Wednesday 17 July 2019

'We were allowed just two drinks a night': The truth about life on Love Island

Former Love Islander Shannen Reilly-McGrath
Former Love Islander Shannen Reilly-McGrath

Tanya Sweeney

By now, we all know the Love Island drill: swimwear, sun, buff lads, lithe lasses, poolside lounging, flirting and snogging (with benefits, occasionally). And even though we can expect more of the same when the show returns to ITV on Monday night, it will be a different beast entirely because of recent events.

In the last 12 months, former contestants Mike Thalassitis (26) and Sophie Gradon (32) have taken their own lives. Both were allegedly overwhelmed by fame and attention lavished on them after they left the Love Island villa. It was recently revealed that around 40 reality TV stars have taken their lives worldwide since 1986.

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The most recent is Steve Dymond, who appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show to take a lie detector test. In its aftermath, a harsh light has been shed on the psychological support available to reality show stars (or as is more often the case, lack thereof). Depending on whom you ask, reality TV can be an exploitative fishbowl, or a canny platform to advance one's career prospects.

Dubliner Shannen Reilly-McGrath certainly saw it as the latter. The 25-year-old clearly knows her own mind, yet when asked about the psychological support offered to Love Island stars after they leave the villa, she concedes there's "room for improvement". She appeared on the same series as Thalassitis and Montana Brown, who has since opened up about her own struggle with anxiety.

"I feel the pressure of social media really hard, and being from Dublin can be really hard because people know me and my personal life, but I wasn't going to ring [producers] and say, 'I need support'. I went and did it myself. I felt it wasn't my place to reach out to them, but they do need to follow up with people."

At 23, Shannen was approached by Love Island producers via Instagram. Her knockout looks were clearly a draw, but it was her confident personality that sealed the deal.

"I think anywhere you go, the Irish have luck and charm, and something different to bring to the table," she observes. "Being 23 and single, I wanted a stepping stone to get on to another platform, and I couldn't have done better in that regard. When I went on the show, I had 8,000 [Instagram followers], now I have nearly 100,000.

"I've learned since being in the public eye that I'm very strong," she adds. "I had a very public loss [her boyfriend Dano Doyle died of a suspected drug death in 2018], and lots of girls messaged me to say I was an inspiration on how I handled it."

Shannen's experience on Love Island was a whirlwind: two hours after flying into Palma Airport, she entered the second villa alongside fellow Dubliner Rob Lipsett as a 'bombshell' cast member (someone who'll ostensibly stir up the action). She was eliminated three days later and spent a further four days in 'lockdown' at a nearby hotel.

"A bunch of us got kicked off at the same time and it was more fun than in the villa," she recalls. "You're only allowed two glasses of wine a night in the villa, but on lockdown I could get dinner with the others whenever I wanted and have as many cocktails as I liked."

As to whether producers manipulated the action inside the villa, Shannen notes: "Say if you like someone or you're close to someone, the producers will say, 'you two go for a chat'." As for matchmaking? "It's more organic than that," she notes. "If you're in a confined space, you're going to be physically attracted to people."

Asked if she had any advice for this year's Irish contestant Yewande Biala, Shannen notes: "If she gets any negative comments, she needs to rise above it and remember she got on the show out of thousands of people. The whole thing was a great experience and I'd really encourage anyone to do it as it gave me a stepping-stone and helps keep me out there."

Irish Independent

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