As cheesy it sounds, the end of a ‘Love Island’ series really is just the beginning for its contestants.
In their early days, shows including ‘Big Brother’ and ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ made stars out of members of the public and now, ‘Love Island’ is doing the same. But it’s not easy to be one of the Islanders who outlasts their allotted fifteen minutes of fame.
With this year’s grand finale here, HuffPost UK spoke to three former contestants about what life is like after the villa closes it doors, starting with when the cameras stop rolling…
One Hour After
Depending on when a contestant exits the competition - and which series - their first hour back in “the real world” can go a number of ways.
As soon as Caroline Flack brought the 2017 live final to an end, Chris Hughes did what we all would (whether you’d admit it or not). “I switched on my phone,” he says. “I just wanted to hear from my friends and family back home.”
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Unfortunately, Chris’s conversations with his family didn’t prove too fruitful. Still unaware of how ‘Love Island’ fever had swept across the nation, he wanted information from them but was, understandably, met with congratulations on his third place instead.
“I wanted to actually speak to the people back home but they didn’t really give me the time,” he explains. “They just wanted to say how proud they were, which was really sweet.”
The year before, contestants endured a longer wait and got their phones back two hours later, when a wrap party in the villa was over. For series two’s Olivia Buckland, it was her escalating social media followers that gave the game away: ‘Love Island’ was a seriously big deal.
“I just remember going on my Instagram and seeing how many followers I had,” she says. “It was like, ’What the hell?!’. I just could not.
“I went in there with a thousand people [following me] and I came out with about 400,000. That was the point we thought, ‘Oh my god what are our lives now?’.”
If you leave the series before the final, things are entirely different. The mid-series re-couplings and dumpings are pre-recorded and after each exit, the axed Islanders are shown walking away from the villa. According to Jonny Mitchell (who is best remembered for leaving Camilla Thurlow in tears during series three), these clips are filmed more than once and he claims to have done his walk “three or four times”.
“It was kind of awkward because I waved everyone goodbye and then you walk to the end of the path,” he explains. “Then they say, ‘Go back’, so you’re like, ‘Hi everyone, again’ and then, ‘Bye!’. It’s weird.”
The fact the evictions aren’t shown live also means the identity of the Islander who has left needs to be kept secret. To ensure the news doesn’t leak, ITV has a “lockdown villa in the middle of nowhere in Mallorca”.
The second villa has the same restrictions as the main one - no mobile phones or laptops, no contact with the outside world, including family - and dumped Islanders have just a chaperone for company.
Due to the timing of his exit episode airing, Jonny spent two days on lockdown. “I got unlucky,” he laughs. “You still don’t have any real concept of what’s happened but I had a pretty good idea of what was going on because I had a good chaperone, he was feeding me bits of information.
“It’s boring, there’s nothing to do there. I’d just had five weeks of sunbathing so I didn’t really want to do anymore. I was going out of my mind a little bit.”
It wasn’t until Jonny landed in the UK that he was given his phone back, at which point his Instagram and Twitter accounts had been hacked. Not ideal.
One thing all three of their exits have in common is a debrief with a psychologist. Recent weeks have seen Love Island’s aftercare policies under scrutiny with numerous contestants calling on the show’s producers to offer more support to its alumni in the months after the show ends.
In the hours after though, every Islander meets with the psychologist who briefed them before the series started. “Once we spoke to our friends and family, we all had our own little slots where we’d go just outside the villa and sit in a cabin with her, in her office,” Chris explains. “We had individual chats to make sure everything’s ok.
“Everyone who comes out of the show comes out into a different life. So it’s important that she treats everybody individually which she did.”
The same psychologist is also present on-site throughout the series and Jonny says her services are offered to ITV staff as well. “It’s a military operation and it’s long hours so they have a psych too, 24/7 if you need her,” he says.
“I had a few times where I was like ‘I need to get out of here, this is doing my head in’. So yeah, when you do leave they have to make sure that you’re ready for everything. It’s quite emotional.
