Maura Higgins is working her angles for Grazia’s photographer, instinctively delivering the kind of facial expressions that you’ll find on the bedroom walls of teenage boys everywhere; anyone who watched Love Island this summer can attest to the power of her ‘sex eyes’. But Grazia wants a different kind of photo to Maura’s previous modelling work – ‘A lot less posey,’ she nods – and before long, it clicks. When she sees the pictures, in which she is pared-back, relaxed and beautiful, she’s impressed: ‘I’ve never seen a photo of myself like that.’
It’s surreal for all of us to see Maura in the flesh: the 28-year-old model and ring girl from County Longford, Ireland, had us glued to our TVs as soon as she made her explosive arrival on Love Island in June. Making a beeline for Tommy Fury – then only tentatively coupled up with Molly-Mae Hague – she managed to irritate half the girls in the villa over the course of her first evening by spoon-feeding dessert to Michael, announcing that she wanted to wrap her legs around Tommy’s head, and coining the catchphrase of the summer: ‘He’s giving me fanny flutters.’
It was a divisive entrance, but Maura went on to be one of the most popular personalities of the series: straight-talking, funny and warm. Today on set, the whole crew is charmed by her. ‘I’ve always been misjudged, my whole life,’ she tells me. ‘I think people look at my Instagram and think of me as a completely different person – because when I meet people out, they always say, “You’re so much nicer than I expected.”’
Today, a week after returning from Majorca, she’s also allowed our make-up artist to give her a complexion a good three shades paler than she liked it in the villa. ‘My biggest worry going into Love Island was that I am so pale and I don’t get a colour,’ she confesses. ‘My mammy was saying to me, “Maura, honestly, you’ve got more to worry about than your bloody tan!” I was thinking everyone else was going to be so tanned, and I would be a ghost. My nickname at school was Casper.’
On TV, we saw her remove her make-up every evening, transforming from mahogany brown by day to milky white by night. Her natural skin looks great, I point out. ‘That’s what Mammy says, but I just like nice brown skin, you know? But looking back now, there’s 101 pictures of me with no make-up on, and it doesn’t faze me. I’m not bothered about it.’
If there’s a theme to our interview, it’s this: Maura Higgins knows exactly who she is, and other people’s opinions are water off her fake-tanned back. She was astonished on the evening of the final when host Caroline Flack told her how popular she was. ‘I honestly couldn’t believe it – I was in shock. Because I’m so opinionated, I was like, “I’m going to come out to so much hate.”’ She hadn’t been nervous, though.
‘Do you know what? I don’t actually care what people think of me, so I wasn’t really bothered.’ The turning point in public opinion came when Maura overheard Tom Walker tell the other lads, ‘It’ll be interesting to see if she’s all mouth or not’ – moments before he was due to spend the night with her. Outraged, she told him in no uncertain terms that just because she had been open about enjoying sex didn’t mean she would ever be having sex with him. Watching, we all cheered her on; it felt like a feminist masterclass coming from the most unexpected source. So, what does Maura make of her new status as a feminist hero?
‘I mean, obviously, I’m flattered,’ she says. ‘I never realised I was a feminist! I just stand up for myself, and I won’t let anyone talk sh*t about me. And you know, I do talk about sex, but so do guys.’ She hopes younger women watching will take that from her experience. ‘Stick up for yourself,’ she says. ‘Don’t let anyone walk all over you. Voice your opinion. There’s no point hiding away.’
While Tom happened to be the one who made that remark (‘I feel like deep down he’s actually a good guy – he just made a dickhead comment,’ she says charitably), it was probably a lesson that all the boys, who seemed to find Maura’s sexuality unnerving, needed to learn: that a woman who is open about sex is no less deserving of respect. ‘I think a lot of women are afraid to talk about sex, but it’s a natural thing,’ she says. ‘Why not talk about it? I grew up always being able to talk to my mammy and daddy. I don’t feel ashamed.’
Nevertheless, it took Maura a while to couple up happily, and even the fiercest woman might have had moments of self-doubt. Did she ever consider reining it in? ‘When I got to the stage where I wasn’t expecting to find anyone in there, I was like, “Every guy in here is just so afraid of me talking about sex. They don’t want me for it,”’ she recalls. ‘And then I thought, “You know what? There’s no way I’m going to change for anyone – no man, no woman, nobody.” So I rolled with it – I’m me, and if someone doesn’t like it, fair enough.’
Ultimately, she surprised us all by pairing up with ballroom dancer Curtis Pritchard, a week or so after he broke the heart of their fellow islander Amy Hart. They say they’re all on civil terms now, though at the time Amy felt that Maura should have come to her before making a move. ‘From the beginning, we weren’t best friends, and I don’t see why I’d have to ask the girl’s permission,’ says Maura of the row. ‘She was my least close girl in there. At the beginning she was very standoffish – I think it’s because she knew Curtis had DM-ed me [before we met on Love Island].’
The term ‘girl code’ was bandied about a lot this series, and while some felt that Maura had broken it by pairing with Curtis, she also had big moments of loyalty – such as when she alerted Anna Vakili that her boyfriend Jordan Hames was making moves on someone else. What does the term girl code mean to Maura? ‘If you’re friends with someone, you would never step on their toes. If it was any of the other girls – Lucie, Molly, Anna – I’d never do that to them. But I wasn’t friends with Amy.’
In the outside world, she says, things are progressing with Curtis. ‘We’ve spent only one night apart, and then he came to see me and he had a little gift for me. He gets up in the morning and irons my dress for me – he’s just the cutest guy in the world.’ Her mum told her that the show made it look as though she was more into Curtis than the other way around, she says. ‘That is rubbish. The guy opened up to me so much in there. His nickname for me was “Button Nose”, but they never showed that. The viewers only see 40 minutes, we’re in there 24 hours.’
She’s confident in the relationship: ‘Obviously, we’re going to be busy now, but I feel like if we both like each other enough we will make time for each other. I’m not a girl to be on edge all the time thinking, “I wonder what he’s doing?” I trust someone until they do me wrong, and if they do me wrong, that’s it. There are no second chances with me. You’re gone.’
Meanwhile she’s already started as an agony aunt on This Morning, putting her straight-talking to good use – but says she won’t let celebrity go to her head. ‘I definitely want to move to London, but as a person I’m very laid-back and down to earth, so I don’t want it to change me one bit, and I don’t think it will.’
She won’t be watching Love Island on catch-up – ‘Too cringey’ – and hasn’t read a single thing that’s been written about her. She seems blissfully comfortable not knowing. ‘I honestly just don’t care what people have to say,’ she says with a smile. ‘Because I know the truth, my family knows the truth, my friends know the truth, and that’s all that matters.’
You canu2019t masturbate
With rumours swirling that Sherif was booted from the villa for masturbating in the shower, The Sun reported that he would 'spend hours' in there - however, he wasn't necessarily masturbating himself. 'When producers told Islanders they have to get ready to film a challenge, Sherif was deliberately spending ages in the shower. He said he couldn't be bothered,' the source said. Avoiding challenges or participating in some healthy self-care? All we know is 2 months without masturbating is a long time to go...