Life has been one big party for Peter James Ellis – better known as PJ – ever since he left the Big Brother house in a blaze of publicity. But things are about to get tough. As he told Lawyer 2B during the summer, before he can embark on his training contract at Bournemouth law firm Lester Aldridge in September, PJ has to pass three exams to complete the final stages of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) that he abandoned before the summer. But finding enough time to sleep, let alone study, is proving difficult at the moment.
“I’ve got exams in commercial property, personal injury, clinical negligence and… erm… matrimonial I think,” says PJ after a bit of a struggle. “My brain was beginning to turn to mush inside the house towards the end. People kept asking me questions about the law and I just couldn’t answer them. But I’m sure the exams will be okay,” he adds confidently. “I was on for a distinction before I left to go into the house, so I should at least get a commendation.”
PJ cut short his LPC year at De Montfort University in Birmingham in order to take part in the television programme that became a national obsession. Now in its third series, Big Brother’s brand of reality TV is proving to be more popular than ever before.
“I wasn’t really that interested in the first two series as I was in the middle of my degree, I had a girlfriend and the time wasn’t right,” the 22-year-old law graduate from Birmingham recalls. “But I just thought it was time for me this year.”
The show’s producers had to sift through more than 10,000 audition tapes in order to find 12 housemates for Big Brother 3, and PJ was soon shuffling through all 14 stages of the interview process. Most memorable, he says, was an introductory session with psychologists, who bleakly warned that taking part in the programme could “ruin your career and make you look like a complete idiot”.
In fact, it looked as though some of these prophecies were close to being realised when some newspapers reported that Lester Aldridge was none too impressed by his behaviour in the house – in particular, his booze-fuelled, late-night encounter under the duvet with fellow housemate Jade.
But PJ is all too happy to set the record straight now that he is back in the real world.
“My firm has given me full support through all of this and they gave me a call after I came out of the house. It was a massive weight off my parents’ shoulders to know I still had a job,” he says. “Now the only thing that will stop me taking up that training contract is if the firm changes its mind.”
Not that he hasn’t received other offers since leaving the house, of course. “There’ve been a few,” he admits. “Some agencies have talked about getting me presenting jobs with certain figures attached – but nothing concrete so far.”
But unlike some other Big Brother contestants, who have tried to spring from the show straight into a glittering showbiz career, PJ is determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground. “All the offers are very tempting. But I could never be a star and I don’t want to be a flash in the pan,” he states firmly. “In law I can have a career that lasts 40 or 50 years, earn good money – and I get to wear a wicked suit to work every day.”
Nevertheless, he is loving every minute of his current fame. When he spoke to Lawyer 2B, PJ was preparing for his “homecoming” to Birmingham, followed only a few days later by the final night of the show and a very, very long string of parties. Go into any newsagent and his face grins out from the front cover of countless magazines, all claiming to have the exclusive on what really went on underneath that infamous duvet. And as a result of a few lucrative photo shoots, he has managed to pay off all his student debts, something he is very pleased about.
Yet the downside is that unscrupulous types have already started to cash in on his good fortune. “One girl I was friends with claimed I used to bully her at school when she was 12,” he says. “But it’s just someone trying to make a bit of money out of me. The press have made some things up about me and mud sticks. I just hope that the people who deal with my firm realise that the tabloids are not always correct.”
PJ hopes his exploits will not deter clients from dealing with him – or Lester Aldridge, for that matter – and has his fingers crossed that his arrival will encourage more people to use the firm.
“I think the firm had earmarked me for the family law department,” he says. “But I may have to take a more background role.”
The move to Bournemouth will take PJ away from Birmingham for the first time in his life – apart from a brief stay in a certain house in Elstree, of course. As a result, he regards the 50 days he spent inside the Big Brother house as a sort of training for eventually branching out on his own.
“I went in with a lot of concerns about myself,” says PJ seriously. “In the real world I can lack patience and can snap at my family a lot. But when I was in the house I gave [the others] the utmost respect and patience. It really made me think about how I am in the real world.”
Few people can claim they got to know one of their workmates by watching them live on television every day for weeks on end, yet PJ is undaunted by the fact that his future colleagues at Lester Aldridge will already know an awful lot more about him than he will about them.
“I was in touch with some first-year trainees before I went in the house to find out more about the firm’s social side,” he says. “But I haven’t spoken to them since. So I’m planning to send them an email to fill them in on what’s been happening. And then I really need to knuckle down and get on with some work.”
Peter James Ellis