“I used to watch it and think ‘God these people are so emotional, they’ve only known each other x amount of time’... but when you’re on it, it’s so different.”
Was the immediate support enough? Olivia, whose series was the first to go stratospheric, sums it up: “You were prepared for what you were coming out of, but I don’t think any person could prepare us for what we walked into.”
One Day After
Even though he’d gained thousands of new followers on social media, Chris wasn’t ready for the reception that greeted him when he arrived at Stansted airport the morning after the final.
Accompanied by ITV producers, the finalists fly back to the UK together and when their plane landed, the cast were held back while the other passengers made their way out. When they did go through arrivals, it was “jam-packed - you couldn’t move in the airport”.
“It felt like a welcome back for a sports team,” Chris says. “It was just crazy.”
Being back in Britain doesn’t mean that it’s time to go home. For a short period after the show, the finalists all stay in the same London hotel and if someone has been lucky enough to find love (or lust) in the villa, then they share a room with their new partner.
While in London, they have press commitments to attend to and spending time with family and friends is forced down the to-do list. Olivia’s reunion with her loved ones took place at Stansted and was filmed for ITV2. “It was sort of… quick,” she admits. “We saw them for an hour and then we were rushed off and did some more filming.
“Until about three days after I got back, I didn’t see my family properly.
“You needed your parents there but we had filming to do, there was press. That was the first time we got put into this kind of ‘world’.
“We did all the press and thought, ‘What on earth is this?’. Now it’s second nature.”
Jonny also talks about his return to the UK being filmed for a spin-off show. “They’re [the producers] in touch with your family members and friends at home,” he explains. “They arrange a reunion-type thing. I went round one of my mate’s houses, so they filmed that. Once you land, you’re still in their pocket.”
One thing that is top of the list is getting a manager and Chris met with “five or six” companies before deciding who to go with, safe in the knowledge that the right management can make or break a reality TV star.
“The ones I was most drawn to said what they could do for me,” he says. “Whereas other management companies were saying why I shouldn’t sign with certain people, which is not really what I wanted to hear”.
Jonny did the same (and got some help accessing his hacked social account along the way), picking the company who were “singing a little bit of a different tune” to the others who contacted him.
“I knew this whole thing had a shelf life,” he admits. “With ‘Love Island’, a year passes and you are essentially old news. You have to make the most of it.
“Even though I’m not with that management anymore, they were saying, ‘Let’s build a brand on you’, not cash in and forget about you six months later’.”
A year earlier, after a sleepless night spent researching, Olivia’s mum came to the rescue. “When I came out I had about 10 different managements contact me, which was scary because I had no idea what they wanted from me,” Olivia says. “But luckily my mum lived a couple of doors down from quite an old school agency and they were working with my manager, Freddy White.
“It was just luck, my mum asked me to go with them because I trusted them. It was a family friend.”
It’s worth noting that a handful of ‘Love Island’ stars do have managers before going into the villa. According to Jonny, producers prefer it if you don’t - “It makes it a little bit more natural, management will tell you how to act and what to do, whereas normal people will fuck up a little bit” - and we think he’s probably right.
If you do have a manager or agent, the first 24 hours is a lot easier and they’ll line up opportunities for you. Take this year’s finalist Megan Barton-Hanson. With a week to go until the final, Essex nightclub Faces began advertising an appearance she’ll make there in early August.
“They have stuff ready for them whereas I had to start from square one,” Jonny says. “I wish I did have a manager.”
One Week After
The first appearances ‘Love Island’ stars make are part of their commitments to the show and the week after an eviction includes numerous press interviews and ex-Islanders can usually be seen on at least one of ITV’s flagship daytime shows too.
Olivia had expected that she’d return to Essex and get another job - “I was going to go into car sales, I had no clue that it would propel me into what I do now” - and Chris, a former golf clothing ambassador, was equally none the wiser when it came to the celebrity world.
