Too much reality
When Jayne Middlemiss had a very public meltdown on ITV's Celebrity Love Island, it led to the weirdest year of her life, and disillusionment with fame and fortune. But now, she tells Julia Molony, she's come to live in Ireland, found love with a former Assets model, and has a new perspective on life, work and the world of TV. Photography by Sarah Doyle
You might know Jayne Middlemiss from her tear-soaked turn on Celebrity Love Island. Or you may even remember her from her years presenting Top of the Pops and assorted youth/music programmes on British television. Jayne, now 39, started her career as a TV presenter in the traditional style -- at a time before Alexa Chung and Peaches Geldof turned the title into a byword for exclusivity and uber-coolness.
Fizzy, bubbly, and sweet, even at her edgiest Jayne was televisual soda pop. She was a lad's girl, well able to flirt and banter with the boys, but she was never so dauntingly beautiful as to alienate the females. After Celebrity Love Island turned her career on a dime and sent her careening off into a phase of personal turmoil, she has now, three years later, reached a watershed and is ready to relaunch herself. And guess what? She wants to do it in Ireland.
It started, as these things often do, with a man. Jayne -- who has a long-standing connection with Ireland via a Dublin-resident family, whom she used to nanny for -- was over here for New Year's Eve last year.
"I said: 'I want to talk to someone, it's New Year's Eve', and I just turned around and he was there. And we started chatting and never really stopped. It was the last thing I expected," she says of her boyfriend Alan Byrne -- a one-time Assets model.
They have been doing the long-distance thing, and Jayne still has her apartment in London, but as she began to spend more and more time heading west, her thoughts naturally turned to expanding on the cosy leisure of the long walks and home-cooked meals that have defined her time in Ireland.
"It's all very well poncing around and looking at mountains and thinking: 'Wow, I love this.' Or going down to the sea and thinking: 'Wow, I love this.' But then you find yourself thinking: 'I'd like to do a bit of work. It would be nice.'"
Channelling her professional energy into fresh territory seemed like an appropriate punctuation mark for a new phase in both her career and her personal life. The next move was a phone call to Louis Walsh, and that was it. She's signed to an agent and ready to go.
Jayne's professional life altered profoundly when she agreed to do reality television. Her Celebrity Love Island meltdown has now become a pivotal point in her career. In those few weeks, she graduated from a controllable, scripted medium where she was agent of her own image, to the domain of the baying, unpredictable beast that is reality TV.
On Celebrity Love Island, we saw her every neurosis and insecurity writ large. On the remote island with a bunch of celebrity colleagues, she went about etching the innermost workings of her mind on public record forever.
Three years on, and Jayne is still not sure whether or not she regrets the experience.
"It's a question I have asked myself a lot," she says, playing distractedly with her long, dark hair. "I've thought about it a lot." Pause. "And 'I don't know' is the answer. I really don't know. Sometimes I regret it, sometimes I think: 'No, it was part of your journey.' I haven't got a clue."
She decides, finally. "One of the good things was that it helped people to see that I was just normal. But I don't know how good that was for me. Now I'm sort of, like: 'Brilliant, so everyone else likes you, but now you're just left with yourself, and you can't pretend to be someone else.' That's quite an adjustment."
What we saw on Celebrity Love Island was a spontaneous, unchecked version of Jayne. She doesn't deny that it was true to her, and refreshingly, doesn't bleat on about the warping, amplifying effect of production agendas and editing.
Yes, it was exaggerated, she admits. But yes, it was also the way that she is. Highly emotional, hyperactive, and even a little needy. We saw her insecurities, her clumsy attempt to win the affections of footballer Lee Sharpe, and her despair when she was rejected by him. She knows all too well that there were times when she came across a little bit crazy.
"I think I really shocked myself," she says. "Because I didn't really think I was like that. I watched it all in one sitting. With my eyes like that [peeks through her fingers]: 'Oh my God, I'm mad'. Brilliant. It was a big thing. I still don't know how I feel about that process. Because it was such a weird thing to do."
Mad or otherwise, something about her no-holds-barred vulnerability struck a chord with the voting public, who were moved to compassion, amusement, and ultimately, affection. She ended up being crowned joint winner of the show, alongside Ireland's favourite celebrity bouncer, Fran Cosgrave.
The weirdest part, she admits, was confronting the evidence of aspects of her character and her behaviour that she might have preferred not to acknowledge. "It's very, very frightening," she admits. "It's very, very different."
