It's no secret that being a Love Island contestant can change your life overnight. Gone is the anonymity, in favour of followers and brand deals. Nights at the pub traded for swanky hotels and parties. But what is it actually like six, 12, 18 months down the line? Here, five ex-contestants reveal all.
“I had trust issues before I went in, but once I left, it got harder"
The series 5 contestant entered the villa to escape her academic life, but is now nervous to date.
Yewande Biala remembers the conversation with her boss like it was yesterday: she was going on Love Island, and would be gone a week or so, and she’d email to let her know when she was coming back. Two years later and she still hasn’t sent that email.
“Luckily my boss was a fan of the show,” says Biala, who was working as an oncology vaccine specialist. “She said, ‘Take as much time as you need – if you come back, we’ll be here.’ I asked her not to give my job away.” Now she works as an influencer, creating content with brands such as Missguided and Boux Avenue.
Dublin-born Biala, 25, knew getting on the show was a big deal, but she had never been a fan. “I’d seen one or two episodes, but I’d never seen it the whole way through, so I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew I wanted to get out of this box I’d put myself in. I worked hard, got a first at uni, did a Master’s and I was a specialist by 21. When other people talked about all these experiences they’d had, all I had to talk about was the time I slept under a chair in the library at uni. I had to do something.”
It changed her life, although in some ways, not for the better. “I had trust issues before I went in, but once I left, it got even harder. Normally if you want to meet someone, you go on Tinder, but if someone matches with me, I think it’s because they’ve seen me on TV. I’m so paranoid that now I just don’t put myself in that situation.”
But Biala wouldn’t change anything. “I had an amazing summer. The way it’s engineered is so clever because you’re so completely focused on your time there that you forget about what we called ‘The Outside’. It means you’re really in the moment and I had my highest highs and my lowest lows in that villa.”
“I was offered £500k in the first year”
The series 3 contestant has worked to create a long-lasting career
When Montana Brown left the Love Island villa in 2017, it quickly became apparent that she’d need some help handling her new-found fame. “My mum set up meetings with four talent agencies,” she says. “One boasted about how they could earn me £500k in the first year, but I was more interested in how I could build a lasting career.” The former student now has a successful sustainable swimwear line, Swim Society, stocked on ASOS.
It’s this practical thought process that has helped the 25-year-old to stay grounded. “The first year after Love Island, I behaved like a bit of a brat – people give you everything for free, and do everything for you. But you can’t forget that you’re quite disposable in this industry. Future contestants need to know what they’re getting into, and also understand that fame and money don’t last forever.
“In the beginning I was constantly looking in my peripherals to see what other contestants were doing. Who’s working with which brands? Who’s getting paid what? You psycho-analyse yourself, because you feel pressure to look a certain way in order to get the work.
“As time’s gone on, I’ve learned you can’t copy people. I had to find what I was passionate about beyond social media, and now use it as a place to keep up with my friends.”
“A month after the show, we were in lockdown”
Shortly after Turley triumphed in series 6, the world shut down due to the pandemic
When Paige Turley won “winter” Love Island in February 2020, former contestants warned her that her life might get a bit crazy for a couple of months. But a month after she and her boyfriend Finley “Finn” Tapp left the South African villa where it was filmed, the UK went into a national lockdown.
“I met Montana at Sport Relief,” Turley recalls, “and she said, ‘It’ll be really busy for a little while. Get your downtime in when you can.’ But we went from lockdown in South Africa to a lockdown in the UK, but without a nice pool!”
Turley, who previously worked in retail and as a professional singer, moved in with Tapp and his family in Manchester in June last year. “I think we would always have moved in quite quickly. It’s very full-on in the villa and it would have been hard to go backwards.”
While the situation has meant she has perhaps missed out on some of the opportunities other winners had, it has meant she’s had time to really focus on her relationship with Tapp out of the spotlight. “You start the relationship very accelerated – you meet them and then you’re sharing a bed! So it’s been nice to find the basics. We did things back to front. Now we’re actually going to go on our first dates!”
She adds, “I keep saying to Finley that it’ll be nice when he can see me in normal clothes that aren’t joggers or pyjamas. He’s seen me in the villa in heels and dresses every night, and when we left the villa he must have been like, ‘Oh my god.’”
But despite everything, Love Island is the best thing she’s ever done. “It’s changed my life. I live in a new city with my boyfriend, I’ve doubled my family with Finn’s, and every day is a pinch-me moment.”
“I don’t have any regrets. Not one”
She was the victim of trolling after leaving series 4, but she hasn’t looked back
The moment Samira Mighty realised her life had changed forever was just hours after she left the Love Island villa. As soon as she stepped out of the car at Palma airport to fly home, people started pulling out their phones to film her. Others followed her through the terminal.
Just five weeks earlier she’d been at the same airport as a very different person: a 22-year-old musical-theatre actress. “I can’t compare being ‘just Samira who was in musicals’ to who I am now in the public eye. Imagine going from normal life where no one recognises you to one day suddenly everyone recognises you everywhere you go. The degree of fame was a huge shock.”
Mighty made a big splash when, three weeks before the end of the show in 2018, she chose to leave to be with her partner, Frankie Foster, who had been voted off the show after being in for just 10 days.
Along with getting used to overnight fame, Mighty says the trolling that came with it was a challenge. “It was surprising. You never expect to see your name trending on Twitter. I couldn’t get my head round how people can send messages like ones I’ve had. Every little thing you do gets looked at. People think they know you very well, but sometimes it can get a bit too personal.”
Leaving the show early didn’t affect the money she made off the back of it. She’s had multiple deals with fashion brands and appeared on The X Factor: Celebrity in 2019. “I wouldn’t call myself an influencer,” she says. “I like to put out what I put out, but I do want to be a recording artist and an actor. So I went on Love Island to explore new avenues of my career and I’ve met some amazing people in the music industry as a result of the show. I don’t have any regrets, not one.”
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity'
The series 2 contestant has turned to other Love Islanders since leaving the show
When a Facebook message from a Love Island producer popped up on her phone in 2016, Kady McDermott barely knew anything about the show. She was working as a MAC make-up artist at the time. “A researcher reached out with a link to apply. I hadn’t seen the first series, but I applied anyway. Three weeks later, I was in the villa.”
What followed is what can only be described as a "rollercoaster. I had a lot of mixed emotions in there, and I went in completely blindfolded. I didn't know what to expect. But looking back, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. "
Viewers saw McDermott make it to the final with Scott Thomas, who she was with for a year after the show. Lucrative work offers soon flooded in, including a cosmetics line By Kady, but the 25-year-old insists she would never work with a brand she didn't believe in.
"Obviously the money was sometimes appealing, but I would never promote anything I haven't tried. Makeup is my passion, and I also set up Body Goals By Kady, because people were so interested in how I worked out and what I eat. I wanted to do my own thing and work with brands that I actually loved - not promote diet pills."
Love Island also helped Kady to create strong bonds with other former contestants, like season five's Joanna Chimonides, because "We get each other's lives. I can count my friends on one hand, and while a lot of them have 'normal' 9-5 jobs, it's so nice to be close with someone who has gone through the same experience. She understands things that others don't." That's a friendship we want to be in.
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