Laughing now, he says: “I had no idea what a PA [public appearance] was. I was like, ‘What do you do, book them yourself? Do you ring the club?’. I had no idea, I was completely clueless.”
Chris is easily one of the show’s most successful alumni and it was in his first week - three days after the villa, to be exact - that he and Kem Cetinay signed a deal for their very own ITV show.
“We went straight into filming,” he says. “There was no respite and we loved filming that. We became quite natural and comfortable in front of the camera. It’s been like that non-stop for me.
“I’ve been busy from the day I came out until speaking to you now and I’m still absolutely flat out.”
Jonny enjoyed the fun side of fame - hitting famous clubs, getting VIP tables and meeting fans - and the fact he was painted as a villain after breaking Camilla’s heart didn’t hinder him, professionally. In fact, he says he was offered extra opportunities because of his reputation.
“It’s done me a lot of favours,” he admits. “I’m glad I left the way I did. I’ve got quite a thick skin anyway and I think any publicity is good publicity.
“It was a lot more fun as well because if one of these big couples screws up, everyone’s screaming murder but people expected it from me so I could pretty much do what I wanted.”
Suddenly being thrown into the media landscape takes some adjusting to and Olivia struggled to get used to how much had changed: “My mum said I was in a bit of a state when I came out.
“I was crying every day, I didn’t eat properly, it was all a bit of a whirlwind, it was all stressful.”
While she had been told she could contact ITV at any point, Olivia chose not to. “I never would have needed to speak to someone at ITV about that because they didn’t understand me as a person,” she reasons. “For my mental health, I went to my family and friends, they were the ones who were there for me.”
It’s not just the Islanders who are in unfamiliar territory either, and Olivia explains that her mum struggled with feeling unable to help and advise her.
“She had never had this experience so she was worried when I came out,” she says. “I know she had some sleepless nights and she was very worried about getting me an agent or manager. She had no idea what this whole world entailed.
“I remember her telling me that she was up a whole night online researching it because she had no clue what I’d been put into.”
After getting to grips with the basics of the celebrity world, it’s time to make some money and not many Islanders are as lucky as Chris, whose ITV2 show also lead to a deal with Relentless Records. (He also filmed a second series with then-girlfriend Olivia Attwood - we’ll get to that later - and has a third in the works.)
If ITV2 don’t come knocking with another show offer, you can always rely on two sources of income for at least a few months: Sponsored posts and club PAs.
One Month After
Most Islanders enter the villa with less than 5,000 Instagram followers and similar numbers on Twitter. By the time they come out, this number will have at least one more zero on the end. In the week after the 2017 series, Chris’s Instagram follower count was going up by 140,000 a day and there’s no shortage of brands who are willing to part with cash in exchange for a post about their products.
An industry insider, who works with numerous reality TV stars, tells HuffPost UK that the average former Islander can make £1,200 for one sponsored Instagram post. It’s also common for them to offer “bundle deals” to companies, giving them a discount rate for multiple posts. All of a sudden, those infamous teeth-whitening ads don’t seem so laughable.
Olivia is no stranger to #sponsored posts but made the choice to stay away from dental product endorsements, instead opting for “what I like and love, that’s fashion and make-up”.
“When you talk about someone that lasts in the industry, how you market yourself is so important,” she says. “I just live in the countryside and that’s who I am, I don’t look at myself as a brand, I still see myself as me and try and portray that online.
“There’s such a stigma around bloggers and influencers putting out this image that’s unattainable. Stay true to yourself, feel real and you can never really feel like a brand.”
Olivia’s commitment to doing what she loves paid off and she also landed a highly lucrative clothing range with Quiz. “I always wanted to work in fashion,” she says. “Everything I studied I’ve now been able to use and do. It was part luck, but it is part how you put yourself out there.”
For club appearances, the insider says, former Love Island’ cast members can charge an average of £3,000. In the year after their series aired, Olivia’s boyfriend Alex Bowen did 150 of them. “In the end, he found them ridiculously difficult,” Olivia says. “He was all over the country.”
