In a candid interview, the Love Island host calls out the anti-choice movement, misogyny, Boris Johnson's leadership, social media trolls and why she’s always careful when talking about Caroline Flack
In 2018, she campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which effectively banned abortion in Ireland. In May of that year, under an anti-repeal message on Twitter, she tweeted to her 400,000 followers: “Is this f**king real? Ireland, you’re better than this. Trust and support women.”
“I got so much hate because of campaigning,” she says, speaking from the set of Love Island in Spain.
In December 2020, when Laura announced that she and her husband Iain Stirling were expecting a child early the following year, the pro-life haters came after her again.
“When I was pregnant, I remember someone saying to me: ‘Are you now going to have an abortion because you wanted to repeal the Eighth?’”
Despite the provocation, her reply was calm. “I said that’s not what pro-choice is. Pro-choice is that you have a decision to make over your body.”
She believes educating people about issues is key, so people have the opportunity to make up their own mind. Born in 1985, Laura recalls as a young girl going into Dublin city centre and seeing anti-abortion protestors holding up graphic pictures.
“I would think: ‘Oh my god, why would people do that? Why would people kill an unborn child? That’s terrible.’ I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand about girls who were raped. I didn’t understand what that meant to the women.
“When I was younger, I didn’t understand what pro-choice meant. Some people don’t still. They think if you are pro-choice you are pro-abortion, and it’s not necessary that.
"There’s nothing wrong with constantly educating yourself. We need to do that, because there’s so much misinformation.”
She views the US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade as an example of women’s rights being taken away.
"It’s going backwards. I always used to look to America as being this great country and thought I’d love to live there. Now it’s going backwards and women are losing their rights.”
She mentions the example of media personality Amanda de Cadenet (who she follows online), who was six weeks pregnant and had an incomplete miscarriage in New York in 2003 and “almost died because she haemorrhaged. Technically, if she had been in a place that was anti-D&C, anti-abortion, she would have died,” says Whitmore.
“The week Roe v Wade was overturned was a very hard week for women and allies of women. This is a very confusing time and all we can do is use our social media platforms and use our voices to speak up for those that don’t have that voice.”
She doesn’t believe America’s rolling back of laws to protect women’s reproductive rights could happen in Ireland.
“I haven’t lived in Ireland for years, but I have a lot of faith in Irish people that that is not going to happen. I think Ireland progressed so much with Repeal and with same-sex marriage. Irish people have great fight in them.”
As does Whitmore. Her 2021 book No One Can Change Your Life Except for You has just been re-issued, with a new chapter.
“It is a book that tries to look at positivity when the world is in shit,” she explains. “You look at the news, and you try to find the good in things – when at times there is no good.
“I watched a young mother being interviewed in Ukraine. I get upset talking about it. She had lost one of her children the night before. Like everyone, I find that very hard. We’re all human. We’re all going through things. But that puts life into perspective. Life is hard.
"I try to find the joy in things – because if you just looked at the news all the time, you wouldn’t be able to carry on, would you? You have to try to find the joy and the relief when you can.
"That’s why I’m working on a show that feels like escapism for a lot of people – but you need that. You need your guilty pleasure as well as everything else to survive.”
What would she say to Vladimir Putin if she had a chance to interview him?
“I don’t think I could put into words what I would say to Putin. How could you talk to a man like that? Can you talk logically to him after what has happened? I can’t even talk about it, because I can’t get the picture of the woman who lost her little kid in Ukraine out of my head.
"And there are so many other tragic stories like that from the war in Ukraine.”
Whitmore – who has lived in London since 2008, after she beat 3,000 contestants in a competition to become the new face of MTV News – is similarly enraged with the outgoing British prime minister.
“I think Boris Johnson let a lot of people down,” she says. “So much money, time and energy focused on getting someone to leave office who should have stepped down a long time ago. Hopefully now focus can shift to working on the things that need it most.”
"I couldn’t leave my house. There were the rules. I stuck by the rules. I was lucky, in that I’d a safe home and liked who I lived with,” she says with a laugh.
“We need to move forward but it’s very hard without that community feeling of everyone being in it together. There’s a lot of tension, anger and frustration out there at the government in the UK and the handling of situations.
"We are now in a situation where people can’t even afford to heat their house and do basic things. How, in 2022, is this the situation that people find themselves in? I’m angry because it is a shitshow.”
Feminism is at the core of her book and indeed in the DNA of Whitmore herself, who was brought up by a single mother. How does she feel that Ireland’s next Taoiseach could well be Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald?
