Courtney Act entered Celebrity Big Brother as a little-known face in the UK – a rank outsider with the bookies who was best-known for having brushes of fame as a RuPaul’s Drag Race runner-up and former Australian Idol contestant.
Fast-forward a month and the 35-year-old singer and performer has stormed to CBB victory, propelled into a whirlwind of interviews, TV appearances and photoshoots and earning a whole legion of brand new fans who fell in love with both Shane Jenek and Courtney.
Meeting Shane in central London, he’s just as engaging and utterly charming as you’d expect, despite being up since 5am for an appearance as Courtney on ITV’s Lorraine. He’s still picking the glue from his hair and the mascara from his eyebrows mid-chat. He also says that yesterday he had to be up “super early” for Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, despite suffering from a bit of a hangover.
“I thought it was 10 minutes of fluffy morning TV,” Shane explains “And it’s a two-hour news programme. I’m sitting there like [he pulls a face] talking about Brexit and just trying to keep it together for two hours. It was self-inflicted but it was totally worth it.”
We should have guessed why he was so hungover on Monday.
“I saw Andrew for the first time [since leaving the house] on Sunday and it turned into tequila shots…” smiles Shane. “It was nice because it was the first time out of the house and out of that environment – and it was just the same as in the house.
“Although obviously because we spoke more directly about people who weren’t in the room,” he laughs. “We didn’t have to talk in code or eye gestures!”
His bromance / romance with Andrew was one of the biggest talking points from this series of Celebrity Big Brother. From mucking about and play fighting to sharing a bed and having heart-to-hearts, he’s even been given a bear from the former Apprentice contestant that he’s very sweetly named Brady.
This might be the cutest thing ever! @itsandrewbrady got me this guy to keep me warm & to remind me of the amazing month we spent together! I’ve called him Brady. He’s a really good spooner! Love you, Andrew and thank you. ???????? pic.twitter.com/EKBiSHwC0a
— Courtney Act (@courtneyact) February 6, 2018
The Celebrity Big Brother experience couldn’t really have gone any better for Shane or Courtney, although taking part in such a warts and all reality TV show is certainly risky.
“I did have trepidation,” Shane admits. “I had post-traumatic stress from Drag Race a little bit. Even though I loved it and I can’t be more thankful for what it gave me, it did take me a long time to take who was on camera and on the television and who I was and kind of work out how to move forward through the world.
“So going into this, I was going back and forth. ‘Is this the right thing? What if it all goes horribly wrong and I come out and everybody hates me?’. You just never know how the cookie’s going to crumble.”
The cookie undoubtedly crumbled in the best way possible for Shane, who took a whopping 49% of the total votes cast in the CBB final.
“Obviously with winning you know you did something right, but you still don’t know what the reaction is and it’s been overwhelming in a wonderful way – every day it sinks in,” says Shane.
“It wasn’t really until the night before that I even thought winning was a possibility,” he adds. “I thought it was year of the woman and a woman should win.”
During the night of the Celebrity Big Brother final, five housemates gradually became two until it was just Courtney and Ann Widdecombe waiting an agonising half hour to discover which of them had been crowned the victor.
— Big Brother UK (@bbuk) February 2, 2018
“When it came to me and Ann on the couch, I was like, ‘I want a woman to win…but I would rather win than Ann,'” says Shane. “Not because it was me, but because of what I think the women of 2018 represent and how I can support that.”
Ann was undeniably a controversial housemate. With her exceedingly conservative views and her political history of consistently voting against LGBTQ+ legislation in parliament during her 23 years as an MP, she was the antithesis of everything Shane and Courtney represents.
“Ann’s not a warm person… or at least she wasn’t with me,” says Shane. “I know her and Amanda had a cute relationship and I am interested to see that [on TV].
“Ann is pleasant to talk to and to be around…most of the time,” Shane adds, diplomatically.
Ann ruffled almost as many feathers during her time on the show as fellow housemate India Willoughby.
The journalist had arguments with, well, everybody during her short time on CBB, but most controversially with her “drag queen phobia” which she mentioned several times during her stay in the house.
Then photos emerged of India seemingly happily posing and smiling alongside drag artists at a Pride event (the pictures have since been deleted from India’s Twitter account), and it left fans and viewers asking a lot of questions.
After Googling the pictures and seeing them for himself, Shane says he was “a bit pissed off at first”.
“Then I thought, ‘This kind of really undermines and discredits her argument and what she says’ and moreover it discredits the integrity of all of her reactions. Because her reaction to Amanda misgendering her seemed very extreme.
“Obviously I have compassion for her and I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through life constantly misgendered. It doesn’t just happen once on a TV show, I’m sure it happens consistently throughout the day for trans people,” Shane adds.
“But then I thought, ‘I know people are going to ask me about this, and what I should do is actually message India and ask her’.”
So that’s what he did, and the response he from India was that because she was doing a paid appearance at a Pride event it was easier to smile and take a photo than try and explain to somebody that she had a drag phobia.
“All I can do is believe what she says I guess,” concludes Shane. “We haven’t had a chance to talk on the phone yet but I think at the end of the day I felt validated in her style of dealing with things is one way and it’s a very popular way in today’s world.
“On social media and things like that there is a real movement – whether it’s the trans movement, the queer movement or the feminist movement – to get your back up and not allow space for the other person to learn. So often the oppressor puts the burden on the oppressed to explain themselves. And that’s really problematic.
“But what I did get to see was the way India reacted didn’t help anybody understand anything. It’s frustrating and it does discredit her drag phobia, but at the same time all I can do is believe what she says – or not listen.”
It’s this thoughtful, informed and measured attitude that made CBB viewers and the rest of the UK fall for Shane and Courtney. And although he’s currently based in LA, Shane says he’s seriously thinking about moving over here.
“I fell in love with London the last time I was here,” he says. “The weather was epic for a week and I’d never seen London in that way. Even now when the weather is crap I still understand that side of London that I fell in love with.”
2018 seems like it’s going to be an incredibly exciting one for Shane: “It feels like after 17 years of hustling, the overnight success has happened!”
He might’ve ruled out a return to Drag Race, but perhaps he’s not adverse to fronting a UK version of the show? Or be a guest judge on the Emmy Award-winning US reality show?
“I don’t think it’s a reality but…no comment…” Shane descends into giggles and suddenly becomes incredibly coy. Intriguing.
Although one thing Shane does say that he’d “love” to do is new music. “If the right thing came along I’d definitely be interested,” he says. “But right now I think I’m really interested in television.”
It doesn’t sound like he’s short of offers.
“We’ve had so many meetings with networks and production companies,” he says. “The doors are open and they want me. Usually it’s me going, ‘Will you work with me, please?!’ and there’s already been some really cool discussions. Like, way cooler than I could’ve imagined really.
“None of it’s happening for sure yet but just the potential is really amazing,” he continues. “I love conversations, I love variety and entertaining and I sort of hope that some combination of that – the 2018 Sonny and Cher Show meets Saturday Night Live? I don’t know.”
For now though, Courtney is returning to Australia to perform her stage show Under the Covers – a variety show where she performs renditions of cover songs as well as telling her personal story which is also coming to the UK this June.
Shane’s hoping all of his fellow housemates will come along to watch, too. Well, almost all.
“I did ask Ann if she wanted to see the show and she was like, ‘Absolutely not’,” smiles Shane. “Although it’s probably for the best that she doesn’t come…”
Courtney Act brings Under the Covers to the UK in June 2018