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'Very scary' Maura Higgins says it took ‘a whole year to get over the stress of Love Island’

The reality TV star opens up on her struggle with instant fame – and taking advice from Michael Barrymore

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Maura Higgins

Maura Higgins

Maura Higgins

Reality star Maura Higgins says her memory of her first year of fame is patchy at best. The weeks and months that followed her departure from the Love Island villa in 2019 were so “overwhelming” and “stressful” that she has little recollection of events.

She does, however, recall this: “I remember doing jobs when I first came out and I remember sitting there with a lump in my throat because all I wanted to do was cry. I remember that.

“But there are so many times I actually can’t remember a lot of stuff. Someone will say something to me and it was like I wasn’t there. I was there in body but not in mind, which is quite scary.”

We’re chatting over Zoom about the launch of her new show, RTÉ’s Glow Up Ireland, and the expectation pre-interview is that she is going to be incredibly difficult.

The last time we met, on a shoot for the Sunday Independent Life magazine shortly after she left Love Island, we had spent the afternoon in a London apartment and she was warm, open and affable. There were no media minders shielding her and no question was off the table.

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Maura Higgins...''I am finally content"

Maura Higgins...''I am finally content"

Maura Higgins...''I am finally content"

Fast-forward two years and Maura is said to have made her first million as an ambassador for some of the UK’s biggest fashion and beauty brands, as well as appearing on a number of hit TV shows. In the run-up to this interview I have been told to submit my questions.

It takes three attempts and each time her team of UK handlers return with a firm ‘no’ to even the most innocent.

I’m told that I can’t ask her about the pressure to be perfect in the age of social media. I can’t ask her about her successes and challenges since starring on Love Island. In fact – and quite absurdly – I’m advised I can’t even ask her about Love Island.

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Maura Higgins with Curtis Pritchard on 'Love Island' in July 2019. Picture by Rex

Maura Higgins with Curtis Pritchard on 'Love Island' in July 2019. Picture by Rex

Maura Higgins with Curtis Pritchard on 'Love Island' in July 2019. Picture by Rex

I’m beginning to think the exercise is pointless when Maura appears on screen. She is wearing little, if any, make-up and is still looking as picture perfect as she does on her Instagram account, which has 3.3m followers. Her hair is scraped back and she’s dressed in a starch-white tank top and blue jeans.

We talk for a few minutes about her new TV show, which will see amateur make-up artists compete to be crowned Ireland’s next make-up star, and she admits her own make-up skills were once a “disaster”.

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In her trademark Longford accent she laughs: “I used to use this thing called a ‘pan-stick’ and I would rub it all over my face and then I would get a sponge and do this...”

She demonstrates long, dramatic strokes from her forehead to her chin — and something tells me that, regardless of the corporate machine behind her, Maura will still be her good old self.

Actually, she looks even more relaxed and happy than when I last saw her in 2019, when she’d been working until 2am, before driving five hours for our interview.

I ask her how things have changed for her in the two years since – and it all comes spilling out.

“You probably wouldn’t have known this at the time but when I came out of the villa my head was everywhere. It was so jumbled, I didn’t know where I was.

“I had moved straight over to England and didn’t get back home. I was living out of a hotel for weeks with nothing but a case full of Love Island bikinis. And I had so many interviews and personal appearances... I will never forget how stressed I was.

“I was very overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to turn and I had nobody around me except the people from Love Island. All my family and friends were in Ireland. It was just a very, very scary time. Very scary.”

She recalls the London paparazzi surrounding her car: “That frightened me. They were all huddled around. They were chasing the car up the road and banging on the windows to get a picture.”

It was an isolating time, she says. “Oh my god I felt very, very alone. Very alone. At one stage I remember thinking, ‘I don’t even know how I am going to get myself better.’ I remember I didn’t even speak to my mum or best friend about it. But they knew by me that I was not OK.”

Love Island has come under much scrutiny for its impact on the mental health of its contestants. There have been reports of eating disorders, suicides and widespread internet abuse and trolling of stars.

But Maura is adamant there is plenty of professional help available for those who struggle to cope. “There is someone in the house you can speak to all the time”, she says, and when the show is over, “even if you don’t contact them the best thing about it is that they will hound you.”

The problem for her was that “I only open up to people close to me.” She felt she couldn’t tell others it hadn’t been an all-positive experience for her: “The thing is, when you come out of that show you kind of feel it’s a stupid thing to say you are not OK.

"Because – well, this is how I felt at the time – [she worried] that the people looking in on your life were going to say, ‘Oh my God, how can you be complaining or sad? You have just done Love Island. Everyone loves you. Look at all of these jobs and opportunities. Look at your life.’

“And I didn’t want to talk even to my family about it because I felt like maybe I would sound stupid.”

Eventually, her mother and long-time Irish best friend demanded she come home and switch off.

She says it also took a veteran of the business to give her the confidence to rest: “It was Michael Barrymore who gave me the advice. I was training for Dancing On Ice and he is a really, really lovely man. He knew by me that I was going through a bit of a time of it.

“I remember him saying to me, ‘You need to take a break because if these brands and everyone really do want you then they will wait for you.’ So I took his advice and it’s the best thing I ever did. And I would give the same advice to all the new Love Islanders.

“I didn’t take all the jobs and I didn’t just think of all the cash.”

She set boundaries for when she would represent a brand, and when and how she chose to open up about her private life.

On deciding to work on a few key projects and brands, she says: “If I had taken everything offered to me I wouldn’t be happy today. And that was something me and my management spoke about from day one.

“I am finally content. I am finally back to myself. Actually Mammy said it to me. It was about a year after Love Island, and I remember we had a FaceTime call, which we do every single day, and she started crying. And I said, ‘What’s happening? What’s wrong?’ And she said, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen you back to yourself.’”

‘Glow Up’ will air on RTÉ2 from 9.35pm on Thursday, September 2

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