Tracie Joyce and John Madden catch up with him on the Travellers’ Voice cover photo shoot
Twenty years ago, if we had said to you that there’ll be an entertainment show where you’ll get to watch regular every-day people live in a house for several weeks, you probably would have said “sure, why would I want to watch something like that?” However, in 1999 the now famous Big Brother show began to grace our TV screens and, even though for some, it’s been something of an addiction; others might avoid it like the plague. It’s the marmite of TV; you either love it or hate it.
This year, however, saw the Big Brother house take a very special person into our hearts, that of course was, the gentleman that is Hughie Maughan. Not long after entering the house, Hughie, who was also the only Irish contestant; lodged himself safely into the hearts and minds of all who watched. We caught up with Hughie in Dublin recently to chat about his journey so far, and to find out what’s next for the Big Brother finalist.
As Hughie prepared himself for our photoshoot, we chatted with his proud dad, Hughie Senior who of course is still very active with the Iron-Man challenges, but he made very little mention of his charity work, rather he spoke passionately about his son. Minutes later, Hughie (Jnr) emerged and we began to discuss how his dream of becoming a Big Brother housemate became a reality, his upcoming appearance on dancing with the stars and why he decided to ‘come out’ as bisexual during his time on the TV show.
Are you excited about going on Dancing with the Stars?
I am very excited; I think I am the first Traveller to take part in the show. I have been in rehearsals this past few weeks and I am looking forward to showing off my new dance moves.
How are your rehearsals going?
Rehearsals are going very well although they are a lot harder than I anticipated. We spend a lot of time going over our moves but it’s worth the effort we are putting in. I would like to ask any of my followers who might be reading this to vote for me if you can.
Hughie, tell our readers about your life growing up?
I was born in Drogheda but we moved to Ballymun when I was two and that is where I grew up. I lived the majority of my life on a halting site in a caravan. I had a normal childhood and thankfully I have had very little tragedy to report. I have always been my own individual and I have always loved reality TV ever since I was a small child. I never felt like any of the other Travellers who lived around me; I didn’t see myself as growing up and getting married straight away, that wasn’t the life I wanted. I wanted to get myself a good job and begin a career that suited me. I went to school and completed my Junior and Leaving certs. I was also a boxer for eight years before I decided to go and work abroad for a year.
What motivated you to get involved in Big Brother?
I have always been a massive fan of the Big Brother show. I have watched every series since the beginning. I watched it as a small child even though I shouldn’t have. I just really liked it. I went online and found an email for a producer of the show and I sent them a lot of information about myself and of course I knew it would have to interest them, so I really put my all into the video I sent. They ‘phoned me shortly after I sent them my stuff and said they really liked what they saw and could I meet with them in Dublin and then travel to London for an audition. I did all this and then I had to go back to London again to meet the Channel 5 executives before doing another audition. I was short-listed from about 50,000 people down to about 50 people. They then sent a producer to Dublin to go on a night out with me to see how I live, and at this stage there were only about 20 people left to choose from. And then on the 29th of April 2016 I received the call to say I was going into the house, the feeling was surreal. I was so happy and excited about it.
Why do you think the show’s producers chose you?
It is very difficult to get on the show; I don’t know how I got accepted. I guess they just liked what they saw. People will say it is a reality show, it is easy to get on but that’s not the truth. I think if you’re good at something and you stand out as a unique individual then you have a better chance. It was a very rigorous process this year but I loved every minute of it and I would love to do it again.
Did you know any of the housemates?
I didn’t know any of them personally but I recognized some of them from past TV shows. I have never spoken to any of them before the show.
Were you worried you might not be accepted by the other housemates?
I wasn’t worried about being accepted as I had built myself up and prepared for it because I wouldn’t have liked to put myself into a situation like that without preparing for it. We literally only had each other for the next few weeks so I was just going to get on with it. I blocked everything about the outside world out. I wasn’t going to be thinking all the time about what people would say when I got home. I wanted to enjoy my experience and not have it ruined with thoughts. And if there were people in the house that didn’t like or accept me then I would just tell them they weren’t worth my time. Something I have always stood by is if someone likes me and are nice to me, then I will be the same to them. I am like that with everyone, even my family. If they love me they will love all of me and accept me for who and what I am.
Why did you make the decision to ‘come out’ as bisexual on the Big Brother House?
I think you just get to a stage in your life when you know when something feels natural to you, and I was 21, nearly 22 and I just couldn’t live unhappily anymore and no one should be expected to be unhappy. I also took time for myself to come to terms with my sexuality; then I went into the house and I wasn’t going to be one of these Travellers like on ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,’ I wasn’t going to lie and portray Travellers to be all the same when we are not. I just wanted to be me and be proud of who I am today, where I came from, and my sexuality; but more importantly I was very proud to be my own individual.
How did your family react when you ‘came out?’ Have they been supportive?
They have been incredibly supportive from day one with me and everything is brilliant with my family and me, it couldn’t be better.
Did you have any expectations going into the Big Brother house?
I didn’t think it would be as boring as it was. We were sitting around the house a lot of the time and also I thought they would provide more alcohol for us but they only gave us some at night. I didn’t have any expectations really because we were informed before the show that we will be shut off from the outside world so we had the chance to prepare for it. It felt like we were in space. It becomes normal to see people dressing up for tasks to try win food and we are nearly like children having to do what we are told and having to answer to Big Brother.
We are all aware of the romance between you and Ryan and you are now engaged…was it was love at first sight?
No, it wasn’t love at first sight when I met Ryan. I thought he could be fake as he has this big personality and I didn’t know what to make of him at first. As time went on we became great friends and things started to develop between us and although it was only seven weeks that we were in the house, to us it feels like months or years. And as time went on we became closer and he has been here to meet my family and I have flown to the UK to see him. It has only been three months since Big Brother finished and so much has happened in that time. Everything is going really well between myself and Ryan.
You weren’t afraid to stand up for yourself in the house; especially when it came to Natalie… have you seen or spoke to her since the show?
No I haven’t seen Natalie and nor do I wish to, she was there when I came out but I didn’t speak to her as she just wanted to talk about what happened in the past and I was done with all that. I just wanted to enjoy the night and I did.
Do you keep in contact with any of the housemates?
I do keep in contact with them; we have a WhatsApp group and we are always tweeting or messaging each other. I have made some friends for life from doing Big Brother and that will stay with me forever.
What are your immediate plans? Will we see you on any other TV shows?
There is so much I would love to do, certain things will be revealed in the coming weeks and I wish I could speak about it but I can’t. I will say you will be seeing me again soon and I am very excited about what is to come for me.
Do you plan to remain in Ireland or have you any plans to move to the UK?
Well because of some upcoming work I will be staying in Ireland for the foreseeable future. In around May, if I am not working in Ireland, I would love to move over and live in the UK. I am only 22 so I would like to try and live in different places; it is nice to get out and see the world.
Have you any advice for readers who may be struggling with their sexuality and don’t know where to get help?
Well firstly my advice to everyone, no matter what their situation, is to love yourself and live life for you. If you are struggling with your sexuality speak to someone close to you, a friend, cousin, aunt; anybody just speak to them, there is always someone there to help you.
What advice would you give to future Big Brother contestants?
If you want to go on Big Brother then I say go for it, what’s meant for you won’t pass you. Don’t be afraid just go for it. Thank you to everyone who has supported me… from the Traveller community to the settled community. I thank you all and watch this space as there will be more to come.