“I don’t know too much about her agenda, because I haven’t looked into it. I know who Mary Lou McDonald is. We live in a democracy, and I would trust that the people of Ireland would vote for who they feel is the right person.
“I’ve never met her. I’ve never interviewed her. I don’t really know her to judge that just yet.”
In May, she was almost moved to tears by the final episode of Channel 4 comedy Derry Girls, when Erin, Michelle, Orla, Clare and James debated the Good Friday Agreement. Not least when Erin confides to Grandad Joe: ‘What if we vote yes and it doesn’t even work?’ Grandad Joe replies: ‘What if it does? What if no one else has to die, and this becomes a ghost story you tell your weans one day?’
“It was beautiful and I got really emotional watching it. They were talking about the peace process. It was incredible watching it in the UK with people who weren’t familiar with the politics from that time.
"It was done in a very contemporary way that touched on what it was like being a girl growing up in the North. I didn’t grow up in the North so I can’t imagine what it was like, but I just thought it was a brilliant piece of television.”
Former Love Island star Amy Day recently called Whitmore anything but brilliant as the host of the ITV show. The word she used was “boring”.
“You should see me on a night out,” Laura laughs. “I’m professional. There is a reason why I’ve been in this job for 14 years and worked non-stop. Comments will be made and taken out of context. I do my job. You have to respect the process of the show – and sometimes we lose respect for people for what they do and for doing their job right. We all have to respect each other.”
Is it dangerous for a woman to be criticising another woman about her work?
“Ah, yeah. Yes. I can’t tell someone else how to live their life. All I can do is look after myself and do things that I feel are right.
"Also, some people are new to it. I’ve been around for a while and I understand how it works. I am very careful what I say and how I say it. I am respectful of people I work for. Someone judging me off an edited version of a show doesn’t bother me.”
Still, that a woman in 2022 can criticise another woman’s professionalism as boring does feed into a bigger issue. In No One Can Change Your Life Except for You, Laura writes the telling lines:
“When Caroline Flack took her own life, I remember thinking back over what she’d had to put up with. All the comments I’d seen online, and savage headlines sprawled across the papers.”
The toxicity of celebrity culture and the mob mentality of social media (and, to an extent, mass media too) doesn’t appear to have improved much since Flack’s tragic death in 2018. Name-calling is still all the rage – literally. Whitmore can be called boring and then be expected to have a thick skin.
“No one has a thick skin,” she says, “none of us do. Whatever anyone has ever said about me, about how I look or how I speak, I’ve probably thought worse things about myself. We are our own worst critics.”
Later she adds: “Life is hard. I’m not going to lie, there are struggles. I’m very conscious of my mental health and I look after it. To ask for help when you need it is really important. I have learned to do that, but I’ve found some things really difficult.”
Does she believe that some stuff is better out than in? Is that why she spoke about her miscarriage in Hot Press magazine in 2018?
“Yeah, but I also talk about things when I’m ready to. I didn’t talk about it at the time. I talked about it a year after it happened. You have to wait to deal with things yourself privately. You don’t have to tell the world everything.
"Also, I have my group of friends. They are the people I babble everything to.
“So it took me about a year to talk about it. But it’s important to talk about stuff.
"Like what happened to Caroline,” she says. “I talked about it in my way. I didn’t want to do an interview with someone and have it twisted. I want to do it in a way that respects her and respects her family. We need to be respectful of people and their emotions. They are real people.”
She doesn’t see any contradiction between respecting people and hosting a show called Love Island that delves deep into people’s private lives.
“It is consensual, and that’s the difference. Consent. When you go on a show like Love Island, you’re saying ‘I’m happy to be talked about on this show’ – within reason. You still need to be protected,” she says, qualifying that.
She remembers a journalist taking umbrage with her for “getting married and not telling anyone”. (In November 2020, she and Stirling married in a private humanist ceremony at City Hall in Dublin.)
”How dare I get married without telling the world!” she laughs. “I can do whatever the hell I want. I am not on Love Island. I host it. We don’t own people. I think we need to be careful of that. None of us are owned by anyone.”
Whitmore is powerful at contextualising misogyny in today’s entertainment industry – the way that women in the industry are written and talked about compared to men – because she has experienced it.
“When I was doing I’m A Celebrity, Ant and Dec didn’t get the same scrutiny that I got,” she says. “And when I was at MTV, the male presenters didn’t get the type of scrutiny I got.
“The same with the speculation of how much money I earn on Love Island. I wish I was earning the money they say I am. But why shouldn’t I earn a certain amount?
"In the book, I talk a lot about imposter syndrome and where that originates from in the 1970s – when women were a minority in high-powered jobs. ‘How dare you earn that much money!’ I’m like: ‘F**k it! Earn it if you can!’
“We need to have responsibility to ask for our worth – and I think if we spent less time being angry at other people and more time working on ourselves, it would be very helpful.”
She says the stories written every year about her and Love Island are the exact same type of stories that were written about Caroline Flack years earlier, when she hosted the show.
“I’d known Caroline for over 10 years when I started. I’d seen what was written about her – about how much time she was staying in the villa, what was she wearing, how much money she was earning.
"It’s really scary when you see the articles written about you and you see that kind of momentum behind the media intrusion. That’s why I was quite vocal from the start, when I had a child. I wanted to nip it in the bud early. There is an expectation sometimes that you should accept it.
“Unless you say something, you can’t create change. Now I’m at a stage where if I don’t speak up about things, how can I expect other women to? So when I see this momentum of articles it is frustrating, because they are literally just making up stuff about me – and it is the same every year.
"It’s clickbait and it’s exhausting. But I don’t read the tabloids, and I don’t search for it online either.”
Instead she is busy raising her daughter away from the spotlight, writing books, presenting radio shows on the BBC, and hosting TV shows viewed by millions.
“I watch Love Island every day and I’m addicted to it too,” she admits. Though she also watches Stranger Things. She loves the show – but says it makes her feel old, “because in the first series the kids are really young, and in the new series they’re all grown up.”
At 37, she herself loves getting older. Age, she believes, is a privilege.
“I am more content now in myself and my body than I was when I was 18. I feel sorry for my 18-year-old self, because she should have given herself an easier time.
“We all evolve as humans. It takes us a while to kind of understand that. I’ve had friends who’ve used male pronouns and now more recently they feel more comfortable being non-binary – and I’m all about that. We all make changes.”
Whitmore is one of the most famous faces in Britain, courtesy of Love Island. Yet she hasn’t forgotten the island where she was born and raised.
“I’m very proud of Ireland and of being Irish. My child has a Irish passport. It’s a great passport to have.”
She says when she travels back and forth from London to Spain for Love Island, she enjoys being able to pick the quick queue.
“Anyone with a British passport has to queue up in non-European – but I can go through the quick one. So that’s been great.”
Growing up in Bray, Co Wicklow, Whitmore was educated by the nuns in Loreto Secondary School and went to mass on Sundays. At a certain point, she says, she began to realise what the Catholic Church had been responsible for in Ireland.
“I saw the news and I saw what happened to so many people. A lot of people put their faith in and trusted those people. When you put trust in someone you should be safe with and you’re not safe, that is wrong. And that is what happened to so many people.”
Meaning the religious abuse scandals?
“Yeah. The generations before me. It is hard for the older generations as well, because I grew up a little bit more liberal. When I say I went to a convent, there were very few nuns left by that stage. It was really my parents’ generation who were betrayed. There was a betrayal.
"I hope something like that would never happen again, and that a blind eye wouldn’t be turned like it was before.
"I liked going to mass, and I liked singing in the choir growing up. I liked seeing my friends at mass on a Sunday. Back in the day, that’s when your granny would dress up in her best. It was social.
"I don’t go to mass on a Sunday anymore – but I go at Christmas, because it’s nice and I like the songs.”
In January 2021, the Mother and Baby Homes report spelled out how 9,000 children died in the 18 institutions investigated across Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s and how unmarried mothers were victimised.
“It was horrific what those women and children had to go to through,” she says.
When she says those words, you can’t help thinking again of Caroline Flack – and how she was victimised to the point that she felt she had no alternative but to end her life by suicide.
Laura is very careful how she speaks about her late friend. It is something she rarely opens up about.
“I have an awful lot of respect for her family. And things can be taken out of context. It’s something that is just so sensitive.
“Everything I say about Caroline becomes a headline, and then her family sees it – and I want to be really respectful to them and not have what I say used as clickbait.
"I thought Caroline was one of the strongest people I’d ever met and that scared me. I had no idea of half the stuff. You can know someone and not know what they are going through, and what her mom went through. So I feel I’m not the one to talk about her. The family are the ones to talk about her.
"We don’t know what battles people are facing. We really don’t. And we need to be really careful how we judge.
“And that’s the thing. Sometimes when someone says something about me that is hurtful, I try to see it as coming from a place of someone else’s insecurity. I don’t know what they’ve faced.
“You kind of have to brush it off and just get on with your own life.”
‘No One Can Change Your Life Except for You’ by Laura Whitmore is published by Orion Spring, €13.99, and out now