Revamping Celebrity Big Brother may have backfired with less than half the regular audience tuning in for last night's launch, it has emerged.

According to overnight estimates, 3.5 million viewers watched the first instalment of Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack compared with 7.3 million who switched on for the launch show of Celebrity Big Brother last year.

Channel 4 chose to redesign the show after The Race row that blighted last year's regular star-name format.

Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty allegedly received racial abuse as part of bullying by other housemates including Jade Goody, prompting widespread anger across her homeland.

Apart from last night's launch, this year's edition of the show will not be broadcast on Channel 4 but will transfer to E4 for the remainder of its run.

And rather than a house full of celebrities, Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack features 12 of Britain's brightest young talents with star names taking the reins of the reality show.

Little Britain star Matt Lucas was the first celebrity hijacker and made an instant impression by equipping the first contestant with an earpiece through which he relayed instructions.

John Loughton, the 20-year-old chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament, was forced to obey Lucas' every word and perform a series of bizarre tasks, including professing to be a psychic, feigning cramp and randomly shouting the word "cake".

However the young Scot carried out Matt's wishes for 90 minutes before being summoned to the diary room.

He was told he had passed the task and had won a massive party for the entire house, as well as immunity from eviction for the entire series.

With a free pass to the final, John is now the favourite to win the £50,000 prize.

04/01/2008 14:52:46