"I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. These reality shows, I think what they do is they emotionally bear-bait the contestants," she says pithily. "They push the emotional buttons, and they wouldn't be able to do that physically. And actually they just go: 'Yeah it's funny'. But you can cause much more damage to someone emotionally than you can physically. And I think one day, these shows will be -- well, people will go: 'Oh my God! I can't believe we used to do that.' These shows do use insecurities as entertainment. It's a little bit sinister."
Does she think there was an emotionally abusive aspect to the programme? "I don't think . . ." she begins, carefully.
"It was very professional," she says, changing tack. "It was what it is. It's a reality show. I remember when I came out, I was, like, if anyone signs up for one of these reality shows, they are mad if they don't know what's going to happen. But that's bollocks. Because you can't know what's going to happen. You can't know what the emotional implications are of putting yourself in that. And seeing certain things about yourself that you've been hiding for quite a long time. It's a really, really big fallout from that.
"Y'know it's three years down the line now, and I'm very different to that. It was the year after that that everything went a bit nutso. Because I was trying to put barriers up, and then I just thought: 'Fuck this.' And I'm getting back to accepting myself. So I suppose in a way it's a process. We're all on a process of sort of learning, and being able to be comfortable just being who we are."
What followed for Jayne was "a very weird time" as she tried to adjust to the new level of fame she had achieved, and also come to terms with the person the public had seen. She also capitalised on her win, going back to present the show the following year.
"I seemed to have a lot of new best friends at that time," she says. "And I didn't get it. I was surrounded by all these people and it was almost, like, when I came off, it was like being on a high. It wasn't like any TV show that I'd ever done before.
"On that show, I was the only person completely unaware that I was on telly. Because it wasn't like telly to me. It was really a bit naive and a bit stupid. But I really just -- I just went for it."
She has now distanced herself from the friends she made in the aftermath of Celebrity Love Island. What influenced that decision?
"I think certain things happened in my life that I just suddenly thought: 'they're not very healthy for me, they don't actually care about me.' I kept finding myself in situations where, it was almost like I was being brought in to be -- 'clown' is the wrong word, but I was the bit they could gossip about, the entertainment. And it was really quite hurtful, because I had thought we were friends. And it was really odd coming off a show like that because it was just being on, like a high, and because you're surrounded. Y'know, I live in London and I didn't have anyone grounding me, going 'shut up, stop it,' she says, role-playing a schoolmarmish character admonishing a particularly hyperactive child. "And I actually do need that, I need someone, I need people strong in my life. Because I can get carried away with the drama, and I just need to be pulled back to the reality of who I am, and of what's going on. But I didn't have that. I had people going: 'Yeah! More, more, more!' And it was really quite unpleasant.
"The year after coming off the programme was possibly one of the weirdest times in my life. Because I was in such conflict as to who I thought I was, who everyone else thought I was, and actually, I'm trying to put these barriers up again, and no one's fucking buying it. Because they've seen it, and I'm not happy that they've seen it, and I'm not happy that I've seen it."
Things finally started to calm down when she went off on a trip to India to make the programme of her dreams; a documentary about yoga for which she travelled up the Ganges, from Calcutta right to the river's source in the Himalayas. She knows that without Celebrity Love Island, she would never have been asked to do it, so the trip provided a justification of sorts for her island experience. She began to reassess her priorities and her approach to work, developing a different focus. Her sister had a baby, and Jayne began spending more time with her family and fostering a "little dream" about opening a yoga healing centre at some time in the future. With that came a new sense of freedom about her media career, and the ability to separate her self-esteem from whether she was working or not. "The problem with working in TV is that you start believing that that is who you are. And that is what you do, and this is where you take your self-esteem. And I suppose in the past I have done that. It's just bollocks. Because at the end of the day, I'm just me. I've got a roof over my head, I've got a bed to sleep in and I've got food in my stomach, and that's actually all a human being needs. I'd rather be content and peaceful."
There are still lots of ways in which she would like to develop her media career, most particularly in doing more "grown-up" projects, which reflect the stage of development she is at herself. But overall she regards things differently now.
"I'm not so wound up on: 'This is the only thing I want to do, and this is what I want -- I want fame and I want attention.' Because I've had fame and attention, and it doesn't bring you happiness. And what does sort of make me happy is, like, I really love my yoga, and I like being with people and I'd love to be able to do something and help people. And, I think, a healing centre. I love being around, like, crystals and," she stops herself and laughs, conscious that she's veering into pastiche, "and like, chimes and stuff. It's not a bit Ab Fab at all! No, it's not like that. But I do sort of dream of doing something a little bit more worthwhile. I just think that so far, my life's been all been about me.
"And a lot of the time I haven't realised there's other people in the world. Now I'm sort of doing that, my life is much richer and I'm much happier."