It's been a huge year for Melbourne's Benjamin Norris. In November 2012, he won Big Brother Australia, becoming the first gay contestant to win the series, and winning the nation's hearts when he proposed to partner Ben Williams on live TV.
Nine months later, the 33-year-old is in the throes of planning the wedding, setting up his own career as a showbiz reporter, and making use of that cash kitty of $250,000 from Big Brother. TheFIX chatted with Ben about his post-BB life in the lead-up to Monday's new season.
How he spent the $250,000Ben has spent $50,000 of the prize money so far, paying off credit card debts, upgrading cars and flying himself around Australia for charities and his new job as an entertainment reporter for showbiz site Scoopla. The rest of the money will go towards an investment property, and setting up a life for the two Bens.
"Having an engagement party was one, buying a house is another, having a wedding is another, living in our new house and looking at the possibility of having children, all of these things will play out, it's the foundation that's being laid," Ben reveals. "Obviously a foundation that I thank Channel Nine and Southern Star Endemol every day for, that I have this opportunity to be in this position."
Happy couple: Ben and Ben; Ben working for Scoopla. Images: Supplied.
Ben and Ben: The romance continues!Despite proposing on national TV, Ben eschewed a ritzy engagement party for a more low-key event at his mother's place in Melbourne.
"We just had close family and friends at my mum's house, put up some fairy lights," Ben tells TheFIX. "We had people ringing us and asking us if we wanted to have our engagement party at their really expensive facilities. And I guess being on Big Brother and winning that money hasn't really changed what I want out of life and what I think is right for me."
Ben and Ben, who are in their fourth year together, have set the date for their wedding for March 2014, and plan to have a vineyard ceremony in the Yarra Valley.
"We both wanted to have it in Victoria regardless of it [not] being legalised," Ben says.
Ben still pinches himself about the Australian public's positive reaction to his on-air marriage proposal.
"If we were to watch what the politicians are saying, they would paint Australia to be these homophobic bigots who don't understand," he says. "When you actually pass the torch and ask the Australian public who watch BB, mind you it's only a test pool of people who watch the show, that test pool is the young families."
New job and reality show turn-downsBen turned down an offer to appear on Big Brother UK to follow his dream of entertainment reporting.
"I didn't really have an interest in pursuing a lifelong career in being a reality TV star. I went on Big Brother to be a storyteller and to enjoy the experience," he said. "I'm a storyteller and I'm fascinated by the entertainment industry, I'm interested in real people. I just think what I want to do is be good at something. On BB, I didn't show a real talent other than being a bit outspoken and making people laugh."
Ben almost appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice Australia, but after a show reshuffle, the part went to BB runner-up Layla Subritzky.
"If you ask me, Layla has been born to do reality TV, she's adorable and interesting to watch through the eyes of an English girl living in Australia … I couldn't think of anyone more perfect to do that," he says. He's right about that check out some of Layla's funniest Apprentice moments below:
Ben has also thrown himself into charity work over the past year, being the Australian ambassador for Hello Sunday Morning, a global movement promoting safe drinking. He's also worked with regional youth network RYDON, charity Homeless No More, and Out Doors Inc, a not-for-profit organisation that uses outdoor activities to help those with mental illness.
Advice for new Big Brother housematesBen will be covering Big Brother for Scoopla, and says he's "looking forward to watching the show as a viewer" this time around. Does he have any advice for the new housemates?
"I think that the most important thing, what I was told by my mother before I went into the show, was to be open and honest and to have a good time," he says. "Try not to be what you think the public want you to be … just be true to yourself."
One of the new housemates also happens to be a gay man named Ben.
"I think that's just fabulous!" Ben laughs. "I think BB should put in a gay person every year, and tell a very different story [each year]."
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Get to know the new Ben below: