'No guy is going to fake it, are they? I don't know why girls do that' - Maura Higgins talks sex and life after Love Island
Just as the Swinging Sixties enjoyed the It girls, with their pouting lips and aura of rampant sexuality, the 21st Century has its Instagrammers, models and reality stars. But today's reality stars are no longer the background girls in rockstar videos or, at best, 'the muse' on the lead singer's arm; instead, they are the main act; one-woman brands; centre stage on their own social-media feeds.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the hunger underlying it all.
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Hunger for fame, experience, love… hunger for something more.
The 1960s poster girl Marianne Faithfull famously captured this yearning in her song, Guilt.
"I'm like a curious child," she sang. "Give me more, more, more, more, more, more, more."
And it's a similar ambition that Love Island star Maura Higgins unknowingly echoes, as she repeats the 'M' word seven times within the first five minutes of our meeting.
She is talking about growing up in a small town in Ireland - Ballymahon, Co Longford - and how it never felt like enough.
"I kept saying to myself, 'I want more'. I just knew it wasn't for me. I just knew I wanted more again. That's the feeling I kept getting all the time. I actually used to say it to my mother and my sister all the time. I used to say, 'I just know I am not doing what I am meant to be doing. I know there is something more.' And they used to always go, 'Yeah, but what, Maura? What are you going to do?' And I kept saying, 'I don't know'," she laughs. "I just knew it was more."
You can scoff at the sentiment - given that she ultimately ended up on a reality show - but the show in question isn't simply any reality show. It's a cross-demographic cultural phenomenon that has been likened to a modern-day equivalent of Shakespeare and Jane Austen. A show that has been watched by millions and propelled a generation of young men and women to alter their physical appearance, while making modern-day armchair anthropologists of us all.
And by the look in her eyes, you can see Maura is still trying to take it all in.
She has been working until 2am, before driving five hours to be here - a penthouse apartment in the centre of London, where we are shooting for LIFE.
The wardrobe full of designer clothes; the paparazzi waiting to follow her for the night; the calls coming in from clothing companies hoping to collaborate - all of it couldn't be further from the monotony of the life she was desperate to escape as a child.
She left school at 15, after her Junior Cert.
"I don't know what it was, I just never enjoyed it," she says. "Sometimes, I wouldn't even bring my school bag home. I'd just leave it there. That's really bad, I know, but I thought, 'I am spending all day in school, I'm not going to go home and start going into books again - no way'."
The hostility that impinged on her time there didn't help. Going to a mixed school and noted for her good looks, she was the target of much unwanted attention.
"I used to get girls starting rows with me in school," she recalls. "Some girls from another school came down and met me at a local shop and literally just attacked me. There were five or six girls, and I remember we were on the ground and one girl started, and then a couple of her friends ran in and kicked me."
She smiles and says the assertiveness viewers watched in the villa isn't a recently developed trait. Even back in her schooldays, she says, "I would never back down. Growing up, Mammy always said, 'Never back down from someone... you defend yourself'. And that's what I did. I was never afraid."
"Was it jealousy on the other girls' part?" I wonder.
"That's what Mammy would say - but I really don't know."
After leaving school, Maura trained in Athlone to become a hairdresser, working at a local salon in her town. All the while, her ambition to break out bubbled underneath.
"Even during my training course, when I was getting €90 a week, I was saving all my money to buy myself my first car at the age of 17. I was very independent, and I moved out when I was 18," she says.
It was during this time, aged 17, that Maura met her first love - a car salesman, James Finnegan, who lived two minutes from her own home. The pair dated for nine years, eventually becoming engaged, before Maura called it a day.
"We lived together for a long, long time. I remember it like it was yesterday," she says. "I just got really unhappy."
She adds: "We were kind of more like roommates. I remember I used to say to him, 'Can we do something at the weekend?' and he was like, 'What do you want to do?' and I'd be like, 'Just spend time together?' We were stuck in a rut.
"I remember I used to talk to my mother about it and I used to say, 'I am just so unhappy, I am not happy with him. I love him - but I am not in love with him'.
"He would go out a lot with his friends," she says.
She felt that this wasn't the way a relationship was meant to be.
"My friends used to say, 'Maura, this isn't right, you don't spend any time together, you are living together but you don't spend any time together'. So, for example, say we were both in a pub on a night out, he would be at one end of the bar and I would be at the other end and we would never sit together like a couple. I always used to look at other couples and think, 'Oh my god, I would love that'. But only ever in my head; I would never say it to him.
"Then one day I said to him, 'James, this has to stop. We are not happy. We are not spending any time together. You are with your friends, and we never see each other'."
I ask her if it was easy in the villa to walk in and do and say whatever she wanted with the boys because she didn't know them and she had no ties. But in a relationship, as time goes on, sometimes less is said because the stakes are higher and we have more to lose?
"Oh 100pc. Yes," she says. "And after nine years, you don't really want to throw that away.
"Then one day I just sat him down and I said, 'I don't love you any more', and that was it. And I remember I knew then, as I told him. I remember I didn't cry, and I knew then that I had no feelings left for him any more - because I didn't cry."
A short time after this, she turned to another man for support - her best friend, Andrew Rowan.
Baby-faced and always up for a laugh, Andrew stepped in to heal her wounds.
"Andrew stayed with me for a few weeks because I was feeling really down about the relationship. He was like, 'Do you know what? I will stay with you and keep you company'."
The pair were so close, she says: "A lot of people thought we were in a relationship, but we weren't."
They became inseparable: "We did everything together. We partied together; we went to the cinema together; we had our lunches and dinners together; we even had duvet days, where we got loads of chocolates and sweets and just watched movies all day," she laughs.
It was Andrew who encouraged her to break out of their small-time life. He urged her apply to become a Monster Girl - a model for the energy-drink company - so she could gain new experiences and travel the world.
"He was my biggest supporter," she recalls. "He was the one who pushed me. I just didn't think I would get the job with Monster and he said, 'You will, just do it' - and then I ended up getting it."
The summer of 2017 was in full swing and it was six months on from her heartbreak - Maura was slowly getting back on her feet - when she got a call that would turn her world upside down.
"Andrew called me that day," recalls Maura. "He had finished work early and he asked me to go for dinner with him and I said, 'I couldn't be bothered'," she sighs. "I told him I was in my pyjamas. I wasn't getting dressed."
A short time later, Maura says: "He arrived down on the motorbike. I asked him, 'Why are you on the motorbike?' Because he never used to drive it, and he said, 'Oh, it's a good day [to drive it]', you know? And then he left." He was out on the road, Maura explains, when "He got hit by a car".
It was Maura's ex, James, who came across emergency services at the scene. A short time later, Andrew was pronounced dead. James rang Maura to tell her the news.
"It was horrendous," Maura says. "I remember getting the phone call and I actually didn't believe it. I picked up my phone and I kept calling him.
"I remember I told [James] to fu*k off because I thought he was trying to annoy me. I didn't believe it until he arrived down at my house. Then I just remember seeing his face and... you know when you are with someone nine years, you just know by them?
"I don't remember much after that", she says. "It was a blur, I think I was in shock for a lot of it. I didn't break down properly until late into that night. I was still sitting on my sofa and James was with me, and I remember something came into my head and it just hit me, and I couldn't physically breathe. I was having such a panic attack. It took me a long, long time to be OK again."
For months, Maura blamed herself.
"For so long, I used to think if I had gone for dinner with him that day, when he had asked, he wouldn't have been on the motorbike. My family kept saying to me, 'Maura, you can't think like this, it was going to happen', but I just kicked myself for so long and got worked up about it for so long. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with."
While that year marked a time of immense tragedy, it also marked the start of Maura's career trajectory. Poignantly, within months of taking the job her late best friend had encouraged her to go for, she became an Instagram star, thanks to her high-octane lifestyle travelling the world - from Barcelona to Indonesia - with the Monster brand.
The jet-set lifestyle; making friends for life with other promotions girls and modelling at 'rig riots' in front of thousands of screaming male fans was all part of the job. "There was this one guy and his friends lifted him up and he proposed to me in the middle of the crowd," laughs Maura.
The highlight, she says, came when she was able to practice a skill she had learned as a teen on the mud roads of Co Longford.
"The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi taught me how to drift [a car]," she explains. She gets two fingers and traces them on the bed to demonstrate the driving technique where a driver intentionally oversteers to lose traction in the rear wheels, while maintaining control, to drive the car around a corner.
"He was very ,very nice," she smiles. "And amazing at drifting. We actually did it at his palace at Abu Dhabi because he has a drift track."
With the prince at her side, Maura happily took the wheel: "I had no fear because when I was younger and dating James, he was mad into cars."
Driving old vintage cars, she says the pair would go "down the back roads and put a cone in the middle of the road and he taught me how [to do doughnuts] so then knowing how to do that, it was easier for [the prince] to teach me how to drift, because I already had the hang of doing doughnuts."
During her time with Monster, the production team for Love Island came a-knocking for the third time.
The first time she turned the show down because she was in a relationship with her ex-fiance; the second time she refused them again because she was in another relationship, which ended badly; but on her third chance, four months after Maura had her heart broken again, she was finally ready.
At 28, she knew this was her moment.
"I have never told anyone this, but before I left Ireland to go 'on lockdown' [for two weeks before entering the villa], I packed up my whole house where I was living and I got rid of everything," she tells me.
She recalls her best friend's gentle reminder that she might only last a week on the show, given that Irish-based viewers weren't eligible to vote. But, regardless, Maura longed for a fresh start. She wanted to make something of herself in London. She was all in: "I was taking a big risk, but I just told my friend, 'I don't care'."
Under lockdown, she was like a greyhound in a trap.
For two weeks and two days, she says: "I kept thinking, 'Get me into the villa now'. I wasn't even nervous walking in. I was in lockdown for so long, I was like, 'Oh for god's sake, get me in there now'. And I remember [fellow bombshell] Elma [Pazar] walking in with me, and she was so nervous. I was telling her to relax and take a deep breath. I was just helping her through it."
Wearing a skin-tight white dress, with towering heels and her brunette waves bouncing as she strutted, Maura became an instant star. Feeding one guy a banana, flirting with the villa's best-looking girl's love interest and unleashing her sexual appetite, along with the now infamous phase 'fanny flutters', within hours every water cooler, bar and sitting room across the UK and Ireland was alight with talk of the Longford woman.
Today, munching on a bag of crisps and a sandwich, she brushes off the reaction.
She says: "A lot of people were shocked the way I was so open when it came to talking about sex." But she can't understand the fuss: "Everyone loves to have sex," she laughs.
Far from growing up under the weight of Catholic Ireland, she says, "I was always able to talk to my mother about sex. I never felt ashamed of talking with her about anything like that." She laughs when she considers the hoopla she caused: "I mean, why is it such a fucking problem if a woman says the f**king word 'fanny'? Jesus!"
Her experience since she left the villa told her it was a conversation that needed to start.
"I have had so many girls come up to me and say, 'I can talk about sex so openly now'. And I thought, 'Wow, I may have actually helped some girls open up about this'."
The fact that people see her as a sex object is inconsequential to her, she laughs. "They can think whatever they want, but it doesn't mean they are going to get it."
And although in some ways she is open-minded about sex - porn is OK, and she has also been sexually active with another woman - in other ways she is more traditional than most of her generation: "I've never had a one-night stand," she admits.
On the 'gender-war' controversies she caused in the Love Island villa, she seems unfazed. She laughs off suggestions that if the roles were reversed and a man had acted the way Maura had in her seduction of fellow housemate, boxer Tommy Fury, he would have been kicked out of the villa. At one point, Maura pinned down a reluctant Tommy to encourage him to kiss her.
But Maura insists it wasn't a 'MeToo' complaint: "I mean, he could take me down," she laughs, referring to the boxer's physical stature.
I ask her about the infamous moment when she moaned about Curtis [Pritchard, with whom she was coupled up] for not wanting to have sex with her in the villa - "A fucking orgasm would be grand" was her stand-out remark. "I think people take it very seriously. What is the harm in making a comment like, 'Oh, wouldn't an orgasm be nice?' I never pressurised the man." She pauses for a moment to consider what she is saying, then giggles: "It's kind of funny."
In fact, she has only one problem when it comes to orgasms and that is the idea of any woman faking them: "Oh my god, I would never do that," she says. "Like never. Why would I bother? Women should not [put men] before their own [pleasure]," she says. "If the guy is getting pleasure, then he should pleasure the woman exactly the same way in return. I don't know why women are scared to ask."
She says women should know: "Sex is a natural thing. Be open if you are not happy with how it is going, but don't fake a f**king orgasm. He is not going to fake it for you. No guy is going to fake it, are they? I don't know why some girls do that. Like, some of my friends would, and I am like, 'Why? Why would you do that?'"
The only controversy she has come up against since leaving the villa is when boyfriend Curtis Pritchard (with whom Maura came fourth in the Love Island final) appeared to leave a question mark over his sexuality.
When Good Morning Britain host Adil Ray asked Curtis, 23, if he would say he is bisexual, the reality-TV star and professional dancer replied: "I'm not labelling anything."
Probed further, he said: "I don't feel like I need to label anything because so many people put labels on things, people say things, and I learnt this from the [Love Island]villa, actually. Someone says, 'My head's not going to be turned', and in the future - well, in the villa it's two days in there, but that's like two years in real life - their head gets turned; they change their mind; they change their opinion; things change.
"So that's why I'm not labelling anyone, because I would be lying to anyone."
He added: "All I want to say is that I am 100pc comfortable where I am now in my relationship with Maura and it is moving in the correct direction."
Afterwards, when asked about the comments, Maura told the interviewer not to believe everything that they read in the papers.
I ask her what she meant by this.
"Things get twisted, don't they?"
Would it bother you if Curtis was bisexual?
"No. Everyone is entitled to be whatever they want to be."
You wouldn't leave the relationship?
"No. We are very happy. Really happy."
Have you discussed his sexuality between you?
"There is nothing really to discuss."
His comment was twisted, then?
"I don't really know, but there is nothing really to talk about. We are happy."
On the reason she fell for him, she says: "There is nothing I don't like about Curtis. He is funny, he is handsome, he is charming, I have nothing bad to say about him."
While on the media scrutiny, she says: "I don't feel [that pressure] because I don't give a shit what anyone writes. I don't read any of what it is written about us. We know what is happening between us, and that's all that really matters."
One piece of media scrutiny that does evoke a reaction, however, is a feature on Maura's apparently changing appearance, and an interview with a plastic surgeon who pointed out the work Maura had supposedly had done prior to entering the villa.
"Oh my god, I have seen this," she laughs. "Do you know what the funny thing is? If I had had a load of work, where would I get €40,000? I literally just scraped by to get my month's rent [before entering the show]. I've had my lips done, but that's the only thing I have ever touched on my face." And then she says something that there really is no comeback to: "I swear on Andrew's grave, and I would never swear on Andrew's grave. I have got my lips done four years now." Apart from that, she says, "Nothing".
"I mean, hello," she says, squeezing her breasts. "Look at my boobs," she says. "There is nothing in them."
I admit to her that when she was posing in skintight black leather pants during the photo shoot, I was convinced that she had butt implants.
She jumps up and turns around to show me her behind in a pair of black leggings. "I have no arse! My nickname is Long-back Higgins, because my back is never-ending. My mother told me, 'They are saying you have had bum implants now', and I said, 'I really want this photo where I look like I have a big bum'."
She doesn't go to the gym, eats pizza three times a week, but tries to eat healthier now. And although she says she was 50kg before Love Island and 53kg when producers weighed her on leaving the villa, she is still a size six, and laughs off any notion of a diet or working out: "I love my food. I am not going to starve myself, I don't give a shit."
After finishing the photo shoot and leaving the apartment, Maura strolls down the hallway, casually chatting on the phone to Curtis. The pair are organising a date for that night - later, photos of them enjoying dinner appear on all the main news sites.
Entertainment heavyweights predict Maura will be a millionaire before the year is out, but she shrugs and says it's more the enjoyment of the experience that is a motivating factor.
"I am not one of these girls who thinks money, money, money. I'm not going to take it to the grave with me," she says. And although it is rolling in - with thousands for every Instagram ad she posts, a new presenting job, live appearances several times a week and household clothing and beauty brands lining up to sign her name - she says: "I haven't even got a bank account over here yet."
How it was once all so different.
"So many times I had to borrow money off my mother to pay for my rent because I was struggling. I paid my own rent, my own bills, my car, everything, and it was very, very tough."
Now she says she wants to enjoy the life as much as possible and - having recently moved into her own apartment that she is renting in London - she says settling down is a long way from her mind: "I don't want to have a kid until the latest time possible. If I can have a baby at 50, I will wait until 50. I am just not ready at all."
One thing is for certain however, Maura won't be answering any questions about her long-term plans.
Before we part, she says: "I look at life differently after losing Andrew. You know when people ask this question: 'Where do you see yourself in five years' time?'," she says putting on a posh, airy, presenter's voice, before falling back into her own Longford accent with a deadpan face: "Well, I don't know, because we might not be here tomorrow.
"I look at life very, very differently now, and I don't plan ahead too much because you never know what's around the corner. You just have to live every day as it comes.
"Andrew was my rock. I know that probably sounds mad but..." she drifts off, "I even think right now that he is behind a lot of this. I really do believe that."
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Chloe Brennan