last year The Sun revealed it was coming back — and going to ITV2, with the reboot expected to air in December.
When Rebekah entered the house in 2009, she was a completely different person in every way – “on the outside and inside”.
Just 23 years old, she had moved over from Brazil to study television production in Leeds and, as a huge fan of the show, thought entering the house might help with her career.
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“I would be lying if I said ‘Oh, I didn't want to be famous’ or ‘I just wanted to experience it’,” she says. “Everyone that goes on Big Brother wants to be famous and wants to be recognised and wants to be loved in a way.
“I wanted all that, but what I really wanted was an opportunity. I thought that getting into the show would be an opportunity for me to get into the television production area, but it ended up not.”
Before entering the house, Rebekah spent two weeks in hiding in France, where she was chaperoned at all times, unable to use her phone and contact anyone.
She didn’t find out she made the cut until one day before the show’s launch, and then, having got to the finals, spent 93 days away from the normal world.
Her housemates included runner-up Siavash Sabbaghpour and glamour model Sophie Reade, who infamously changed her name by deed poll to Dogface as part of a task.
Rebekah says: “It's a very genuine show and you don't actually see or hear anyone apart from the housemates.
“All you hear is your housemates and Big Brother.
“So being on the show I felt safe.”
Rebekah’s favourite moment in the show was when she thought she was meeting the real Queen, having always been a huge Anglophile – despite finding out it wasn’t really her afterwards.
But over the course of the series, she was also embroiled in frequent feuds with housemate Charlie Drummond – at one point discovering that someone had poured water in her bed.
She explains: “It’s a strange experience, because it feels like you are in a different world and anything can happen.
“You just feel like you are in a bubble and, in a way, protected, because you know you are being watched.
“But they also did play a lot with our emotions because they know how to get us to fight.”
'Roller coaster' years
Finishing fifth, Rebekah found it tough leaving the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Big Brother and returning to her normal life.
Her family were all in Brazil and while she has an adopted family in Leeds, who she was matched with when she first moved to the UK, she was living alone in a flat.
“When I left the show, it was a bit of a roller coaster and I didn't get much help,” she says.
“It was very hard to come to terms with getting back to normal because you spent three whole months in front of the cameras, and then suddenly, you were just back in your home with no cameras and it's just weird.
“I remember being by myself, and I thought, ‘What now? What do you do next? Was that all a dream?’
“It's a weird feeling, and it was very hard for me to re-adapt to my normal life.”
"Maybe because most of my life I lived by myself in England. I was with so many people in the house and suddenly I was just by myself. it was really, really hard and it took so many years to get back to myself.
Rebekah had gender reassignment surgery in 2014 “as well as a couple other surgeries,” after slowly realising she was a woman in the years after Big Brother.
"I didn't know [I was a woman in the Big Brother house]," she says. "I was naive because I always liked to have my make-up done and to straighten my hair and to wear feminine clothes.
"But to be honest, I didn't know what I was. I think things came naturally. And it wasn't like, 'I want to be this, I want to be that'. I think things just went with the flow."
She adds: "I had my gender reassignment surgery 11 years ago. And a few other surgeries just after that, but it's been many years since [the last one] and I'm not planning to have any more surgeries at all.
" I'm just happy to be myself. And I don't need any more surgeries to feel who I am. Maybe some Botox – I'm joking!"
She then did some more reality TV, appearing on Judge Rinder in 2016, when she was grilled about a missed payment for her £1,400 boob job.
While in the dock, she told Judge Rinder she worked as a call girl in London and could earn up to £10,000 a month.
Then, in 2018, Rebekah was reported dead in a hoax, but she later claimed her Twitter account was hacked, which she explained further on the Jeremy Kyle Show.
Rebekah confesses: “I don't like all those things that I used to say in the past.
“I'm not proud of many things that I've said, because I said things that I actually regret, and maybe I had some bad influences saying things to me but also I get the blame for saying things that I shouldn't have said.
“And it's not worth it to do everything for attention and say things that shouldn't be said.”
New 'normal' life
Rebekah moved down to the south coast of England not long after to get away from the hustle and bustle of Leeds – and it’s clear she’s enjoying the quiet life.
When we visit, her mum is visiting from Brazil for a few months – and she’s baked a delicious chocolate cake for us, which Rebekah constantly offers up, as well as coffee.
“I only see her once a year, and I’m going to miss her when she’s gone in a few weeks,” Rebekah says.
She got a job in IT and tells us how she “worked hard” to afford the flat she lives in now, and she’s been studying hard to finally get her British citizenship.
“I live a totally normal life,” she says. “I go out walking with my cat, who was born deaf, and I work a lot.
“Whenever I have spare time, I like to do things at home. I'm obsessed with changing things and buying things for the house or just cleaning, buying something nice to eat or watching television or a movie.
“I have a quiet but very happy life, and I’m not dating anyone.”
She continues: “I've had to fight to be the person that I am today and to get a normal job, to get a normal life, and to work really hard to be able to buy my property.
“I worked during the whole pandemic and also I've been paying my tax and contributing to this country that I love so much. And I'm finally getting my British citizenship. And I'm really, really grateful for that.”
Despite everything, Rebekah says Big Brother was the “best experience of my life,” and her only regret is focusing on having fun in the house, rather than the prize money.
“I really like the person that I used to be, I was just naive,” she says. “All I wanted was to have a good time and if I met the person I used to be, I would just give them a big hug, and just thank them.
“If I wasn't that person, I wouldn't be the same person I am today, so I'm very grateful to that person who went on Big Brother because now I'm a completely different person, not just on the outside but also because of all the life experience that I've been through.”
She continues: “I learned that living is about enjoying every moment and the simplest moments.
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“It's not about fame and about trying to achieve highs in life.
“I used to want to achieve highs, but then I learned that instead of going that high, it's better to go halfway, because if you go halfway, if you fall, the fall is not too bad.”
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