As the months roll on, it’s not just their incomes that the contestants have to think about but their relationships too. Jonny, who was single when he left the Island, went on to date Stephanie Pratt for three months - a move he later describes as “just a bad choice, I have no idea why I did it” - while Chris and Olivia Attwood remained together.
Once work on ‘Straight Outta Love Island’ was finished, Chris signed up to do another series with his then-girlfriend but it was during filming for this that their relationship began to fall apart.
“We thought it’d be nice to spend lots of time together,” he explains. “But obviously it made things difficult. When you’re working together it becomes quite an intense environment.
“That got very toxic, our relationship. It was difficult to film, I found it tough.
“We’re characters and eventually they clashed. It broke down in the end through one thing or another but I don’t have any regrets about it, or about doing that show.”
During this period, Chris decided to contact ITV’s psychiatrist. “To have that contact available is a massive help,” he says. “Those people are professionals and they look at it from your perspective and an outside perspective, then put it all into one. I’m very grateful for that.”
Olivia and Alex are one of the few ‘Love Island’ couples to actually make it work and after nearly two years together, they’ll get married in six weeks’ time. So how have they managed it? “We live in each other’s pockets, we still can’t get enough of each other,” she says. “To meet on a reality TV show is so unnatural, but our relationship feels so natural.”
Admitting she didn’t initially think the relationship would last, Olivia adds: “Even when I came off I was like, ‘There’s no way this is going to happen, look how many girls are messaging him’. I had no confidence, I had no trust in men at all so to be where we are now is an anomaly.
“My mum always says, ‘I don’t know where you’d be if you didn’t have Alex next to you’.
“When you come out it is so concentrated and it’s a lot to take on. When you’ve got someone to halve a problem with, it’s a lot easier.”
One Year After
The most significant thing that happens 12 months on from ‘Love Island’ is quite obvious - there’s another series of ‘Love Island’. Given the show’s huge success (the 2018 series has resulted in viewing figures that have broken ITV2’s records) we can probably bank on at least a few more years of the show.
For its alumni, this means there’s a new crop of stars in the making and the very real risk that they’ll become old news - which means those all-important TV deals and sponsored posts could dry up.
But perhaps the most savvy of them all, Olivia - who is the only one to have experienced watching a new batch of stars “sleeping in our beds” - points out a fresh series actually gives ex-Islanders another chance at cashing in.
“Last year, it was difficult but luckily I worked with ‘This Morning’ and alongside MTV,” she says. “I did speak about ‘Love Island’ a lot and this is what they’re doing this year. They’re all involved and chatting about it, using it to their advantage.
“They’re all working because ’Love Island is back on. In hindsight, it’s a good thing.
“What’s difficult is this year I don’t necessarily want to talk about ‘Love Island’. I don’t associate myself that much with it. I want to distance myself and that’s when it gets difficult, to cut the cord from what was making you money, what made you famous, and you try and go on your own.
“I’m no longer the Olivia I was in ‘Love Island’, I’ve grown up a lot.
“I feel different and more comfortable with myself. When I was in ‘Love Island’, I felt like a kid. When someone tries to associate you with someone who you no longer feel like you are, it is weird. It’s very weird.”
So what advice do they have, should the ‘Love Island’ Class of 2018 need it? Chris - who seems pretty laid-back about the potential threat to his income, probably as he already had a third reality TV series in the bag - offers this: “Don’t rush anything. Come out and work hard, see where it takes you.”
Having managed to “cement” himself “into this world” with a stint on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, Jonny also insists he’s not worried about the newbies and offers more comprehensive advice: “Don’t get too caught up in the whirlwind. Be smart about it, there’s a lot of money and you’ll have the opportunity to be lazy.
“It’s, ‘Pose for a photo, you get money’, ‘turn up at a club for an hour and get money’. It’s very easy to get lazy.
“You need to think about your future and get good management who want to build you as a brand. Invest your money wisely and don’t chuck it all down the drain. It doesn’t last forever.”